Myanmar is a place I’d never thought I would go. Heard so much about it on the news. Political problems,the change of capital city Yangon to Napyidaw, recent change of the National Flag, the yet again house arrestee pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi and the suppressed minorities. The only reason behind it? My air ticket was booked impulsively. It only cost me SGD54 on Air Asia but I have to fly from Kuala Lumpur. Fret not, I can always find cheap air shuttle to KL.
So, there I was doing research on the places of interest as I had no idea what Myanmar has to offer apart from Bagan. Unfortunately due to time constraint, Bagan was a no-go. So I made do with what I had. Yangon.
I set off from Singapore on 16 January 2011 after getting my leave approved. I flew the infamous Tiger Airways to KL, known for their cancellations and re-times. I was supposed to go on the 17th but Tiger HAD TO RE-TIME MY FLIGHT to a later one and that would cost me a whole load of trouble boarding my next flight on Air Asia to Yangon. Before that,all I had to do was to call their centre and had my flight reinstated to a day before. Miraculously, I managed to get through the call centre and POOF, it was reinstated free of charge.
Moving my flight a day before from Singapore to KL simply means I had to stay a night in KL but I am a bloody expert on cheap and decent places to stay. A night in central KL in a cute and lovely hostel with hot rain shower only cost me SGD15 per bed per night. Later on in this post, I will reveal where I get good deals.
17th of January, yes, at last I am almost on my flight to Yangon. I did mobile check in the week before so all I had to do was to scan the bar code from my Blackberry. POOF! Check in was done in less than 5 seconds. It was even more of a bliss knowing that I do not have any luggage to check in.
As I was sitting down at the large warehouse-like departure hall at KL’s low cost terminal, I noticed a girl slightly older than me reading Lonely Planet’s Myanmar so I pretty much assumed that we were going to be on the same flight. So I took the opportunity to shamelessly introduce myself and asked if I could borrow the book for a little while. Guess what, we became friends after that. Her name is Sun Young and she is from South Korea. Sun Young is 26 years old and she was having her term break prior to graduation. What brought us even closer was that she had an exchange program a year ago at National University of Singapore so she would probably know how a Singaporean like me would behave. Sun Young did not book a place to stay so I asked if she would come with me to the place that I had book earlier on and she agreed. At around 4.00pm,we boarded the plane to Yangon.
When we arrived in Yangon, I was really suprised to see how clean and modern the airport is. I was met by the guest house representative. The name of the guest house is Ocean Pearl Inn. What caught my eye was that he was wearing sarong or longyi in Burmese. Not only him actually,every locals in the arrival area and some of the airport staff. Such pride. =)
I talked to the guy who picked me up and asked him if he still had an extra room for Sun Young. The trip from the airport to downtown took 30 minutes. By the time we reached it was already dark. The guest house was basic and clean. What really touches me is the hospitality. Sun Young asked me if she could share a room with me to cut on cost. I was pretty surprised to have a girl asking me that. The thing is, I don’t mind as long as that person can be trusted.
We got our room,put our bags down and headed to Central Hotel to get our US currency exchanged to Kyat. Travelers should only exchange their money at this hotel. I do not encourage anyone to exchange currency through the black market or else be prepared to wait a whole year counting your stash of Kyat. We had dinner somewhere outside our guest house. The local food…to be honest with you, I wasn’t impressed. It was either too salty, too oily or simply tasteless.
I woke up quite early to have breakfast provided by the guest house. Breakfast was really simple. 2 toast, a small tinge of jam and a tiny platter of fruits. Me and Sun Young were discussing what we should the whole day. As we flipped through Lonely Planet Myanmar, we saw a page about Yangon walking tour. Very unadventurous but who cares.
We started off with Sule Pagoda (below). It was 10 minutes away by foot from our guest house. As we passed by shop houses and locals doing their daily business, I could tell what their national pastime is. STARING. Every single corner and footpath we stepped foot on and even the road, people were staring at us. Some with awe, amazement, dislike and the list goes on. Later on we came to a conclusion that not many foreigners will visit Myanmar solely because of the ruling junta. Perhaps me and Sun Young were the few crazy ones. =D
Sule Pagoda is a Burmese stupa located in the heart of downtown Yangon. According to legend, it was built before the Shwe Dagon pagoda during the time of the Buddha, making it more than 2,500 years old.
After the long walk in downtown Yangon, our last stop for the unadventurous walking tour is Bogyoke Aung San Market formerly known as Scott’s Market. Bogyoke Market was built in 1926. Many goods can be found here. The usual suspects are jade, gems, antiques, fake antiques, “I LOVE MYANMAR” products and food. No prizes for guessing what I bought. An “I LOVE MYANMAR” bag!
Never compare Bogyoke Market with Bangkok’s famous Chaktuchak weekend market which sell gazillions of products. Yangon is still a long road ahead in terms of commercialism so I guessed that says much about importing and assembling goods from other countries and sell it cheap locally. If you are a big fan of cheap but perhaps or not real precious stones, do some research and/or bring an expert along before making a deal. You definitely don’t want to lose money after making that regrettable deal because there are virtually no ATM machines and credit cards do not work in Myanmar. =P
Damn.We were tired and so we decided to rest and have juice at some little outdoor joint. A fat glass of heavenly orange juice cost only 50cents.
While relaxing, I heard someone speaking Singlish from afar. For once, I felt at home. Two lovely Singaporean ladies in their forties approached us and asked if the juice was good. We sat a table apart and chatted. We introduced ourselves and got along really well. Their names were Janice and Grace. Coincidentally, there were staying at the same guest house as us. The four of us combined powers and became Fantastic 4. We all had our own powers too. Janice walked too fast. Grace talked too much. Sun Young was too good at bargaining from a cheap dollar to 50cents and me, I was the youngest and the only boy so I guess that made me really special. Ok fine I was kidding but its a good combination right?
Ice breaking session. DONE. Fantastic 4 headed to the bus station to book themselves a ticket to the Golden Rock which is 120km away from Yangon. I had to stay in Yangon as I only had 2 days left. So I decided to walk around the bus station. I approached a bus agency and randomly asked the cost of ticket to Bago. Bago is a small town 70km away from Yangon. A few weeks before I left for my trip, I did a research on Bago. Some say its not worth visiting but I decided to book it anyway since its only 70km away. Bago changed my life a wee bit. I will talk about it in my next post and I also need help regarding this issue.
Janice, Grace and Sun Young were done with their booking to Golden Rock and mine, Bago. We took a taxi to the famous Shwe Dagon Pagoda, the true treasure of the Burmese people. Entrance fee for this attraction is USD5.00 . With the US currency rate going rock bottom, do not pay KYAT5000 as the amount makes up to at least USD6.50 . Just tell the counter girl you are short of Kyats.
Here we are, SHWE DAGON PAGODA. Beautiful ey?
Then I came across a Buddha with real eyes..
According to legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda is 2500 years old. Archaeologists believe the stupa was actually built sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries by the Mon, but this is a very controversial issue because according to the records by Buddhist monks it was built before Buddha died in 486 BC.
After a long day outdoors, we decided to head back to our guest house. Boy were we tired. Tomorrow will be another early day as I make my way to Bago.
Tiger Airways Air Ticket SIN-KUL : SGD25.90
Air Asia Air Ticket KUL-RGN-KUL : SGD54.00
Air Asia Air Ticket KUL-SIN : SGD14.00
Ocean Pearl Inn : USD18.00 (TWIN/ http://www.myanmarhotel-budget.com/)
Food : 20cents to USD5.00
Transfer : Provided free from airport if using Air Asia or USD5.00 from airport to guest house
Taxis to places of interest in downtown : KYAT1000 max
Bus Tickets to other cities depending on operators : USD3.00-USD12.00