When I recount my time in the Philippines I often remember how living in the concrete jungle that is Manila felt somewhat claustrophobic. Although this was for a range of reasons, it is perhaps unsurprising given Manila has the highest population density in the world.
In fact, when comparing where I lived then (Manila), with where I live now (Yangon), it is pretty why this is no longer a problem with Manila’s population density 6 times that of Yangon. Consequently it is possible for everybody’s inner-hermit to find some solitude.
Unfortunately, if there were a party of inner hermits, mine would still be the one hiding behind a curtain in the corner. Which is why, he was so excited to hear about my weekend plan: a day trip to somewhere even quieter than Yangon; Dala.
Dala is a township on the outskirts of Yangon, on the south of the Yangon River. Although it is relatively close to the urban hub of Yangon (1.5 km away), it is only accessible by ferry which seems to have made all the difference to how urbanised it is.
Ferry to Dala
The first step to getting across the river required that we meandered to Pansodan Jetty, directly opposite the Strand hotel.
I say meander as the area attached to the jetty terminal also functions like most markets in Yangon, serving the hundreds of locals who commute from Dala to Yangon each day (during the day the ferry leaves every 20 minutes).
Heading past the many stalls towards the Yangon river, eventually you come to the ferry terminal where there will no doubt be a line in the door and ample crowd waiting inside.
Upon arriving, we were pulled aside and pointed into the manager’s office to buy our tickets. Unfortunately, I couldn’t convince him of being a local no matter how convincingly I wore my longyi and spoke broken Burmese. Unfortunately this meant I couldn’t get a 100 kyat local ticket, rather having to pay the tourist price of 4,400 kyats for a return ticket (or 4 USD if you have dollars on you).
And although I was sure to make a point about how outrageous this exorbitant $4 foreigner fee was, it was to no avail. Besides, there really isn’t much to complain about with it actually being a pretty quick and comfortable trip with it taking around 20 minutes and there being an ample number of traders willing to sell you cigarettes, coconut and cowboy hats.
Of course, in Myanmar it pays to be careful so if you decide to purchase a cowboy hat please consult this chart to ensure you live to tell the tale.
Except for the trader selling snacks and cigarettes t’s a pretty standard ferry ride over to Dala
Unfortunately it’s illegal for foreigners to take these boats across.
It’s easy to forget how big the boat is until you see the masses of people exiting the boat.
Arriving in Dala
As you might expect, taking the ferry in itself is a pretty worthwhile in and of itself, albeit a cushy one. Still, it’s a great opportunity to see how day to day commerce takes place with many of those living in Dala, working (or selling their goods) in Yangon (did you know they transport chickens in bundles?!).
Although it seems the ferry is predominately populated with locals, there are apparently enough tourists to foster a generous number of traders and tour guides who operate at the Dala jetty terminal, so prepare be swamped.
Now while when it comes to the town itself, you could walk around yourself I wouldn’t recommend this as everything is quite spread out. Given this, I’d say you’re best to hire a tri-shaw, the going rate which seems to be around 1500 kyats per hour, with a full tour taking around 2 to 3 hrs.
This is of course unless you happen to be me, who may have paid a bit more than as a consequence of the driver telling me that I’m “handsome like a movie star”. My mum was right.
Cruising Around Dala
There are three main sights that tourists typically come to see while in Dala. The Pagoda, Fishing Village and Bamboo Village, however, truth be told it’s a pretty worthwhile experience just for the purposes of seeing just life in Dala, which, as you’d expect, is similar to other rural communities in Myanmar.
Shwe Sayan Pagoda, Dala
Let’s face it. If you’re not seeing a pagoda a day when touring Myanmar, you’re doing something wrong.
Dala is of course no exception, with the township having a surprisingly well maintained pagoda. Although it is seemingly like any other pagoda in Yangon a number of things make it a bit different.
Firstly, there seemed to be around 20 children who hang around the thing during the day, climbing the stupa and mobbing hapless foreigners when the opportunity arises.
Secondly, the colours used have much more variety than typical pagodas in and around Yangon. However, perhaps the most significant difference is that this pagoda includes a now deceased monk who it is said predicted cyclone Naga.
Fisheman Village, Dala
The Fisherman’s village is located along the banks of Dala river. Many of the fishermen who work along the Yangon River live with their families in huts along the shore. Perhaps for me the highlight of this was the fact that they were building and repairing a number of their boats on the shore, a feat all the more impressive to me given that I have trouble cooking oatmeal without setting myself on fire.
Some Final Thoughts
I have to admit I’ve still got a long list of sites to see in Yangon, I think my half day in Dala was without a doubt the best touristy thing I’ve done in Yangon. It’s also an unbelievable convenient way to get out of the concrete jungle for a breather. Although I don’t mean to suggest it’s going to be as relaxing as lying beside the pool, martini in hand, it is a beautiful side of Yangon to see.