A Journey Into the Streets of the Village of Dala, Yangon
One fine day in December, I was cycling around in the Dala village near Yangon in Myanmar. Across the river from Yangon, Dalla Township is located on the southern bank of the Yangon river.
Though the Dala township comprises of some 50 villages, bounded by the Yangon river in the north and east, the Twantay Canal in the west, and Twantay Township in the south, I was in the main Dalla village. And I was not alone.
It was one of those rare tours that I sometimes convince myself to take in foreign lands. With Unchartered Horizons Myanmar, I was set to have a local experience in Dala, a hamlet on the banks of Yangon river.
The village of Dala is just a 10-minute ferry ride from the Pansondan pier in Yangon.
Though all the travel blogs on Dala island talk about tourist scams first on the Dala ferry and then trishaws and tuk-tuk drivers charging the foreign passengers exorbitantly to show them around Dala, I don’t have much to say about these scams as I was with a local guide, a shy Yangonite called Htike. He guided my friend and me around like my father used to take care of me on the streets when I was a little girl. Keeping us away from scooters, holding us back, asking us to cross, whistling when there was an oncoming car even when the car had honked, and so on. Then he helped us carry our bicycles on the ferry, whether we should keep them unlocked, where to sit, etc.
But if you aren’t as lucky or you are a do-it-yourself fan like me, follow the Google maps to reach the Pansodan Pier. I first cycled through the main Yangon roads, then on the Strand Road, then by the railway tracks, to the pier, and then on the ferry and back on the bicycle. The ferry ticket for foreigners is 4,000 Myanmar Kyats (prices are different for locals). Some say that the ferries run every 10 minutes from 5:30 am to 9 pm, some say the frequency is 20 minutes.
On the ferry ride, I saw many hawkers similar to the ones I was surrounded on the circular train of the Yangon city. Women and boys selling clothes, bird eggs, fruits, betel nut leave pasted with tobacco, small plastic items, snacks, and some kitschy stuff.
Once we got off the ferry and rode into Dala, I was suddenly thrown into amber fields, countryside cows, and bamboo huts. Somewhere we took another small wooden boat. And once we were in the village, I felt that I was in a rural and poor neighborhood of India.
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Narrow muddy and concrete streets filled with people appeared one after another. Children ran around unabashedly, some bicycling, some just playing. Men played cards on the pavements. Kiosks sold betel nut leaf preparations(you can find these in India, too, but neither so ubiquitous nor so wildly consumed). Others sat and chatted around. Women scrubbed utensils or washed colorful clothes.
Dala locals seemed to be stuck in a prolonged poverty.
But neither the Dala island nor the locals are at fault. The Cyclone Nargis wiped out everything there in 2008. The casualties are said to be about 1,50,000. Included in the Yangon municipal area since 1974, Dala is now a part of Yangon, but only geographically for the two differ from each other in every imaginable way.
While we followed Htike, children with cheeks caked with dust ran towards us gleefully or high-fived us even if they fell in the process or just screamed to get our attention. Even some older men and women smiled ear to ear at us before carrying on with their days.
Dala village was everything but silent. And while bicycling around crowded streets we would suddenly find ourselves on empty roads fringed with fields or near a pond.
After riding a little bit, we headed to the morning market of Dala, Myanmar. But the market had to wait. For we first filled ourselves with some hearty goodness of a vegetarian mohinga soup.
Loaded with a fresh and crispy gourd of some kind, the Dala market mohinga was spicy but just the right amount. As this mohinga was eggless, which is rare, I refilled the soup while listening to the guide’s stories. Oh, we also tried a coconut sweet that we bought from a local woman while entering the market. The sweet was worth trying once, that is all I would say.
Htike told us many stories about his life in Burma, how he eats dosa almost every day in the market, and why he prefers hiking in the mountains rather than biking. But while sharing all the funny moments, he also tried to sneak in one dismaying truth about the life of the people in Dala.
He said that the Dala homes do not have a regular supply of water. Families fill water from the communal pool, which is mostly filled with rainwater, or when there has been no rain the civic authorities supply water to the pool.
I wanted to ask him a hundred questions but all of them sounded offensive or insensitive to me. How can I show concern for daily water when I get clean tap water 24×7 no matter wherever I am? I wouldn’t know the challenges.
Would a few daily trips to the communal pool suffice? Do people drink and bathe with the same water? Where do they go to the toilet? Et cetera, et cetera.
I was only forming the questions in my head when Htike suggested to continue the ride.
While following him out of the food court, I thanked myself for taking the tour. Though I am a die-hard do-it-yourself traveler, I like the occasional tours when a local guide gives me insights into the local life. If I had gone to Dala Yangon by myself I think I would have just admired this lotus pond you see in the picture below. But now I knew that the muddy pool was the only water source for the villagers.
Next we went inside the market. Cheerful Burmese selling colorful flowers, women selling homemade sweets, shops full of fresh fruits and vegetables, hawkers vending ready-made edible stuff such as tea leaf salad, pickles, nuts, spices in small plastic packets, dry fish and prawns being sold on every other store, customers bending over food and touching each tomato with hand or smelling each bouquet of marigolds, women at their thanaka shops, then someone selling Burmese spices, more pickles, more fish, more sweets, some nuts, more pictures, and it wasn’t much longer before I lost the sense of time and place.
We didn’t buy anything but mostly clicked. While I never pointed the camera at anyone’s face, some Burmese posed themselves and some shied away so hard that I wonder if they would ever let anyone click their picture. (Would I?)
Also read and see: A Sunrise on the Mandalay’s U Bein Bridge, Burma
Soon enough we were back on our bicycles ready to do a little bit of back and forth into the ageless town of Dala.
We were riding by the lotus pond again with a light breeze wafting from the lake’s surface cooling our cheeks baked by the strong December sun. After running into some more thanaka-pasted children, we drove around leisurely. With every street we crossed, with every child we high-fived, the Dala life unfolded in front of us slowly.
I also went to a plastic recycling shop called Chu Chu where small items made with unsued plastic surprised me at every spot of the shop. But I couldn’t buy anything for I don’t bring many souvenirs. Where to keep them and how to take care of more things? (Update January 2024: The shop doesn’t seem to be functional anymore because their website has expired.)
We cycled for a couple more hours and then made our way back to the Yangon town by the same ferry, those same railway tracks, while Htike drove in front of us like he was guiding us little children on our first bicycling lesson.
By the time we were back at Unchartered Horizons shop, something had changed inside. Now I had a little insight into the life Htike had seen growing up and I knew that I would never understand it. I followed submissively.
Now off you go to see some more photos of Dala, a place that will forever remind me how much I need to give back to this world that has given me so much.
That is all.
Where to stay in Dala, Myanmar?
Located between Anawrahta Road & Mahabandoola Road in downtown Yangon, Check In Yangon is a hostel cum hotel. While I opted for a double room, you can get a good bunk bed for affordable prices at this personalized hotel.
Check In had minimally designed rooms with a clean attached bathroom. Hot water was available 24*7, they had a 24-hour reception, complete information on the available tours, and a buffet breakfast. I had a fun and comfortable stay there.
Do read the reviews and see availability for Check In here.
And if you don’t like the place, then browse through the many accommodation options in Yangon here.
You may be able to stay in Dala village also. But you will have to enquire with a local. Maybe book for a day or two in Yangon, explore the city, and then head to Dala or take a tour there and see if you like a place to stay? Anything is possible 🙂
Would you love to go to Dala, Myanmar? Tell me.
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