Photo: The last great Southeast Asian city!

Exploring Yangon's stalls

Exploring Yangon's stalls

Downtown Yangon (Rangoon) is known for its crowded, friendly streets, packed with vendors and teeming with life. But as in much of the rest of the country, development and tourism is rapidly transforming the city. The latest change: street vendors are to be banned from October. So enjoy the street life while you can!

Come the ban and you will no longer be able to experience the local taste of roadside simmered mohinga at Independence Monument. Nor will you be able to hear sales pitches sung in Burmese, or the juice vendors banging a rhythm and beat with their pitchers. Even the long line of book stands on Pansodan Road will be shelfless, while Yangon City Development Committee forces vendors from the main streets, they say, to stop traffic jams and clear pedestrian walkways.

Cricket vendors in Chinatown threaten to let loose all their crickets in protest
Cricket vendors in Chinatown threaten to let loose all their crickets in protest.

This means that now is the time to see downtown Yangon as it has been for all of its past life. Ironically, these vendors are cited by travellers as one of the city's biggest charms. So, before they disappear, here are our favourite areas street vendors congregate—stop by to see them before it's too late.

Kan Ze Dan Market rises head and shoulders above the rest.
Kan Ze Dan Market rises head and shoulders above the rest.

Those looking for the useful 500 kyat educational posters about foods you should not eat together (such as: "Rhinoceros meat with Fishes = Dead" and "Crab with Egg plant = be poisoned"), or the famous octopus chargers for 1,000 kyat, traditional longyis for 7,000 to 10,000 kyat, lucky snakes (only 5,000 kyat for you, my friend) and even underwear (prices vary due to previous use), should roam Mahabandoola Street and Anawrahta Road, between Shwedagon Pagoda Road and the Secretariat.

Honey bees hang out on fresh pineapple on Mahabandoola
Honey bees hang out on fresh pineapple on Mahabandoola.

If you're looking for culture, history and long-lost propaganda, a must-visit is Pansodan Road's book stalls. The circling blocks on the east side of the beautiful and vacant City Courthouse are packed with texts; yellowed pages with pictures of smoking monks, generals, and cheap romance novels in Burmese are accompanied by Orwell, 40 year-old Reader's Digests from Russia, TIME magazines from the socialist era, and even old-time Japanese pornography.

Most vendors don't even need shelves, they use book stacks.
Most vendors don't even need shelves, they use book palettes.

As in all countries, food is a great way to connect with the locals, and no place is better than in the noisy streets of Yangon, surrounded by old colonial buildings.

Travel tip: Mohinga beh joe is much tastier than plain mohinga.
Tip: Mohinga beh joe is much tastier than plain mohinga.

Sule Pagoda is a hub of all types of food. Mohinga is the most popular dish; find a vendor near the northeast corner of Independence Monument (around 12:00 - 18:00) and squeeze in with the locals. Most bowls go for 200 kyat for plain or 300 kyat for mohinga beh joe, the version with crunchy fried beans added.

Head a block south of Sule Pagoda after 14:00 and you'll find a Shan noodle stall that serves one of the best bowls of Shan kaow-swue for a delicious 500 kyat. If you're looking for a tasty snack, try the savoury thin pancakes filled with beans, lettuce and tomato, or sweet chocolate with coconut, sold by a young woman at the west corner of the pagoda. You can usually spot her by the long line of people waiting for their 400 kyat order—she'll be there at random times.

Fried pork innards - the only street vendors that travelers will not miss.
Fried pork innards—possibly the only street vendors that travellers may not miss.

The affect of the coming ban on certain popular markets seems uncertain for now. One of the most picturesque and largest markets in downtown—Kan Ze Dan market, which takes up all of middle block on Kan Ze Dan Road (open 12:00 - 18:00)—is rumoured to be moving. Anawrahta market (open 14:00-20:00), which stretches many blocks west of the the Secretariat, is also said to be a target of relocation due to the high volume of fish and meat that it offers, while Chinatown's night market (open 16:00-23:00) next to the 19th street scene may soon look like every other side street.

Cats - the unmentioned victims of Yangon's new ban on street vendors.
Cats—soon to be the ignored victims of Yangon's new ban.

Part of Burma's draw is that it's a country largely still uninfluenced by the West. That window is closing for downtown Yangon and this year looks to be the marker at which Yangon goes from a traditional Southeast Asian city to a more modern international - and sterile—city.

In the past, cars and vendors coexisted peacefully.
Cars and vendors coexist peacefully now, so why the change?

So experience it while you can and look to our other sights of Yangon to get the most out of your visit to Yangon.

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