At the end of our first day in Myanmar (Burma), we reflected on our good fortune of actually visiting Myanmar and enjoying an amazing day.
We spent the night in a hotel at Bangkok airport in order to get our early morning Air Asia flight to Yangon. Alf was so relaxed that when Marilyn asked the time of the flight he answered 8. 30 AM. At 6.20 AM, in our hotel room, Alf decided to look at the flight details and realized that the flight departed at 7.20 AM, not 8.30 AM. Anyway, we very speedily checked out of the hotel, wheeled our baggage really fast and ran down the covered walkway to the departure terminal. We got to the Air Asia check-in desk at 6.32 AM, and there was a Thai lady holding up a board saying that our flight closes at 6.30 AM. We smiled sweetly at the check-in staff, whilst throwing our first bag on to the scales and they let us on the flight. We were the last people on the plane. This was only our second flight on Air Asia and were very impressed with the quality of the service and the comfort of the flight and would highly recommend it.
The second reason for reflection was concerning the recent troubles in Rakkine State on the West of Myanmar. Our original itinerary included eight days at Ngapali, an up-market beach resort in Rakkine State. Given the warnings of the UK Foreign Office for UK citizens not to travel to Rakkine State, we cancelled the last part of our journey to Ngapali. However, we were really looking forward to our trip to Myanmar, so cut the itinerary down to two weeks.
At Yangon Airport, we joined the queue to get our Visas on Arrival, collected our baggage and met our guide. At the airport, we changed some of our US Dollar bills for local currency. It is important to mention that credit cards are not used in Myanmar and there are only three ATMs in the whole of the country – Myanmar is a really big country, the second largest in South East Asia after Indonesia.
Our guide Ang, introduced us to our driver and we headed downtown to our hotel to check-in and drop off our bags. Our hotel was rather nice and we were happy to be there, especially after being so close to missing our flight.
We had lunch in an unimpressive tourist restaurant, the type that has coach loads arriving by the minute, the type we hate and grumbled to our guide Ang, who quickly warned us about serious hygiene issues in Myanmar, and of tourists who had to be evacuated to Bangkok as medical emergencies after eating street food in Myanmar and at local restaurants that do not cater for western visitors, so we put up and shut up!
The first afternoon offered us an introduction to the people, culture and heritage of Myanmar. We started at the Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda, home to a 70-meter long reclining Buddha. At Kyaukhtatgyi our guide provided an overview of Buddhism. We continued to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most revered Buddhist temple in Myanmar. Although the origins of the Shwedagon Pagoda are unclear, it is believed that the original structure was built in the 11th century, then renovated several times until taking its current shape in the 15th century. The 8-sided central stupa is 90 meters tall and gilded with gold leaf and is surrounded by 64 smaller stupas and makes for a very impressive religious site.
Later, we visited the old colonial Post Office – a lovely historic building, and then went on to see the famous Strand Hotel, where David Cameron stayed whilst on his recent visit – it is only a small hotel about 34 rooms and is in art deco style and very impressive. The Strand provides some of the finest examples of British-era colonial architecture in all of South East Asia. We then drove byMahabandoola Garden and the Independence Monument. Afterwards our guide took us to Let Yway Sin tea shop, a popular local café with a retro vibe and a reputation for delicious, fresh roasted coffee. However, we were so alarmed following our earlier warning about hygiene that we declined the coffee and the famed semolina cake for which the shop is known. Finally, we visited the Bogyoke Market, formerly known as Scott’s Market, to explore the colorful stalls and shops – we didn’t buy anything but it was a fun experience.
Rangoon, now known as Yangon, was formally Burma’s capital and remains very much the economic heart of the country.
We are still way behind on posting our photos and video footage but we promise to publish the best on this blog in due course. For now, if you want to see some excellent publicly available photos of Yangon, please open this link.
In the evening, we found a lovely Chinese restaurant but Alf was worried that he had enough local currency to pay the bill, not yet being familiar with the conversion factor. As travellers, we leave our valuables in the hotel safe and just carry the minimum currency for immediate daily needs. It was quite a shock not to be able to offer a credit card and is so easy to forget that fact.
We took a taxi back to our hotel and set the alarm for another early start the next day. We had a 7.30 AM flight from Yangon to Mandalay and we were both looking forward to that.
Remember, watch this space for further adventures of two mature travelers!