Paul and Rita's World Tour 2006/7 - Myanmar (Burma)


 All Burma
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Yet another country on our wish list, we almost made it last year but didn't have enough time and also didn't want to rush it too much.  It's a difficult decision to decide to go, and perhaps be seen to support the military regime there, but on the other hand, if we dont go we wont know what it is really like there.  I hope we've made the right decision and don't upset too many people by it.

History: Squabbling kingdoms were the order of the day for many centuries, then the British arrived (dont they just get everywhere?) and divided the country into three, for purely admin purposes of course.  After independence in 1948, more squabbling followed with isolation from the international world with their march towards socialism.  In the 1990 elections the National League of Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide victory, but after 16 years the military government has still not seen fit to hand over power.   Language:  Burmese, mostly.  Population: 52 million.   Money: 1GBP = 2400Kyat as at 4/1/07 (black market rate).No ATMs in Burma, bring cash only. Toilet Situation: Outlook: Not too good. Actual: Quite good in hotels, not so good in other places  Guide Book: Lonely Planet Myanmar, 2005   Visa:  Tourist visa for 30 days, we got ours from Myanmar Embassy in Seoul, about 12GBP plus 8GBP for same day processing.  British Tourists annually: 6000

Diary shortcuts - click on item to jump to section

4th Jan 2007 - Arrive in Yangon (Rangoon)
5th Jan 2007 -Yangon
6th Jan 2007 -Yangon to Mandalay
7th - 9th Jan 2007 -Mandalay and about
10th Jan 2007 - Mandalay to Bagan
11th - 13th Jan 2007 -Bagan
14th - 17th Jan 2007 -Bagan, Magwe, Pyay and Yangon
18th Jan 2007 -Yangon
19th Jan 2007 -Yangon to Bangkok

(We've got a little behind with our web diary, complete laziness on our behalf, but also because we didn't take our laptop to Burma, hope to have it up to date in a week or so.)

Thu 4th January, 2007

Arrived Yangon airport, seemed very quiet, guess they don't have too many flights in a day.  No problems with immigration, we had our visa stamp already in the passport along with the other two forms we'd been given at the embassy in Seoul, duly entered as a FIT, Foreign Independent Tourist.  We been led to expect that our luggage would be scanned and scrutinised closely on arrival, looking for such items as laptops and other indications that one might be a reporter or foreign agent of some sort, but there was no sign of any scanners, and when we saw a sign about mobile phones being confiscated until you left the country and volunteered the fact we had one each, we were just waved on.  Perhaps I could have bought my laptop, after all!  No, it would be good for me to go without it for a couple of weeks, and I'd managed to reduce my luggage to one small backpack, as had Rita, without haveing to carry all the supporting cables and devices.  We were going to have two weeks of travelling really light.

Negotiations for a taxi didn't go our way, the guide book said it would be $3 but they were united in asking for $6, and couldn't get anyone to reduce it.  Things change, prices go up, and the guidebook price is, of course, a guide!   The taxi driver was very pleasant, maybe because he also wanted to become our personal driver and guide for the duration of our stay in Myanmar.  Thanks, but we're only poor travellers and we couldn't possible afford to travel around by taxi even a small part of our time, let alone all of the time.  He did have a very nice itinerary printed out, but we didn't even ask the price.    

It being Independence day in Myanmar meant that the streets were a lot quieter than they usually would be on a Thursday morning, with some side streets closed off to traffic for street games.  The taxi dropped us at the Three Seasons hotel, which the driver had told us on the way was full according to his friend, but we never believe taxi drivers when they say that.  This time he was roght, though, and he was outside when we left to find somewhere else, as if to say "Told you so".  After 20 minutes of walking and tring two more hotel, we found a nice room at the Eastern Hotel, on the fifth floor but it had a lift!  A little steep (the price, not the lift) at $20 a night but we only planned on being here for a couple of nights, and breakfast was included.   Checked in and unpacked our meagre bags, which took all of 20 seconds, then off to explore the city.  That's the great thing about arriving early in a city, you've still got the whole day ahead of you!

Most of the shops were closed and shuttered, so it was difficult to imagine what it might look like on a normal day, but the sun was shing and the temperature was climbing upto 30C, and the locals were smiling and friendly.  We decided to walk up to what is probably the number one sight to be seen in Yangon, the Shwedagon Paya, a huge Buddhist temple sitting on a hill to the North of the city centre.  We came across the railway ticket booking office on the way, so booked tickets on the Mandalay train for Saturday, a whopping $30 each, but we had decided we needed to do at least one long train journey in Myanmar.

After half an hours further walking, we arrived at the Shwedagon, a very impressive temple indeed.  There are four entrances, one on each cardinal compass point, with a long stairway at each rising a plateau, on which sits the Shwedagon Paya itself, with many smaller temple, stupas, statues and walls around it. At the entrance we had to remove our shoes and socks, and make a donation to the temple for the privilege of doing so.  Then we got copped for $5 foreign visitor fee half way up the stairs, but they did throw in a free camera permit, so that was worth it, wasn't it?

The Shwedagon is a sort of bell shaped stupa, 54 metres tall and covered from top to bottom in gold.  Originally dating from around 2500 years ago, the current version was built in 1768, and reputedly has a few hairs from the head of Buddha some in the base of it. In the dazzling sunlight it was an amazing sight, (the stupa, not the hairs), especially surrounded by the many smaller places of worship of the temple. My descriptions could never really do it justice, so I'll leave it up to the pictures, when we get around to putting them on this page  Rita was having a problem with a dodgy knee, so she sat in the shade doing some sketches while I took a walk around the temple, which took me a good hour.

Back down the bottom, we got a taxi back into the town centre, looking for a meal for lunchtime.  Realistic options seemed to be thin on the ground, we tried a few Indians recommended in our guide, were they were extremely rough and dirty looking.  Found one that looked a tad cleaner than the rest, the Golden City Chetty, and risked a masala dosa which is at least a vegetarian dish.  Tasted ok but the jury's out on how clean it was.  Should know in the morning.  I'll keep you posted.

The main drag back toward our hotel is the site of the night market, they dont close the street to traffic, just loads of stalls set up along the edge of the wide street, making it difficult to walk along at anything but a snail pace.  Had to take shelter from the foot traffic (that's our excuse anyway) in a nice bar we found just off the main street, Premier Restaurant, friendly staff and a glass of draft beer for only 400 kyat.  Bargain.  Nearer our hotel we found a supermarket and stocked up the usual essentials, beer, crisps, beer, biscuits, beer and some water.  Need to keep hydrated, you know, its essential in these climates.

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Fri 5th January, 2007

Free breakfast!  Or rather, it's included in the rather expensive room rate.  Nice though, egg, bacon (bit small and fatty) with toast, butter and jam, and coffee.   Needing some exercise, we walked to the Sakura Tower, from where there is a great free elevated view of the city from the top floor restaurant.  Fantastic view of the Shwedagon Paya, as well as other temples and south to the river.  The restaurant looked good too, but it was a tad too soon after breakfast so we declined a meal at this stage.  Further east on Bogyoke Aung Sang Road is the Bogyoke Aung Sang market, a the main tourist shopping market in the city.  Bogyoke is the father of modern Myanmar, having negotiated the independence of Burma from the British and having won the interim election before independence, he was assassinated by some of the opposition, the leader of which was hung by the British for his part in the damnable crime.  He is also the father of Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the winner of the last democratic elections in Burma in 1989, although the then leadership decided not to recognise the result, and put The Lady, as she is known, under house arrest, where she has pretty much spent most of the time since.  

The market it quite touristy, a lot of handicrafts, jewelry and clothes, and a healthy Black market money exchange. We both changed some of our US dollars we'd bought with us,  got a fairly good rate of 1250 Kyat to 1 US$, and was handed a large bundle of notes, which of course we had to stand there and count.  Didn't feel unsafe there, and frequently saw other people doing the same.  Now at least we had enough Kyat to last us some time.  The problem with paying for everything in US$ is that everything gets rounded up, so where something might only be 500 kyat, they say $!, so the local currency is definitely best for the smaller items. We also checked out a few items we might like to take back with us, but there was no point buying anything now as we'd have to carry it around with us for two weeks, and we're coming back to Yangon to get our flight back to Bangkok.

Returned to the Sakura tower restaurant for lunch, food was good and reasonably priced, but the beer was a bit steep at over $2 a bottle.  At least we had a great view of Shwedagon Paya.   Later in the afternoon we walked down to the waterfront, where there were numerous boat jetties on the Yangon river.  Rita got in to trouble a couple of times for trying to take pictures of sensitive buildings, but they just waved at her to stop and did nothing more.  Obviously not too sensitive then.  Other than that, we didn't really notice much in the way of security, police or military.  I suppose because of the presence if large numbers if tourists in Yangon, they're bound to keep a low profile. 

Returned to the Premium Restaurant for tea and couple of draft beers. Not too bad a flavour, but boy am I in need of some real ale.  Can someone please send be a couple of bottles?  I'll pay you back.

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Sat 6th January, 2007

Up at 4:40am, showered, packed and downstairs for a taxi we'd booked for 5:15.  I 


Train from Yangon to Mandalay 

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Sun 7th January, 2007

Mandalay and about, until 9th Jan

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Wed 10th January, 2007

Rita's birthday.  Boat down the Ayarwaddy to Bagan

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Thu 11th January, 2007

Bagan temples, until Sat 13th 

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Sun 14th January, 2007

Bus to Magwe. 6 hours, Stayed overnight.

Bus to Pyay, 9 hours, stayed 2 nights

Bus to Yangon, 7 hours.


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Thu 18th January, 2007

Yangon shopping, last day

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Fri 19th January, 2007

8:15am flight to Bangkok

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