Back in Yangon
Trip Start Dec 17, 2011
7Trip End Dec 31, 2011
A large military chopper landed at about 10am and there was a lot of activity outside, as passengers were herded back into the terminal building and lots of boxes, cases and barrels were loaded onto the chopper, as uniformed individuals rushed about apparently giving orders. It looked like something dramatic might be happening, to the perspective of a crowd of bored, delayed tourists and the level of excitement rose in the departure lounge, though I'm sure it was just a routine collection of supplies for some military outpost!
Eventually at around 12.30, our flight was announced - that means someone in an AM shirt stood at the front with a sign saying flight xyz was now boarding - no tannoy, don't forget! There was chaos, as we all spilled out onto the tarmac but found no AM plane in sight, and were eventually directed to a Myanmar Airways plane. The plane was obviously much older and more basic than those I had been on in the past couple of weeks, but as long as I got to Yangon I wasn't really bothered, so I was a little surprised at the argy bargy at the front when a North American couple started giving the cabin crew grief about how they had paid for a different plane and they were not happy with this one and it was all "...a fucken' disgrace..." which I thought wad a liitle harsh, given it was all beyond the realm of the poor cabin crew, who were clearly embarrassed but kept smiling. It wasn't till I was happily tucking into a masala dosa in yangon that evening that I read the section in the guidebook about flying in this country - it recommends avoiding Myanmar Airways as they are controlled by the government and all profits boost the regime, and also that their track record on safety is fairly atrocious, with a string of accidents to their name. Ignorance is bliss!
I shared a taxi into town with a couple of teenagers, which cut the cost nicely, and checked in at my guest house which was much more basic than before but in a fantastic location in the centre of town, so I set off to explore. I was disappointed with the main market which was selling mostly tourist junk and the jewellery trade was very much in gold and gems, rather than the chunky silver I favour, but I admired the bamboo scaffolding being erected around some of the market buildings, and watched the skill and agility of the workers using it.
Abandoning the market I set out wandering the side streets and found that Yangon has a real charm, despite having the worst pavements I have ever experienced, so I had to really watch my footing. There were some gorgeous old colonial buildings and I cold just imagine them in their heyday, with some awful British colonial inhabitants all showing a stiff upper lip and speaking in clipped accents as they moaned about the natives and the heat...! I saw a group of pink-robed young novices who can have been no more than 7 years old, sitting with an older nun at a noodle stall, devouring bowlsful with great concentration; a bent old woman hobbled out onto one of the colonial balconies and inspected her pot plants very carefully and at great length; in the Mahabandoola Garden a teenage couple sat making eyes at each other, oblivious to the world around them; and eager browsers squatted to leaf through the piles of volumes on the mats of the booksellers along Merchant Street. I was delighted with the books! - maybe the locals would prefer to be downloading their choices to e-readers but (a) can't afford the technology and (b) wouldn't succeed due to the desperately slow internet speeds- but, personally, I found it a wonderful sight, in an age where bookshops are rapidly vanishing in the developed world.
I had a couple of hours left in Yangon on the morning of the final day of 2011, and found a coffee shop where I could drink a passable brew whilst sitting by the window watching the world go by. I noticed that even here in the city the majority of men wear the longyi, and look very fetching in it along with a plain shirt. (But maybe that's just me and men in skirts!) Flp flops are obviously the favoured footwear choice, being cheap, practical, ideal in hot or wet weather, and perfect for the shoes-off policy in payas and homes! I did, however, notice the odd trendy young western-dressed woman tottering along in slinky slip-on heels, and wondered how they navgated the appalling pavements without injury. The building next door to the coffee shop housed a cinema and there was a queue of teenagers when I left, lining up for the latest offering in the Twilight vampire series, which made me laugh!
As I sat at the airport a while later waiting for my flight to Kuala Lumpur, Burma seemed a blur. It was lovely to spend time with Anju and Mathieu and it was great to get a glimpse of Burmese life, but it was incredibly frustrating to be so limited with time. I know I've said this before, but here we go again! I realise how spoiled I was travelling at my own pace for 2 whole years, and what a luxury it was to be able to stay somewhere I liked for a few days extra, travel slowly on public transport, spend time just hanging out on the street and meeting local people... I don't think I'll ever readjust to the notion of a short holiday with prearranged schdeules, it just doesn't allow me time to actually experience anything of a place. I feel I have had a quick look at Burma/Myanmar but I have not absorbed any of it, or had any amazing experiences, and I saw the main tourist spots and none of the 'real life' that happens everywhere else... bit like having 10 days in Ireland and just doing a day in Dublin, onto Killarney, round the Ring of Kerry, a quick look at Galway and a trip over to the Aran Islands... you miss so much good stuff! This belated blog has been typed up from the handwritten journal I kept in Burma, and already it feels very very long ago. But still, better just a quick glance around, than nothing at all!
New Year's Eve was spent in a Tune Hotel at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal at K.L. Airport. (This is a string of new hotels opening up by Air Asia and they are priced similarly - book in advance and you get a room for a steal. They are tiny rooms but perfectly adequate, clean, comfy and super-convenient.) Fantastic! I pushed the trolley across the car park outside the terminal, checked in, my bags were carried up for me and I was showered and in bed within an hour of landing! This meant the next morning all I had to do was drop my bags in left luggage at the international terminal, accessed by a shuttle bus on which I got chatting to a very sweet young Kazakh student, Daniel, studying in Singapore and on his way home to Almaty for a holiday, but looking for some help to get to the correct check-in desk, so I sorted him out. He was telling me that most of the food in Almaty is meat and I commented that I'll struggle when I go there as I'm vegetarian, but queried what kind of meat is most popular and he said 'horse'... hmmm, def stick with being veggie there!
Bags dropped, I had a few hours to play with in KL so I visited a dull shopping mall for a good cup of coffee and then headed off to Little India to browse the market, which had far more life than the mall! I was keen to visit the Analaksmi Restaurant at the Hindu Temple of Fine Arts and though I got lost enroute a few times, I was very glad I had persisted. The restaurant offers a large buffet of Indian veggie food, with a 'help yourself and then pay what you think' system. I wasn't looking to scam a cheap meal, being more than happy to pay a good price, I just wanted to go there for the quality and variety and it had plenty of both! I met a Sri Lankan woman studying cooking in KL, who eats there regularly and we chatted away over our huge plates of food and our lassis. It was a great way to end my holiday before flying off to Brunei this evening!