Yangon

Trip Start May 05, 2008
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Trip End May 05, 2013


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Where I stayed
Motherland Inn II

Flag of Myanmar  ,
Monday, June 23, 2008

Touching down in Yangon airport, I was reminded of the small airport in Kerry. Looking around you can still plainly see lots of broken and uprooted trees from cyclone Nargis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone_Nargis) last month. Immigration were friendly and we met a representative from Motherland Inn who provide a free taxi service to their guesthouse in Yangon. You no longer need to change $200 into FCC at the airport (government stopped this requirement in 2003). We met a moneychanger there and changed $200 in to kyat (1:1000). Please note that this is a shitty rate and you are better off waiting until you get into town before changing money. You can get rates 1:1150+ for USD and gem shops or jewellery shops are often the best places to change. Count the notes before you leave and ask him to replace any torn notes. Avoid offers from moneychangers in the street around Sula Pagoda. They say a good rate but I have heard stories that after you have handed over your money and it comes time to count the kyat exchanged, they scarper claiming that there are police watching and it is not safe. Also, you will need a huge wallet to store this stuff  : ). The smaller notes get pretty grubby but are usefull to keep in a back pocket to hand to any would be guides etc.

Yangon is about as modern Myanmar gets and on first impressions you may be shocked. The streets are all broken down, mud and dirt everywhere and generally very shabby. There are lots of greasy scrapmetal and spare parts shops punctuated by little tea shops and eateries. Men were skirts (Longee) and chew the Betal Nut spitting out wads of red glup from time to time. At first we met some people and thought that they just had a bloody mouth but later we realised that it was betal nut. People are very friendly here and we met some interesting characters during our first days here. We met an old woman called Ethel who is a bit crazy, we had tea while she tried to organise a trip for us. At sula pagoda we met some monks and one of them gave us a mini-tour (Sula, Botataung, Shwedagon and the massive reclining budda) around the city and told us many things about buddism.
Although people are very nice here you soon become wary of people that say "what country" and proceed to guide you around and then want a "present" in return. I recommend buying bananas for these occasions and if you give a banana they will accept it and go away usually.

We had our first brush with the government in Shwedagon pagoda when after some time there with the monk, "spies" approached us and demanded papers from the monk and explained to us quite harshly that we were welcome in Myanmar but they have very strict policies regarding monks speaking with foreigners. Earlier in the month the monks were protesting because of the rising cost of food / oil and the governments inaction during cyclone Nargis. The monk told us that half his monastery had to disappear for a while until things cooled off a bit.

Yangon is a good place to start and Motherland Inn is a great place to stay. They have decent rooms for $10 and the staff are excellent. After some time here and seeing how crowded the buses get we decided to hire a car and driver for 2 weeks for $600. This is way more expensive than busing it but you spend much less time on the road and more time seeing the country. Our driver Zaw was excellent and it was great to travel with a local.

So after two days in Yangon we are about to set off on a 14 day roadtrip around Myanmar...
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