Travelling back in time!
Trip Start Aug 27, 2011
99Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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So, a bad start to the day. I slept the taxi to the airport and we wandered around looking for a spot of breakfast! I was feeling the tiredness but also the beer trying to work it's way out!
The flight to Yangon was fairly quick. They are on a time zone 30 minutes behind Bangkok. When landing at the airport, you notice instant differences. None of them men are wearing trousers, instead a cloth wrapped around their waist in a skirt fashion. Dave pointed out the women who wore long socks but didn't shave their legs! Immigration was quick and we soon had our bags! My voice was going, I knew the rate for a taxi but the first guy we spoke to said no. We talked to someone else who agreed and called over the first guy who said no to us?? Luckily, we didn't have to change US dollars at the airport as I bought some local currency off my friend Laura in Manila before Xmas.
It was a hot day. You leave the humid and sweaty climate of Bangkok to be dropped into the baking sun and dry heat of Yangon. Most of the cars are pretty run down, it was like driving in the 70s in the UK. The gear stick often slipped out of gear and along the way he picked up his buddy that needed a lift, surely he should split the fare with us. It was fascinating looking out the window to a country to see and hear very little of. I also thought about my Grandad. Amazing that almost 70 years ago he was here, as a young 16 year old who lied about his age to enlist in the Burma star. It's the kind of sacrifice and dedication to your country and democracy that you would not see in today's society. I'm not talking about those in the military but of those who would be forced to join if it was needed. It's something I can't imagine doing myself, but then, you are not always aware of your possible reactions under stressful conditions.
We found our guesthouse and without a booking, finally checked Dave into his first shared dormitory. We paid in dollars and were soon fast asleep upstairs! It turns out Dave didn't get much sleep either as he was downloading podcasts past midnight! So we were both tired!! There were only a few beds in the dorm, the one thing about the hotel was the endless sets of stairs we climbed to our room!
A few hours of napping, we got ready to find some lunch. Before all this, we needed to change one of our crisp $100 bills to acquire some local currency. You can do this on the black market, but it's not recommended. Official banks now recognize the black market exchange rate, so instead of some guy playing some hand trick, you can change with official in a bank. The problem in Myanmar is that there are no ATMs for international debit cards! I heard of someone landing without US dollars and having to use a travel company that their parents could send money to. They prefer $100 bills and there can't be any tears, creases or writing on the notes, we change two and one is rejected straight away! Nuts!
We went for a wander to find lunch. The streets are bustling with activity. There are various market stands on all streets. Either selling tasty treats, merchandise, fruit and veg, cell phone covers. There were few shops, each building was a front for the market stalk in front. It was a strange set up, it felt like we had stepped back in time! I'm happy to say, the Western world had yet to grace the country. If you want a coke, it's local coke! There are no big M signs, no KFC, no Starbucks, no Hilton hotel. An untouched world and in some ways I hope it remains the same. Though, we all know the positive economic impact for the country if these global companies are allowed to enter, to set up shop so to speak.
There are very few people hassling us. The odd guy asks us about exchanging money, but everyone else just gets on with their day. Frequent stares and curious smiles are sent our way, but it's a very friendly and safe city indeed. We settled on a Myanmar curry for lunch! It came out cold, but was very tasty! I met a Belgian couple in boracay who have been to Myanmar and they left early because of food poisoning!! Yikes! I hope it all stays down! I'm just recovering from an upset stomach from Vietnam!!
We had the unfortunate experience of using the Internet in Myanmar. One place couldn't even load a page and in another place, it took ten minutes to download an email! It felt like being back in dial up days. Poor old Dave was pulling his hair out!!
In the evening we went for a longer stroll, seeing as the crazy hot sun had set. We found a noodle house in our guide book, but not before going to one cafe that doesn't even exist anymore. Walking around in the evening is unusual, there are few street lights and you really hoped you ate enough carrots in the last few weeks. It was truly amazing seeing some of the street vendors cooking their good over a fire in an oil drum! Such resourceful people!! The noodle house was great and very very tasty.
We went to sleep pretty early on the first night, I was still feeling rough from my night out in Bangkok. Luckily, Dave didn't snore too much that night but we were constantly woken up by the traffic of people leaving for buses or people arriving from a night bus from Inle Lake.
The guesthouse offered free breakfast buffet! Not quite like the buffet one would imagine but there were a few things I was happy to try. The coffee was not the best but I still drank a few cups to perk me up. Another two flights of stairs above the breakfast bar offered a view of Yangon from the to of the guesthouse. A great view of the city! Interesting run down architecture and crumbling buildings! There are very few developments under construction as in contrast to the ever developing city of Bangkok, or most cities in China.
Our plan today was to find transport to the bus station for our night bus to Bagan and to explore more of the city. We wandered for fifteen minutes to the train station from where we heard you could find a mini bus to take you to the bus station (which was a forty minute drive away). A man introduced himself as selling tickets and walked us to his ticket office. We were treated like kings till they found out we had already bought a ticket to Bagan and they basically told us to get lost. I moaned at them for wasting our time, saying I clearly made the guy aware of what we wanted. They told me no time is ever a waste of time!!
We sucked up the cost of a guesthouse taxi in the end. We met a British guy at the guesthouse who said everything in Myanmar can be haggled or negotiated. So we kept that in mind. We had a few more hours, so we walked to the dock to enjoy a cold drink and to take in all the sights of this old and worn city.
One of the guesthouse owners drove us to the bus station and he asked us to chat with his 7 year old son so he could practice English. His favourite football team was Real Madrid. The owner also told us to visit his birth city of Monywa, which has the 2nd largest Buddha in the world (you've already seen the tallest at Lashan in China, remember) so we took his advice on board!
The bus station was a crazy hub of chaos and activity. It seemed there were hundreds of buses, thousands of passengers and hundreds of food places. Dave and I found a street stall and ordered some food. Basically, Dave asked for pork liver and rice and I got chicken and rice. Two minutes later, you are staring at ten plates of food!? Did we order all this? Oh well, might as we try it all! Dave wasn't aware he ordered liver, so I made him eat that one!! Tasty food, I'm enjoying this Myanmar cooking!! At the same place we needed to use the bathroom. So Dave went first and came back smiling?! I was pointed towards the back of the restaurant shack towards the living area. Pointed into the garden and told to pee next to a wall!! great! I walked back to find a large lady naked on a mattress, so I mumbled an apology and jogged on by! Yuck!
The bus was in good condition, offered free water and even a toothbrush and toothpaste! We were ready for the twelve hour journey!! There would be many long journeys in Myanmar!!
Next stop, Bagan.