Sunday, January 27, 2013

Yangon, Myanmar

Tim:  We arrived in Yangon at 8 AM after two flights, one from Bali to Kuala Lumpur then another on to Yangon. We had some difficulty trying to get a visa for Myanmar and eventually settled on a pre-arranged visa on arrival that required us to spend an additional 50 USD each to get. As promised a tour agent met us at the visa on arrival desk and helped us with the paperwork. We had our visas within 10 minutes.

We got in a cab for the 20 km ride into the city. It cost us a little less than 10 USD. We had booked our first night stay at the Eden Palace Hotel in the North of the city. We were exhausted by our travels that included a middle of the night layover in Kuala Lumpur and we immediately took a nap once we arrived.
Our friend Justin and his girlfriend Ciara arrived just a few hours after us from Bangkok. We met in the lobby at 1:30 PM and took a cab into the middle of the city into the Chinatown area. We were all hungry and we found a street side restaurant that served seafood and Myanmar draft beer. We spent several hours here before we moved to a roof top bar that was recommended by our Lonely Planet guide book.

We enjoyed a few more beers and played a few card games. The roof top bar, Zero Bar, put on a Burmese fashion show. I guess that is what you would call it. There were about 10 ladies that first took turns singing karaoke songs. Some of the ladies were not so good at karaoke. Then they began a cat walk show that was choreographed to have several women walk from the line up at the same time. After a song was over, all of the ladies would go in the back and change dresses before continuing a similar presentation for the next song. The choreographing was very different as none of the ladies danced. They would just strut to the front of the cat walk then return to the lineup. At first maybe the two ladies on the outside would walk to the front, then two from the inside, etc… Between the four of us we decided that this was the Burmese version of a dinner entertainment variety show. Everything was good until all of the ladies left the stage and a lone female midget came to the stage in a tube top like dress and did a sexy dance on a pole near the front of the stage. At this point we were quite confused as the whole evening had been quite conservative with the women singing karaoke, changing dresses, and walking down the cat walk. Then came the sexy dancing midget on a pole. I think we are all confused about they show.

At 9:30 PM we were all ready for bed. We took the elevator back to the ground floor to find a taxi to take us back to our hotel. We did not bring a business card, and all we knew was the name of our hotel. Turns out our hotel is not very well known. The first cab did not understand anything we were saying. A second cab after some discussion and talking to bystanders on the side of the road, said he knew where our hotel was. Turns out he did not. The taxi driver took us to several other hotels only to have us tell him that it was the wrong hotel. Eventually, we went in search of wifi so that I could pull up the address from my iphone. The random hotel we stopped at let us use there wifi but it was incredibly slow. The hotel clerk was able to find the address in a phone book before I could pull it up on my phone. The same taxi driver finally got us to our hotel almost an hour later. The cost was the same for us, because all of the taxis work on a pre-agreed amount.

The next day we had the complimentary breakfast at our hotel which was actually quite good. Next we got in a cab and went in search of a more reasonably priced hotel. After looking at three options and not being satisfied, Amber and Ciara sat with our backpacks at a street side tea shop while Justin and I walked around looking for more hotels. We settled on the first place we had looked at. The price was 20 USD per night for a double room with a shared bathroom. Our version of the guide book was published only about one year ago, but the prices listed for hotels seemed to be very out of date. Tourism is increasing significantly every year here. In 2011 there were only about 300,000 tourist visitors where 2011 brought 500,000 and 2012 was set to have even more. This has led to a shortage of hotels and increased prices. We found that within just one year hotel prices had jumped on average 75 percent from what our guide book stated.

We decided to visit the Shawdagon Pagoda, Yangon’s number one attraction at sunset and stay until it got dark. The site was beautiful and is the most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in all of Myanmar. It is a beautifully gold gilded stupa standing more than 300 feet tall on a small hill. At night the Shawdagon gleams brilliantly. Apparently, the stupa is covered in actual gold. A royal queen had donated her weight in gold, and not to be outdone her son donated twice his weight and the weight of his wife’s in gold. We spent two hours at the pagoda. At times we just found a place to sit an gaze at the beauty of it.

On another day in Yangon, we followed a walking tour that was recommended in our guide book. This included another golden stupa that stands in the in the heart of the city in the middle of a roundabout. It is from this point that the British had based their gridded streets from so the citing has the standard 1st through 56th streets. During our tour we stopped in for an Indian style strawberry lassie (yogurt shake). It was very different from any lassie that I had had before. The yogurt was very firm almost like a soft cheese, and the drink was quite chunky. Although the texture was different it tasted good. For dinner we ate an Southern Indian restaurant that only served biryani. I have never liked biryani that much the few times I have had it, but the biryani here was the best I had ever had. It was served with mouth watery chicken that fell of the bone. We like this place so much that we came back twice during out three day stay in Yangon.  

We tried uploading photos, but the internet connection is too slow for it. 

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