A Close Encounter With Yangon’s Most Dangerous Street Gang

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After our jaunt visiting the sacred Golden Rock, we hopped on the last bus to Yangon – the former capital city but still the busiest. The bus ride was longer than planned – as expected in a country where infrastructure is still under development. Our bus was what we had grown accustomed to during our travels (especially coming from the less-visited South) – a ramshackle version of what used to be a sturdy Korean (or was it Russian?) model with broken “reclining” seats and windows left opened or closed, it didn’t matter. We had been traveling since morning and I was looking forward to a decent bed and the refreshing drizzle of water on my clammy skin.

The bus dropped us off at the main bus terminal located about 35-45 minutes from the city center depending on traffic. After refusing several touts trying to charge us way more than the normal price, we finally found a more honest taxi driver who agreed to the very reasonable price of 7000 kyats. And off we were!

 

 

It was already dark when we stepped out of the taxi and I was surprised at how quiet the most hectic city in Myanmar was at night. We were greeted by corrugated doors of businesses long locked by weary owners and a few hustling taxi drivers still trying to find passengers among the shadows of the city. As usual, we hadn’t booked in advance but we did take down the name of a guesthouse. Unfortunately, we had to turn around swiftly after seeing its dire state. So we wandered the dimly-lit streets looking for a better place to stay. We soon realized that hotels and guesthouses were difficult to find – were we really in the center of town?

 

A more lively Yangon during the day

 

Having already visited smaller towns, we were aware that nightlife in Myanmar wasn’t a thing but I did expect more nocturnal activity in Yangon – I mean at least to see some people but no such luck. Our search lead us to hotels that were full or that were way too expensive or rundown or that simply refused us (one hotel desk clerk told us there was room and when we returned a few minutes later, the hotel manager told us it wasn’t possible to rent us a room because the cleaning lady had already left…..wtf??). Feeling frustrated, exhausted, hungry and discouraged, we trampled on into the night (by this time it was about 11 p.m.).

We headed on another dark street, dragging our feet with our backpacks weighing heavily and feeling dirtier than dirt itself. There was no one in sight except for a small bunch gathered at the next corner – engaged in friendly play-fighting. It wasn’t the first time we encountered such a raucous gang during our travels so we approached them cautiously but without fear – at least not on my part.

Squinting their beady eyes made bright by the overhead street light, they noticed us approaching them. I dismissed their intense stare as curiosity and continued towards them without a second thought. Their playful bantering suddenly stopped and was replaced by an eerie silence, the type that pierced into the night, that lasted but a fraction of a second. My boyfriend made a slight swerve away from them but I was already too close, I was trespassing. They’re harmless, I told myself. But then the silence broke, it startled me to the core. Their anger echoed into the deserted streets, it got louder and louder. Their bravery and cockiness far surpassed their stout stature. I backed away but it was too late.

One. Two. Three came at me. My heart thumped wildly. I was scared shitless. Two more joined in – would more be coming out from the darkness? They were utterly mad and out of control. Spit spurt from out of their gnarled mouths. I felt trapped. I started shaking and my knees got weak. How will I get out of this? Luckily, that night my boyfriend had the instinct to carry a long sturdy stick. He shouted obscenely at them and used the stick to scare them off but they persisted. I managed to not let them encircle me but their determination wasn’t to be undermined. They followed us, with revenge on their lips, across the street. They were as fierce as ever. There was nowhere to go. No one to help us.

And then like a flash of lighting, a car came down the street, speeding towards us. It was surreal – the kind of scene only possible in movies. The car breaked hastily – screeching to a halt. The driver unlocked the door and ordered us to get in. With the gang still tailing us, we obliged. Feeling utterly relieved, I looked out the rear window while we drove away; I could still see them, their silhouettes fading into obscurity, their furious outcries but faint echoes. But now their shoulders hung in obvious disappointment. I couldn’t believe what had just happened!

The driver warned us not to walk the streets at night. He said they were everywhere, ruling the streets and reaping terror. He went on saying this was a big problem in Yangon, many people have been attacked and have even died at the rage of these hoodlums. We were lucky – he said. We thanked him while trying to catch our breath. After calming down, I let out a nervous laugh – did we just have a close encounter with Yangon’s most dangerous street gang – a bunch of aggressive street dogs high on adrenaline?!

 

Not the pack that nearly attacked me but similar

 

The Dog Days of Yangon

Stray dogs are a serious problem in Myanmar with nearly 1000 rabies-related deaths per year – the highest number in all of Southeast Asia. The dogs that nearly attacked me looked “healthy” and well-fed so much so that I questioned if they were truly strays or if they belonged to people. The answer is that many people choose to feed the dogs without actually owning them. This is, of course, a noble gesture but it doesn’t solve the problem of the ever-growing population of stray dogs (only neutering can solve that).

For decades, the city municipal body had taken drastic measures to try to control the number of strays by scattering poisoned meat around the city causing the inevitable, and inhumane, death of thousands of helpless street dogs. People were outraged and spoke vehemently against this barbaric practice forcing the Yangon City Develop Committee to stop. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of stray dogs (an estimated 120,000) and puppies remain on the streets of Yangon alone; the problem is only getting worse and attacks (and deaths due to rabies) are on the rise.

Read more: Question of Whether to Cull Strays Divides YangonYangon’s Stray Dogs, Rangoon’s Stray Dogs: Burdens or Companions?,

 

What Should You Do if You’re Bitten by a Street Dog? 

Although it’s recommended to get a rabies vaccine if you think you’ll be in contact with infected animals, this doesn’t guarantee against contracting the virus. If you’ve had the shot, you’ll still need to go to a hospital to get 2 more shots at different intervals. Whether you’re vaccinated or not, the first thing to do is to clean the wound and head to a hospital as soon as possible. Upon arrival, a first shot will be given to then be followed by other doses extending up to 2 weeks (if you haven’t been vaccinated). Rabies should be taken seriously. Initially, it will bring on pain and fever followed by seizures, hallucinations and paralysis. It’s almost always fatal in untreated humans.

I know it can be tempting to pet stray dogs (especially puppies – my heart has broken several times over) but it’s best not to. This will not only protect you from not contracting rabies but other diseases as well for which strays are known for. Street dogs are often feral meaning they’re somewhat “wild” despite being in contact with humans. As with any animal, they can be unpredictable and dangerous especially when in packs.

More information: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 

Photo credit: The Guardian

 

 

Read all about my travels in Myanmar

 

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Have you ever been attacked or bitten by a stray dog? Do you have any similar experiences to share?

 

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  • Hi Lydia,

    Great story telling here.

    We didn’t have too many run ins with street dogs at all in Yangon in March but we did see quite a few and more than that, we rarely ventured out past 9 PM since everything was closed. At least in our neighborhood.

    But I know how when folks leave the streets, the SE Asian street dogs – Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bali – take over, and get super territorial and aggressive in some cases.

    I recall driving down a side street in Phuket at midnight and being chased by a soi dog, nipping at my heels, until I left his turf. These guys do not play.

    Good thing that driver spotted you and arrived in time.

    Another note; I hate doing this as I am an animal lover, but simply raising your hand to slap these guys – without following through – can send 1 dog or even a small pack on its way. Works; I’ve tried it with some aggressive street dogs in Bali.

    Ditto for throwing a stick or rock in their general direction. Doggies scatter as it’s how many locals send them on their merry way.

    Last resort for me in both cases; I usually ignore their barking and threats, and they disappear.

    Thanks for sharing Lydia.

    Ryan

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Hi Ryan – thanks! I’m usually not afraid of street dogs but these fellas were vicious! I had never encountered such aggressive dogs before and I was truly very scared! My boyfriend usually raises his hand or a stick (as in this case) without touching them or raises his voice and you’re right the dogs often just skimp away. We stayed one night in this neighborhood and decided to go further away from the downtown area to avoid the gangs of dogs at night.