After years on my bucket list, I finally was able to travel to Myanmar this year as my birthday gift to myself. It was a smooth and eye opening experience for me.The reason I keep delaying my travel before because of the visa and the frequency of the flight to Myanmar from Singapore issue. Even when traveling to Myanmar has ease up, still travelers were required to apply a visit visa before one can visit the country and airlines flight schedules were limited to twice a week only. I am holding a Philippines passport, and when we were allowed to travel visa-free then I decided to grab the opportunity soonest as I am curious to see Myanmar at its present situation. I read about Myanmar and become curious and anxious to find out the effect of its isolation from the rest of the world.
My trip to Myanmar commenced in Yangon the country’s former capital and went to Bagan, the highlight of my trip and a side trip to Bago. I arrived in Yangon on Saturday, May 10, 2014 and left the country on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Jetstar was the chosen airline as its flight schedule is convenient and it has the lowest fare among the airlines that fly to Myanmar from Singapore.
When I arrived at Yangon International Airport I was surprised to learn that it is new and modern terminal. I experienced smooth pass at Immigration counter. Based on my experience it is better to change local currency at the airport but I find it odd that the money changers at the airport does not have a common exchange rate and each shop has different policy when exchanging currencies. Like some shop has amount limit during transactions while others don’t have. Immediately after I got my local currency kyats and about to hire a taxi, something unusual happened the whole terminal turned into darkness because of power failure but was restored quickly. I hired a taxi from the airport rather than negotiating outside the airport as I was informed beforehand that it is fair and safe to hire a taxi at the airport itself, true enough I arrived at the hotel fast and safe with no problem at all.
I booked the hotel thru agoda.com and though Clover Hotel is just nice but I was quite disappointed for its location. I chose the hotel due to its proximity to Shwedagon Pagoda but didn’t know that it is on the other side of the city center where its neighborhood were old residential area. So the planned night out on the first night was spent to sleeping. I decided to sleep early since I want to be at Shwedagon before sunrise, but since I woke up a bit late and I have to wait for my breakfast I left the hotel past 8:00 already and I have to walk a quite distance so when I arrived Shwedagon I was sweating. I passed a public market on the way to the pagoda and it was a good opportunity to people watch. I enter the pagoda at the eastern gate. With my dlsr on hand, nobody noticed me at the gate and I got to enter without paying a fee as tourists requires to pay an entrance fee. Maybe the gatekeeper assumed that I am local. After climbing stairs barefooted I decided to sit after I reached the top level of the complex. It was an overwhelming experience to see up close the entire pagoda and the thousands of locals and tourists. I set for half an hour before I started to explore the enormous complex. There are many pagodas of varied sizes and design and each of them is interesting to take a closer look. But the main pagoda is the real attraction. Shwedagon Pagoda is covered with hundreds of gold plates and the top of the stupa is encrusted with diamonds. Shwedagon Pagoda forms the focus of religious as well as community activities – the bustling of devotees and monks washing the statues, offering flowers, worshiping, and meditating.
I decided to leave when I finally completed encircling the entire complex, and took a taxi to purchase my bus ticket to Bagan. The ticketing booths were located at Aung San Stadium but the bus terminal is located outside the city center and I have no idea it was far, should I have known I have agreed to take the shuttle van provided by the bus company. The catch was if I took the shuttle van I have to be there at the stadium before 2:00pm, and I thought which I regretted after, I just go direct to the bus terminal myself since the bus timing is 6:00pm. The hotel charges me 9,000kyat and took more than an hour to reach the terminal. Lucky when I come to the hotel I asked the receptionist about the terminal location so I was able to made it on time. Aung Mingalar Highway Bus Terminal is located far away from the city and it is so cramped and disorderly. It took few rounds before the driver located the bus. The bus is air-conditioned but a bit discomfort. The bus leave before 7:00pm and after a few stop, we arrived at the bus terminal in Bagan around 4:00am. I immediately hired a taxi since I learned that my hotel is still far from the terminal and will took us about an hour also to reach the place. The taxi fare cost me 9,000kyat after negotiation. My hotel is Aye Yar River View Resort right at the Old Bagan district. I was asked to pay upon entering the main road to Old Bagan USD25 for tourist fee. When I reach the hotel I told the receptionist that I will go immediately to tour Bagan as I want to catch sunrise at the temple and will just check in after I come back. The hotel has no available car that day as it was fully booked, I was told to look for a horse drawn carriage just outside the hotel gate. Lucky I did not took the bicycle at the hotel because it is not easy to navigate the enormous complex. I was able to catch the sunrise and visited important temples of the historic Bagan. I was back at hotel by 9:00am.
I stayed for one night at Bagan and the rest of the day I just stay in my room as the temperature in Bagan reaches 43 degree Celsius at its hottest. In the afternoon I took a boat ride at the river for sunset . I was told by the driver I hired in the morning he knows a boatman who can tour me around the river to catch sunset. I paid 8,000kyat for the ride which I regretted because the river is just behind the hotel I stayed in and it’s better to appreciate sunset at one of the gazebos than riding a boat. Beside the sunset that day what nothing spectacular. The following morning I went back to one of the temples near the hotel and this time I hired a bicycle for an hour at the hotel since the temple is just near.
I left Bagan the following night with the same bus company. I bought the ticket immediately when I arrived Bagan, luckily I remember to buy upon arrival since I learned when I arrived at the terminal that there were no more tickets available to Yangon.The ride was uneventful. There are stopover during the travel for eating toilet visit. Since I was not hungry and after I checked the eateries I did not try the food as I don't want to take chances of me having to have problem during the ride. The bus arrived Yangon before 7:00am since the bus left Bagan after 8:00pm. From the terminal I took a taxi to my hotel. I booked a different hotel, I booked at the place near Chinatown since my plan was to explore the area and the city’s attractions. During the day I just walk leisurely and navigated the city streets. I was able to locate St Mary’s Cathedral, City Hall, and the port area where most of the colonial buildings are located. After that I took a taxi to locate Aung San Suu Kyi house . It was raining hard when I arrived and I took shelter at an adjacent dilapidated house and waited for half an hour. I was quite disappointed because all I can see is a tall concrete fence. I was supposed to proceed at Inya lake nearby, but it still raining so I just decided to went back to hotel and rest until evening.
At night I explored Chinatown. I was a bit disappointed because I was looking forward for the night market. There was nothing special, so I just decided to have dinner but I was hesitant at first to try the food stalls along the road because of it condition. As I was hungry, I took the chance and lucky I was alright after. I keep walking after that hoping to locate bars within the area but I found nothing so I just decided to go back to the hotel. But while I was traversing the alleyways for taxi I spotted a street with rows of barbecue stalls of all sorts and was crowded. I wanted to try but I was full already so I just passed by.
The driver of the taxi I took after I come back from Bagan gave me his mobile number. During the night I was searching on the internet of places I can visit during the day before I go back to Singapore. I chance upon Bago, about 2 hours from Yangon. So I called the driver and asked him if he can tour me around Bago he said yes and quoted me 60,000kyat. When I asked the receptionist if the price is right and said yes, I confirmed to him and made a deal.
Upon check out of the hotel, the taxi driver was already waiting for outside of the hotel past 9:00 in the morning, we were able to left the city area after an hour due to traffic and at the same time the driver tour me around the city. Bago is about 80 km away from Yangon so we arrived about lunchtime already. We had a quick lunch at a local restaurant where the driver says it is famous for local food. The food is okay but nothing fancy. We managed to cover the local attractions but every time we enter a pagoda they always asked for camera fee. And the most outrageous was we went to Kanbawzathadi Palace and was asked to pay for usd10 as entrance fee. Kanbawzathadi Palace is a reconstructed replica of an original palace built in 1556.
To sum up my trip to Myanmar, I can say that I enjoyed the days I was there. Bagan is the most eye opening place for me. Definitely the place is one of Myanmar's tourist distination. Yangon is like any asian city that has history and maybe left behind in modernity but it has charm that make Yangon unique and worth visiting.