Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Yangon, Myanmar...Times are Changing

I arrived at the Bangkok DMK airport ready to get on my way to Myanmar. I have done more reading for these next 28 days than any of my travels to date. I was excited to get this journey started. As I sat waiting for the flight, I struck up a conversation with 2 girls from America that were also going for 28 days. They were as excited as I was to travel Myanmar. We laughed that there is only one travel guide and everyone had it...the bible, Lonely Planet. We had all followed the rules and were carrying our USD and concerned how we were going to keep the money clean. What was ahead of us on this journey? Only time will tell. I told the girls to have fun and enjoy their trip if we did not see each other later. I stood in line and saw that the man next to me was wearing a NY Yankees hat. So, I asked if he was a Yankees fan and pointed to the hat. He was! We laughed and I told him I prefer the Angels and we discussed the season. He was Burmese and was returning home. As we talked we realized we were sitting next to one another. His travel partner asked if I would switch seats because he has never flown before and wanted a window seat. Sure, no big deal. I was prepared for that. I smiled as we sat down and continued to talk. He was a pastor and ran an orphanage in Yangon. By the end of the flight, I had been given his contact information in case I had any problems and was invited to dinner at his home. I politely turned down the invitation since it was his anniversary and his wife had been home with the children for a week!

As I walked off the plane, I was hit with the heat and humidity of Yangon. It was hot! I walked through the airport and got into the line for customs. I looked around as I watched people in the (airport. I spotted a man wearing the traditional longji  (a long skirt worn by men and women) and smiled. Yay! I loved it! Getting through customs was simple. Then, I picked up my backpack and noticed the money changer at the airport. It was changing for 947 kyat to the USD. I had looked up the rate on-line and this was the same. So, I changed some money over. I was also surprised to see that they accepted the Euro, Singapore dollar and FEC. Times have changed since the last Lonely Planet guidebook. No black market money changing for me! There are also signs all over the airport that the ATM accepts MasterCard. I will have to try using an ATM at some point....just because I want to see if they work with international debit cards.

I found my guesthouse, Ocean Pearle Inn, with my name on a sign. They had arranged to pick me up at the airport for free! The gentleman was also wearing a longji! He greeted me and had me wait at the airport curb while he went to get his car. I stood smiling and watching everything around me. I loved this country immediately. As we started the long drive from the airport to Yangon I watched out the window taking in everything. The first thing you notice is the drivers wheel is on the right side of the car. Makes sense since this was a British colony. But, in order to separate themselves from the British, they drive on the right side of the road. It was a little weird. This was going to take a little getting use to. As we drove into town, I saw many of the men and woman wearing the longji. It was traditional and looked very nice. Most of the men wear it with a business shirt and tied in the front. They have there wallets and cell phone tucked in to the side. I smiled. I like the cultural differences.
The next thing I saw was packed buses. People were hanging out the sides. They were packed into the pick-up trucks and hanging off the back. Some people would sit on the roof of the trucks as they drove down the highway. As the suns et on the city, I saw a large golden stupa and knew it was my first glimpse of the Shwedagon Pagoda. It was amazing at night. I was in awe of the sight.

I arrived at my hotel, checked in and was ready for dinner. Food is a great way to get acquainted with a country. I asked for a restaurant and was told to go a couple of doors down the street.  A man  welcomed me, asked where I was from and if I was hungry. It was a BBQ restaurant so, I picked out a few kebabs and then he showed me to a table. He brought me a Myanmar beer and told me it was on the house since I was American. I thanked him and he told me how Obama's visit last November had made a positive impact on tourism. He explained that they hope Americans and western countries invest in Myanmar and the tourism will continue to grow. He also gave me his card with his cell phone number in case I had any problems while I was in Myanmar. The food was great and I had made another new friend. As I sat enjoying my meal, I noticed a load humming sound. I was in the middle of a city and it took me a second to register where the noise was coming from. Generators lined the streets and many businesses used them for backup when power was lost. The owner of the BBQ restaurant told me to be prepared for many blackouts in Myanmar.

There is another custom I read about that I was waiting to witness. Luckily, I did not have to wait long. I heard the kissing sounds as I sat waiting for my meal. No, it wasn't amorous teenagers! Ha ha!  In Myanmar, the kissing sound is used to get someone's attention. It is funny when you first hear it and then see it in action. The table behind me used it to get more beer, order food and get the check. Could I do this? How silly will it look and feel?  I decided to jump in and make the kissy sound and order a second beer. I giggled when I saw the look on his face. He smiled and came to my table and with another beer. The young boy, Shelly, said he wasn't expecting it from a tourist and told me he appreciated my willingness to use it to get his attention. This was fantastic! Another boy was sent to my table to fan me while I ate. I kept telling him he didn't need to but, his father insisted. What an experience on my first night in Myanmar! I thanked the man for his hospitality, paid my bill and said goodnight.

Over the next few days I explored many of the sights of Yangon. I started by walking around the city. It is a large city with constant traffic. The traffic jams seemed to be endless. People were packed into the city buses on their way about their daily activities. I thought I would go unnoticed but the people would see me, nudge a friend and point and smile. Obviously not too many tourists at this time of year. I quickly learned to say good morning in Burmese. Several people would walk up and say hello, ask what country I was from (they love American's here!) and then say "bye,bye!" Off they would walk. Some of the women would come up to me and point at my face and say something that I did not understand. I just smiled as I experienced the sites and sounds of this city. Women walk around the city balancing trays of food and produce on their head. Men in the longji's and buses packed full of people. My senses were overwhelmed, but I loved it!

I was intrigued with the beautiful British colonial buildings. There was one abandoned building that was gorgeous. I walked around and took pictures which seemed to attract the people. I finally found someone that spoke English and told me it was the building that General Aung San  was assassinated in 1947. I asked several people and got some mixed stories. I am not really sure but I loved the beautiful architecture and hope that it will be restored and used as a museum as one man told me.

My next stop was the Sule Pagoda. As I walked down the street, I saw the local bus stop and walked over to observe the scene. An old bus would pull up and a man would yell out to the people. I am guessing it was destinations. I was approached and asked where I wanted to go. I told them I was just watching and thanked him for his assistance. I wandered on to the park and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings.

Then, on to the river and past the Strand Hotel. A couple of girls tried to persuade me to go to their island to see how the village people lived. I could see a storm arriving and told them I would be back another day. It was getting late in the day and I was hot and tired. I returned towards the hotel and met with the man from the restaurant the night before. I decided to go in for a Myanmar beer. Shelly greeted me but all the tables were full. An Australian couple invited me to sit with them. I hit it off with Brad and Marilyn immediately. We laughed and shared our adventures from the day. As we were sitting in the restaurant, we noticed Shelly would even light a cigarette for you if you made a kissing sound. The service was fantastic. Shelly became our favorite waiter in town. Brad and Marilyn gave me some tips from their day exploring the city. I decided the next morning I was going to take the Circle train around the city and they insisted that I try Lucky 7 teahouse before we met up for dinner the next night.

Tomorrow I will take the ferry to Dalah Island, have lunch at Lucky 7 and finish the day with the Yangon circle train.


  1. Hey Michelle...You'll never guess what happened to me here at Nutrilite? I got the same handshake you did!!! Yep, my last day is Oct 3 so now I guess I'll just have to follow you and get out there and HIT THE ROAD BABY! LOL Even though this came sooner than I was planning, I am excited to see where my path will take me! I'll continue to keep up with your blog until I start my own! Happy Travels...Marsha

  2. Congratulations Marsha!
    I am so excited to hear that you are going to travel. I know you have always like taking trips but there is nothing like long term travel. I have never been happier! This was the best decision I have ever made. I would make the same decision today. You only have one chance at this type of an opportunity and you have to grab it and go. If you have any questions or want to meet up on the road, let me know. Happy travels to you and I can't wait to hear more about your plans.