Where are all the scooters????

Trip Start Apr 23, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Myanmar  ,
Saturday, March 26, 2011

Classic Inn had a midday check out which was just perfect for us. We didn't have to be up too early and could take a leisurely breakfast then watching one last movie on Star TV before heading off to the monorail.

We’d forgotten how easy it was to get to the LCCT (Low Cost carrier Terminal) and as usual arrived at least an hour before we needed to. A 5min walk from the hostel to Imbi station, 4 stops down the road to KL Sentral, a 5 minute walk to the Air Asia bus stop and just over an hour to the airport.

The flight was an hour late heading off and was much more crowded than we expected.Obviously everyone was very happy to be home as they were out of their seats (much to the hosties distress) as soon as the landing gear was lowered!!! Lucky for us, when we hit immigration, most of them were locals heading home. The airport appeared to be quite new. It was very white, clean and modern and very calm, unlike many of the airports we’d been in recently.  It was a smooth entry for both of us, the luggage wasn’t too long in coming, and our free pickup from the Ocean Pearl Inn was waiting at the exit. Can’t get any better than that!

The drive through the airport to the city left both of us with impressions much better than imagined after reading the blogs on the usual travel sites. Most of the streets were wide and uncluttered and many of the buildings were quite modern. The public transport appeared extremely crowded, dirty and chaotic but that wasn’t all that surprising. The street life appeared to be quite lively with lots of eating, drinking, shopping and socializing happening on the sidewalks.

The Ocean Pearl was a real find. Very clean rooms, helpful staff, hot water in private bathrooms, AC, Satellite TV (with limited channels), free breakfast, security box and the pick-up from the airport for $20 a night.

Neither of us was hungry, haven eaten on the plane, so after dumping our luggage we wandered down to the supermarket, grabbed a couple of beers and made it an early night. Three things we noticed immediately. One...no gawking without watching where you were going. That would mean an instant broken leg or worse on the decrepid footpaths. Two....much like india, the multistoey buidlings had street level "winches" that could deliver goods without having to navigate stairs. Three...almost every building had a generator on the footpath. A bit of a giveaway regarding electricity supply!

Sunday we spent walking into downtown and then onto Shwedagon Paya, the biggest and most elaborate in all of South East Asia. The walk into town was quite interesting. There was a sprinkling of majestic colonial buildings in various states of disrepair, in amongst the rather dire apartment blocks, and sprinkled with the occasional ultra modern block I’m guessing that house the nouveau rich. The people along the way were very friendly. If they caught your eye and you gave them a smile, 90% of the time you were rewarded with a huge smile back, sometimes a big Hello, and occasionally a short conversation about where you were from and welcome to Myanmar.

It was probably about 5km to the Pagoda so we took a quick rest and sampled our first bowl of Shan noodles before heading into the massive complex. The microbiologist within me rebelled as the stall owner deftly mixed the peanut flavouring through the noodles with her hand then plonked them in a bowl. Best not to think about enterobacter as you savour the subtle and quite delicious flavours of this very simple but common dish. Two bowls of noodles came to about $1.20 but we added a couple of icy cold sprites which bumped the price up to a hefty $3.75!!!

We entered the huge, ornate entrance and climbed up the steep steps to the "ticket booth". The sides were lined with souvenir and offering stalls BUT unlike many other countries we’ve been to, those minding the shop barely raised a hello, let alone a genuine hassle to buy something. Maybe we were finally looking so bedraggled we weren’t worth the effort?

 Locals get in for free but foreigners get hit up for either $5US or 6ooo kyats. They obviously haven’t adjusted the rate for the fall in the US$ which was currently fetching around 850. A quick calculation and we opted to pull out one of the lovely crisp $10 notes we had lying in our guide book. They almost looked disappointed....is this a true sign of the demise of the mighty $US???

What can I say about the pagoda and the surrounds? I can certainly say that that the atmosphere was more like a family picnic than a throng of religious fervour. Families strolled around the grounds admiring the grandness of it all. I’m not sure how many were actual believers but they were certainly in high spirits yet genuinely respectful. The worshippers were most definitely serious. Majestic arrangements of fruit and flowers were quite common offerings and of the great majority of the dozens (82 to be exact) of minor (and quite major) temples and shrines were being patronised....if not for prayers... then for having a rest in the cool and quiet. Say your prayers then have a kip on the marble floor!

The temples themselves were...GRAND...with big capital letters. The main stupa or Zedi apparently is laden with 53 metric tonnes of Gold over 7900 diamonds and other precious stones. I didn’t calculate the worth at today’s rate of $1451US/ounce but I’m figuring it could bail out several small countries and still have change. When you consider the annual salary of most people here would barely break a couple of thousand dollars, how there hasn’t been a total pillaging of the place is a testament to the honest and pious nature of the people. Each of the minor zedi was a work of art. Amazing carvings and statues, paintings and lots and lots of gold....lots and lots!!! It’s just too hard to pay tribute to it all in words so I urge you all to check out the pics.

Hot and bothered and a bit overawed we grabbed a cab back to the Ocean Pearl for a shower, rest and recuperation before venturing out for dinner. We picked out a place from the Lonely Planet that was within walking distance. The Monsoon was an elegant place in a colonial building down towards the strand. Overall, A+ for surrounds, B+ for the food and D- for the hefty 20% tax on top of the bill. It still came to less than a main course in a good restaurant in Australia but, at $26, wiped out our total food budget for the day...thank goodness for $1.20 lunches!

We walked back to the guesthouse via city mart and were safely tucked up in bed by 9pm.

Day 2 saw us visiting grand golden religious sites again. This time was Botatung Paya, named for the 1000 military leaders who escorted Buddha relics from India 2000 years ago. A bargain at $5 for both of us, we got to walk inside the magnificently gilded main zedi to gaze upon a richly housed Sacred Buddha hairs. That was pretty cool, as was the fact that every surface...walls and ceiling...were richly decorated in carvings and totally covered in gold leaf. The outer zedi were also quite impressive once again and Tim was kept busy snapping loads of great pics that can show you all the grandeur far better than I can describe.

We headed back to downtown along the strand. It was pretty grim down near the port area but there were some very nice colonial buildings closer to the centre. One of these was the Australian Embassy. We dropped in to “register”. With all the natural disasters happening both here and in nearby countries we figured it was worth 20 minutes of our time.

We found the Sakura cafe on our way home and had quite a nice noodle lunch and several ice cold beverages. I love the way the ice tea is made from scratch rather than straight out of a bottle. A quick check of the internet and we wandered home via a different route, picking up a bagful of watermelon on the way.

Showered and rested we headed out for dinner, ending up in one of the local BBQ shops...everything you could possibly want (and maybe not want) on a skewer. We picked out a variety of chicken, pork, squid, tofu and vegetable options and ended up with quite a spread. A cold Myanmar (beer) and 2 glasses appeared from somewhere down the road and we were set.

Our last day in Yangon was pretty slack by tourist standards. We repacked our luggage so we didn’t have to take all our winter gear around the traps, checked the glacially slow internet, went for a walk around some of the surrounding streets we hadn’t yet visited, and generally goofed off till late afternoon. We were off to “Junior Ducks” down near the wharf/piers for dinner. We wanted to get a few more shots of street life in the afternoon sun. Everyone was beginning to knock off for the day and the great migration home was beginning to peak. JD’s was meant to be the best place in town for beer at sunset and a decent Chinese meal.  Both pieces of advice were sound and we had a pleasant afternoon watching the hoards catch the rusting ferry boats back across the river as the sun set. Apparently the fare was only 10kyats...about 1.2c at today’s rate, a bargain even if they didn’t look all that sea worthy. The meal was pretty good as well and the service excellent.

It had taken a few days but we had suddenly realised what was so different about Yangon to other South East Asian cities we had been in. There were absolutely no motor scooters. That includes the bane of my life ... tuk-tuks! Was it the sanctions we wondered? Environmental enlightenment perhaps?   None of the above we finally found out. Apparently someone had lobbed a Molotov cocktail at one of the Generals at some point from a motor cycle. That resulted on a total ban on this form of transport. Too bad if you had just spent your life savings on a new bike to get you and your family about town. From now on you could walk, ride your bicycle, take a totally decrepit bus packed in like the proverbial sardine or take a cab. The only positive for us (and maybe the locals) being that almost two out of three vehicles appeared to be a taxi and they were cheap.

As a first taste of Myanmar we had actually enjoyed this city. The people were friendly, the street life bustling, the sites, though few, were pretty awe inspiring and it was generally hassle free. We were starting to wonder if the General’s had banned hustling tourists as well. There were very few beggars, even around the temples and those we did see looked very, very needy. Next stop Mandalay.
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