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1/08/2013

Yangon and a tiny bit(e) of Bangkok

Day 0: Bangkok - it's all about the food

Always (NOT) looking forward to sit eleven hours in a plane filled with retired old people all nearby a total nervous breakdown while checking their tickets so often that everything gets lost and mixed up just before boarding...Eventually they all end up being the last ones in the queue. (By the way: anti flew injections for the elderly do not work- my god was I on a sick leave holiday plane or what?).

Or on the bad hair day trip? I saw several people with their hair dyed in purple, black and blond strains (mother and daughter both exactly the same!!!). No I kid you not!. And they all speak a kind of Dutch regional language I am not familiar with. Well, flying makes me wonder a lot. Understatement. For sure I find much inspiration for my Dutch blogs I write for Esta. Let's say hurray for that :-) Anyway, here I am sitting at my Myanmar desk in the middle of Yangon. Some crazy kind of bright pink Hello Kitty desk lamp (yes she found here way to Myanmar too) lightens my desk.



It wasn't easy to set this whole thing up. Wifi is rare in Myanmar and if it is available you have to try at least six times to log in to, and if you succeed in doing that properly....it goes as slow as turtle. Blogging on an iPad and having three camera's to sinc with it is, well let's call it climbing the virtual Mount Everest. Well so much for the complaining Elles!!! Helloooo I am on holiday and as of now I am totally open minded and doing the utmost to get down with the Burmese flow.... (at least I will try).

So, our night flight wit EVA went smooth and I didn't catch the flew. Arriving in BKK going from international to national with the FREE SHUTTLE (nobody seems to know that on TripAdvisor) checking in @Amari. A giant hotel with a bright shiny reception and totally run down hall ways but perfect well equipped airy rooms (recommendation). In an hour or so we got what we wanted: the fulfillment of our most desired wish: a food court in 'da neighborhood'. Hell yes, only 55 baht taxi fare to get us to Foodland. What's in the name??



Well we happy, they happy. We spend all over the place some 6$ and they got a lot of compliments for that and we got the best cheap food in the world. Well the rest night finishes pretty low brow. We went to bed exhausted at 9pm (and yes our hidden money was still there in between two curtains :-)


We woke up in our white fluffy far too comfortable beds @ 8am. Great night sleep, great shower, great swimming pool, great breakfast.....well....? 

A bunge of Chinese people took over the breakfast area. Ever seen a Chinese eat and talk? Well I thought I did but after this morning I am sure I only saw Dutch Chinese. I was totally shocked by the real Chinese people. They are so rude: they eat their food directly from the buffet with their chopsticks (really!) and they scream, fart and blurb...all the same time. The lovely Thai waitresses are less then a dog in their eyes. I was so incredibly horrified but my boyfriend did not allow me to lecture them. I know...he has a point.


Our hotel is attached to the airport and within a fart (Dutch :-) we checked ourselves in for the Air Asia flight to Yangon. Not bad this low budget carrier. They texted me the day before that the plane would be delayed by 1 hour. That's great service.


We arrived in Yangon one hour later. All went smooth and easy going. Klaas and me are maybe, for others, the ultimate nightmare travelers. When we jump out of the plane, we practically run to immigrations. Saves us at least 1 hour queueing up. While Klaas gets our luggage from the belt, I go for the money exchange experience.


Traveller facts: the Amari hotel is perfect when you fly from Don Muang airport. It cost through Yeego.com only 40€ a night. The breakfast is great as well as the swimming pool. From Suvarnabhumi to Don Muang by shuttle bus -on the 2nd floor- is free.

Day 1: Yangon - Show me the money!

We figured out through Tripadvisor that the Dollar vs. Kyatt rate is great at the airport so I ended up changing 1.000$ and Klaas had to help me carrying all the stacks of money. For the record: there are no ATM's in Myanmar, you cannot pay with your credit card and you have to bring unused pristine dollars otherwise they won't except them. So we got for a couple of thousand dollars in pristine notes from the bank at the airport in Amsterdam. No other bank facilitate this in our country.
So we are now the proud owners of nine stacks (with paper band) of Kyatts and that feels pretty rich.


It was all so hilarious at the money change desk. All these travelers looking so uncomfortable with so much kilo's of Kyatt. 

We took a cab outside the airport (easy to find) who brought us for 6.000 Kyatt downtown to our guesthouse: the Sunflower. Wow, the traffic is horrible in Yangon. Many traffic jams and total organized chaos. Unfortunately our hotel didn't have our reservation in their system (we had their confirmation with us??) and they were full. Bummer! But luckily for us, their other hotel around the corner had availability and now we sleep in the May Flower Inn, a brand new hotel for only 45$ a night which is a bargain (really!) for Yangon at this moment.



The room is pretty big and clean. Bed comfy enough and hot water. After freshening up we went into town to see our travel agent to pay her for all the plain tickets she booked for us. Her name is May and she works at the Peace House Travel. She a lovely lady who really took great care of our travel wishes. Her English is very good and she replied promptly online. I bought her a necklace and earrings as a gift for all her help. Felt totally ridiculous in a way because she has a whole bunch of employees who I should have given anything too! We chatted about her life and about the (political) situation (after asking if this was okay), no problem this subject.


She is quite frustrated about the rates going up so very fast. She has to sell hotel rooms for triple the price and she's ashamed of it towards her clients (who demand better value for the money). Maybe we travelers/tourist have to except this? There is such a shortage of accommodation that prices totally go over the top: the downside of opening the borders. It just goes too fast. 


For dinner we went across the street for the best Myanmar food (according to the bible). The place is called: 'Danuphuyu Daw Saw Yee Myanmar'. I have by the way no idea how to pronounce that...




Half of the population was Burmese the other half was carrying the bible. It always scares me a bit that the Lonely Planet basically decides for us where we eat. But it must be said, the food was great and we ended up chatting with a couple from Canada. These moments we cherish so much.

Traveller facts: beer 2.000K / food depends: we had river crab(expensive)and 2 plates of vegetables and some fish cookies which was all together 11.000K. Taxi from airport downtown: 6.000K. Hotel 45$ (but that was the going rate for January. In February it will be at least 50$).

Day 2: Yangon - let's get down with the system

We started with breakfast after a pretty okay & silent night. The breakfast is being served in a room without a window and food wise there is not much choice. Myanmar noodles, eggs with tasteless white bread or French toast along with a good coffee. The atmosphere in the windowless room did not appeal to us much so we did a quick breaky and left. I guess having breakfast in Myanmar isn't going to be one of this trip's highlights.
Who cares anyway? We decided to do the walking tour the bible suggests and along the way grab a café latte. We found a great place called 'Cafe KSS' where they not only made a great big Italian coffee (by a true barista) they also threw in some fantastic house music from back in the days, and really really really loud.


It was utterly cute that they thought they made us feel at home by playing this music. As a token of our appreciation, Klaas and me did some Gangnam style moves on our chairs while sipping our lattes. The rest of the day we walked, photographed, smiled, wondered mainly downtown and had lunch in a Japanese place were I had sushi en miso soup and Klaas a plate of fantastic noodles. We also did the Bogyoke Aung San market where we finally discovered where all the tourists were hidden. Don't we just love to buy jewelry, bags and other tourist 'crap'??

Anyway we saw many Americans and French people. The last species are truly funny since they negotiate by talking real loud in French. I love to observe these tourists a lot. But one thing bothers me: the big groups with people all wearing these bright colored stickers on the chest and a very expensive camera with a very loooooong lens. They often wear fluorescent white socks, stuck into brand new TEVA gear and to top it all off they wear such a silly bamboo hat. Klaas said: 'They remind me of the former colonial dictators'. They stick close to the guide and they talk very loud to each other, like: 'HEY DICK, DID YOU SEE THAT WOMAN WITH THE WHITE PAINT ON HERE FACE? THAT LOOKS REALLY STUPID, MUST BE SOME KIND OF TRADITION...DON'T YOU AGREE?'






Well I don't like this kind of tourism and although I offend a lot of people right now, I am afraid that the local people just don't benefit at all by welcoming them. Only the wrong (government) people....But that's just my opinion.

That night we wanted to have dinner at 'Japan Japan', according to the bible a great Japanese restaurant. When we arrived the place was empty so we decided to go to the Coriander Leaf. I read some good Tripadvisor reports about this place. We flagged down a cab (not that easy in Yangon) and started the whole hassle about the price. The don't have meters so every ride begins with the bargain game. We ended up paying the driver 2.000K (after a while we figured out that this is about the price for any ride in the city center; 5 minutes or 15 minutes drive, same price). The Coriander Leaf was a fancy upscale place that we found too expensive (7.000K for a curry).

So what now (we are really keen on good but reasonable priced food)? We took a look in our own home made guide (research research research!) and decided to go to 'Feel Myanmar Food'. That was the best decision we could possibly have made for Yangon. The taxi dropped us of (2 minutes in the cab) in front of a vibrant, tidy and cosy in/outside restaurant with a lot of cheerful eating people (locals-expats-tourists). We got a table and a beer in a split second and then they pushed us towards the buffet were we found a diversity of mouthwatering dishes. The whole staff seemed to enjoy our approach and the way we appreciated all the food, while yelling 'ooooh & aaaah' a lot. We pointed out several dishes that looked recognizable which they brought to the table within 5 minutes. In the meantime I discovered they had super fast internet. Wow, I could upload my blog (and pics).


The food was yummy, just delicious! We drank a couple of bottles of Myanmar beer and stayed till late because of the working super fast internet. The blog frustrated me so much. I could not seem to figure out how certain things work (maybe Blogsy isn't that great after all?). Klaas and me got in a fight over it (he says I have to except that it will not turn out the way I want to because of the poor internet situation and my lack of Blogsy knowledge. Which of course I didn't agree with!).

Traveller facts: beer 2.000K @Feel Myanmar. Food between 1.000/2.000K per dish. Taxi downtown to 'Feel Myanmar' 2.000K


Day 3: Yangon - Gold Golder Goldest (it's not always what it looks like)

It was a tiring 2nd day so we slept in, till 10.30 AM. We are that kind of travelers :-). After a slow start up we tried to find a place for a decent breakfast but that just doesn't exist in Myanmar. I really have to stop desiring for good coffee latte, some yogurt with cereals and fruit in the morning. We tried to find Café Aroma (according to the LP this might be a place for a sandwich and coffee) while we bumped into two Myanmar students (history and fine arts) who told us that Café Aroma was closed for renovation. 

They invited us to their monastery 'no name - for safety reasons' that afternoon for a tour. After we finally found a place for our brunch @ the most vibrant teahouse of Yangon, Lucky Seven, we took a cab and met K. and Ko S. They showed us around the buildings where they live together with the monks. It all looks incredibly poor. The wooden floors all have holes and the roof is not waterproof either. Imagine when it rains. No you don't want that! Ko S and K. sleep together in one bed without a mattress, only a mat and a small pillow on hard wood. Some of the monks in this monastery were in prison for a long time (because of their believe in the NLD) and most of them joined the demonstrations back in 2007 and spent also time in prison.


We got so much information this afternoon. The whole military system made me feel so sick. One example: because of the demonstrations the leader of the monastery, who is very sick right now, cannot go to a public hospital anymore. He has to go to a private hospital (expensive). The list of shameful situations is endless and I find it very difficult what to say to them. So I just basically listen and tell them how sorry I feel.




After the tour we offered them a refreshment in a nearby café. Since they follow the monks rules they are not allowed to eat after 12 pm. Monks apparently only eat an early breakfast and have lunch. Klaas gave Ko S 10$ as a donation for the medicines of the head monk. What happened then was kind of strange. They did not seem to appreciate our gesture.

Mmmm..we felt awkward. Then Klaas figured out that they wanted Kyatt instead of dollars. So we asked if they wanted kyatts instead. They answered that they wanted kyatts and dollars because, so they say, they explained to us how much work needed to be done at the monastery buildings and how expensive the the (good) meds are in Myanmar.

I was kind of intimidated by the two and totally didn't know how to handle the situation. Klaas and me both started to explain that we might look very rich and that we are in their eyes but that generosity is something we decide for ourselves and that asking for more money makes us feel very uncomfy. Actually I don't remember anymore what I said, but I felt such an enormous uncomfortable feeling coming over me (was this all a scam?). I stood up, thanked them for their kindness and I basically demanded Klaas to stand up too. He did, and we left. Outside we looked at each other in disbelieve. Did we do any ting wrong? Somebody knows what the f... happened here? Please explain to us.


Anyways, not too much time to think about it all because the Shwedagon Paya was waiting for us. The Shwedagon is a magical place. I have never seen such an enormous pile of gold (sorry missing English language skills to explain it more subtle) surrounded by uncountable pagoda's (also executed in flashy, shinny gold and sometimes helped by flickering led lightning. Why they choose for that is a mystery to me; it looks so cheap and tacky).


After removing our flip flops and paying 5$ we were allowed to stroll around this amazing sacred place Obama also did, just a while before us. I was kidding with the ladies of the ticket booth asking then where Obama put his name on the visitors list, but they looked very serious at me and told me that Barak was a VIP and he didn't have to pay for the Shwedagon! Eventually they understood that I was fooling around and they laughed out loud.


We spent half a day at the Pagoda and left after all the oil candles were led. I guess about 500 of them! A dozen of people do this as a volunteer job, day in day out, while the other volunteers (the cleaners) sing and chant. It was all so fantastic, almost spiritual.



We decided to go back to the 'Feel Myanmar restaurant' where everybody remembered us.

I decided not get all upset about my blogging, but as usual I couldn't get a grip on myself, so I tried again for hours (!) to do it all over again, and *&(*^*&%E$*C it just didn't work. I cannot upload pics because of the weak internet signal here in Myanmar & uploading only my stories seems also impossible. I went to bed quit upset, but my favorite Dutch writer (Ronald Giphart) made me laugh with his book (Ten Liefde).

Traveller facts: beer 2.000K @Feel Myanmar. Small bites between 500/1.000K per set. Taxi: see day before. Sponsoring the monastery: 10$ (but I forgot an extra zero after the ten $ to pay..)

2 comments:

Zack Mocky said...

Hi, Great Effort. I know exactly how the internet in Myanmar can be the pain the butt.

Some people expect more than sympathy after they exaggerate how they have been bullied by the Burmese government. Your offer of 10$ certainly didn't impress them.

The following insteresting comment is from amazon.com on one of the book on Burma( Myanmar ). Apprently the sympathy seekers are just about everywhere in and out of the country.

" Don't waste your cash on it. It's full with fantasies, wishful imaginations and myths. The people the author interviewed are mostly the refuges and asylums who claimed that they have gone through medieval tortures for years in Burma and their whole families have been killed by " Brutal regime" and yet still posses the perfectly able bodies not unlike from their births who are living and enjoying the full healthy lives with extended relatives in high income countries.

If the author hasn't known it already, I would like to add some information on prices that so called activists or dissidents or human right groups charges for making one a former political prisoner in order to achieve an asylum status in sympathetic countries like USA and Norway. It have been a billion dollar business for many of those organisation operating in Thailand and Malaysia. It's a two income industry. Not only they charge the wannabe asylums, they also receive donations from the world's kindest countries and people.

As one method, a wannabe asylum pays a middle man in Burma 10000 US$ or more to go live in one of those camps for 1 to 2 years. After the refuge registration, the jumping in queue to be shipped out to countries like USA,UK,Norway,Germany and etc... will be arranged with further payments. That is quite popular because it's an almost guarantee method of obtaining immigration status like green card and citizenship in those high income countries. It also has other benefits of free education,free housing, child support and monthly allowance in addition to their cash in hand jobs.

At one stage of this process, they have to invent a political story for the immigration authority of these countries that they are indeed pitiful. But, to their convenience, a convincing story can be bought for as little as 3000 US$. A photo shoot with a popular Burmese exile who are known to these immigration offices can be arranged for as little as 500 US$ per photo. A photo goes further than thousand words. It serves as an evidence that one person is indeed in danger of being arrested,imprisoned and tortured by "Brutal Regime of Burma" since he/she is a close friend of that popular Burmese activist in exile despite the fact that they have never met or heard each other in their lives before that payments are made.

For such a lucrative business, it's not a surprise to see competition becomes fierce. The ghost writers have to become more and more creative in order to sell their stories. For example, being raped by several soldiers is not simply good enough anymore. It sounds better to be raped by entire battalion which has more than 500 soldiers in general. Some touche` like the rape happened when 7 months pregnant in front of a tied up husband who later was killed and whose flesh and liver was eaten by those " inhumane soldiers " also sell well.

Burma suffered from the world longest civil war after independence from British. Foreign invasion from Kuomintang Chinese, international sanctions and series mismanagement in Economy also didn't help. But it is not a country where everyone woke up with the thought to whom they would kill today or rape or ransack like the way Rambo and lots like this writer want you to believe. It's a highly cultured civilization of 60 millions people, a land of which is three times the size of United Kingdom. Go there and you will find it as one of the safest countries in the world. Their economy may be be smaller than yours but their hearts are certainly not. "

Anil Kumar said...
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