Part One of 60 Days in Yangon, Myanmar: Navigating Yangon Traffic
“Its like the 1920’s mixed with 1970, but its 2015!” This is the first description of Yangon, Myanmar that Michael offered me three months ago when he first arrived. I have now had the chance to live and work in this odd city for 60 days and have been able to experience it for myself especially navigating Yangon traffic.
We worked closely and have spoken to several expats who have been in Yangon for long enough to witness several changes in the city and “random” has been the best way to describe this city.
Perhaps the biggest change the expats have witnessed is the massive influx of cars to the city in a relatively short amount of time. Several years ago, a general decided that, “A scooter is the best way to deliver a bomb.” and seemingly overnight, there was not a scooter to be seen in the city, as they were deemed illegal within Yangon’s city limits. There is construction all over the city, building overpasses and expanding roads as they try to accommodate the thousands of cars, transfer trucks, bicycles and high-end vehicles (Ferraris, Porsche, etc.) using the roads everyday. It is like different decades coexist as one here in Yangon. That is why you might randomly witness a futuristic looking Ferrari zoom past an elderly man peddling his tri-shaw as he takes his passenger to the fresh produce market.
We do not have our own car here, so we rely on taxis. They are plentiful! Wave your hand at the passing traffic and within 30 seconds a taxi has pulled up and is asking where you need to go. For 2500 kyats (roughly $2.25 US) we can get from the apartment to the boatyard, a 10-15 minute drive depending on the traffic.
Oh the traffic.
It is crazy! The Myanmar cars have the wheel on the right hand side (like the UK or Australia). But they also drive on the right side (like North America). Traffic lights, road signs, speed limits and pavement markings are merely “suggestions.” Every driver is out for himself and they use their horns to let you know! To say that Yangon has aggressive drivers is putting it mildly.
I can remember a white knuckle ride home from the local market to the boatyard one particular afternoon. My driver drove with a heavy foot, speeding through open lanes and then slamming on the breaks as we approached the rear of a car. You know when there is a race scene in a movie, and the actors grip the wheel and turn it frantically left and right as they weave around other cars on the road? Well, that’s how it felt being in the back seat of this particular taxi. After hearing me gasp during an almost T-bone moment, he tried to assure me in broken English that he was a “professional.” I was dubious.
Taking taxis to various parts around Yangon has certainly given me a glimpse of the entire city. The longer I spend here, the more I agree with the expats when they say that Yangon is “random.” There is not much that would surprise me now! Except, that almost every day something truly random occurs and I find I’m surprised – yet again! For example, in the taxi ride home last week we drove past a bustling market alongside the river, with hundreds of cars whizzing by, men, women and children of all ages going about their day. In the midst of it all, a man walking shamelessly, (dare I say that he even walked, confidently) down the street BUTT-NAKED! Everything out in the open as his hands swung casually at his sides. The taxi driver and his friend in the front seat barely gave the man a second glace, as if this sight is something that occurs quite often.
It has been 60 days of very unique experiences and the encounters with navigating Yangon traffic and Yangon drivers account for only a fraction of the “randomness” that we have witnessed. In part two of this post I offer more examples of tradition and culture further merging with 2016 in Yangon.