If you want a true glimpse into the everyday life of Burmese locals living in the country’s largest city, I highly suggest hopping on the Yangon Circular Train for the entirety of its 3 hour loop. This train (16 cents/ticket) takes passengers through Yangon, its satellite cities, and rural towns. The ride doesn’t offer any jaw-dropping or extremely interesting views, especially for the experienced traveler, but what’s outside the train is not the point. One takes this train to interact with locals outside of the teeming city center, learn about day to day life, buy fresh fruit from the vendors hopping on and off the train, talk with people who want to practice their English, etc.
It doesn’t take a visitor to Yangon long to notice the red blobs of spit that cover the sidewalks. They are everywhere and are the result of chewing paan, a mixture of areca nut, limestone paste, and tobacco all wrapped together in a betel leaf. This mixture is chewed for its stimulant and psychoactive properties (it’s said to be like drinking 6 cups of coffee!). Paan stands dot every corner in Yangon and seemingly every local man is chewing, so when I saw a vendor get on the train I decided to give it a whirl (putting my nurse judgment aside, of course).
When I attempted to pay the paan vendor, he smiled and shooed my money away. I think he knew that I wasn’t going to like it. And he was right. At least it amused my nearby fellow passengers, who erupted into laughter as I tried to make it through that experience. This little cutie more than made it up for it. By the way, I’m going to go ahead and say that Myanmar has the cutest kids out of anywhere that I’ve been in Asia.
Have you tried paan? Addictive, or just totally disgusting?