The original idea was to fly from Kuala Lumpur into Yangon and then book the next flight up north but when it came to that next stage the availability of those flights was non-existent so I thought it better to fly from there to Bangkok and then come back to Myanmar a few days later. However, that possibility eventually eroded away as times didn’t match up and the schedule would be a bit too punishing….even by my standards. So with all that in mind it became clear that our time in Myanmar would unfortunately be very short and certainly not what I had in mind when first planning things.
In fact, the time spent going to the embassy in Tokyo took about as much time as we were there but that wasn’t gonna stop us from getting the most out of it. I’ve had my heart set on going there for quite a while now and really enjoyed watching all the various films ‘set’ in Myanmar beforehand for the On Screen series on this site not that that did too much too put one’s mind at ease before descending on the capital city in a country which has suffered so much in the past.
We arrived on Christmas eve and took a taxi from the airport to our guest house which was easy enough and was a pre-paid one done before exiting the terminal. Before that I had to exchange some yen to the local currency kwat which made me seem like a millionaire once the bundles of 1000 kwat ($1) notes (no coins in Myanmar) had been handed over which were so thick that I could only really keep them in my bag.
One of the reasons I wanted to travel to Myanmar is the unknown factor and I was quite surprised at what was to come. Sule Pagoda is the golden clump temple in the middle of a roundabout thats the brightest thing in a very, very dark city. This was our focal point for taking a walk down Maha Bandoola Road on what I thought would be a fairly straight-forward route. Although it was, there was far more to it as the pavements are packed full of vendors, stalls and shops extending out on to the street
Most people in Myanmar, especially women and young kids, wear thanaka which is the make-up you can see on some locals in my photos. Its one of the most noticeable things for any new arrivals and it comes from tree barl and eventually becomes a soothing, cooling cream that feels both refreshing and smells nice too. I believe its good for protecting the skin from the sun and is seen as fashionable too but please don’t quote me on that as I’m probably wrong!
Low plastic stools and tables provided most eating places. No picture menu’s here and rarely any English too as the signs were of course only in the local language. Back to basics and the good old fashioned way of body language and pointing in particular to get what you want!
One thing that did keep popping up were tables with the old-fashioned telephones on them which I can only assume is some kind of pay phone system which is a little strange given that most people seemed to have mobile phones anyway. We eventually stumbled upon 19th Street which I found out later is the hottest street for nightlife in Yangon and a thriving place full of restaurants and bars selling barbecued food and cold beer.
The following evening I took us on the Lonely Planet walking tour of Yangon having not really learned my lesson from doing their tour of Little India in Kuala Lumpur! Can’t say I’ve ever been to enthralled by such excursions but they give me something to focus on. This one was quite interesting for me though as it included the Strand Hotel, Customs House and a few other crumbling, fading British colonial Yangon buildings and places offering a slice of Asia that time has forgotten. I wanted to have a drink in the Strand Hotel (below), which opened in 1901, but with daylight running out I wanted to complete part of the tour before dark when the photos would not look so good due to the lack of street lighting which requires your eyes to adjust to the darkness as soon as possible.
My girlfriend and I both loved our time in a country that has been hidden away for far too long. Of course our trip was way too short but I felt privileged to catch a glimpse of how things work in this wonderful country and though communication with the locals wasn’t always easy, we found them to be so nice, helpful and honest in ways I could never have imagined. Long may that continue and we both hope to return to travel to other parts of Myanmar one day to see how the country has further developed.
Next: Aung San Suu Kyi house, Shwedagon Pagaoda and Happy World! Click here