Another weekend trip was on the cards, mostly due to my visa running out.
I’ve not really known much about Burma until my South Africa experience. One of my team members kept hearing God talk about Burma and she started researching, becoming passionate about this country. From here, I have started to become intrigued, wanting to visit so here was the perfect chance.
Getting to and through the airport in Bangkok was a piece of cake, except scaring myself as I left my passport on my seat while going to the toilet and purchasing an ice-cream. Boarding the plane slightly late meant we were delayed reaching the air but this didn’t bother me. On the plane, the lady next to me started making a loud noise, initially I thought she was burping, which I thought was rude, but I think she was hiccuping in a strange way.
Yangon’s airport is really small so as soon as you step of the plane, you are in passport control then baggage claim. Again, it all went though smoothly with my visa purchased online weeks before. I hopped into a taxi to Sleep in Hostel, which cost 8000 kyat (about £4.50). The taxi guy was lovely, gave me a map and torch to see in the dark and pointed out different places on the way.
When I arrived at the hostel, I thought the taxi driver had got it wrong. It was a dark alley with a small door, which lead to stairs, and a bunch of men crowding outside. It was the correct place.
The hostel hadn’t put my reservation to a room so after looking through their files and failing to get access to the WiFi, he found my booking. All the 10 bed rooms were full so he upgraded me to an 8 bed. No big deal. I always book the cheapest rooms in hostel. The hostel itself was clean, the beds were comfy with a storage box and aircon in the room and a free breakfast, which consisted of scrambled egg, baguette, corn, tea and a banana. The morning was interesting as my phone managed to get WiFi for 5 minutes, which meant I could let others know I arrived and then the power was abruptly turned off with rain pouring outside. Breakfast was in the dark and I had no idea what to do as I planned a day of exploring by foot and I forgot my rain coat.
First, I headed through Chinatown. The area struck me as it looked poor, with holes everywhere, grimy buildings, masses of people barefoot and dirty looking. There were street vendors everywhere but no real shops.During the morning, wandered around some of the attractions Yangon has to offer: City Hall, Sule Pagoda, park square, Supreme Court and a church. As I was walking to Botahtaung Pagoda, I met an American lady, where we ended up spending the day together. We saw some long tail but travelling across the river to Dala but we decided to take the ferry. It was overpriced for tourists and they didn’t even check our tickets. It cost 300kyat (15p) one way for locals and 5200kyat (£2.60) two ways for tourist. It was a rip off for a 10 minute ride in comparison.
When we stepped off the bus, we were followed and bugged to take a tuk tuk with them. I just wanted to walk and get away from the crowd, which is what we did but it took a while to shrug off the locals because they can charge us more. We ended up strolling to the little clocktower before deciding what we were going to do. On the way, I experience a ‘lovely’ squat toilet in a small, dirty room. Next we needed to get some sort of transport to Twante, which was a remote village about 30km away. First, we called down a guy on a bicycle, with two seats back-to-back attached. Then we hopped on a ‘squashed’ bus, where they literally tried to occupy every bit of space, which meant we couldn’t move in seat where the space was too cramped for my legs. Once we experience an extremely bumpy ride, we arrived in Twante, where we looked for somewhere to eat. There were small, kind of restaurant but unfortunately most of them only sold meat meals. However, we were able to find street food, which I wasn’t sure how hygienic it was but we tried traditional Burmese food: cold noodles and tofu with different spices and sauce, along with a side of some sort of soup. It was surprisingly delicious. Our mission was to find a pottery place, which we ended up getting a motorbike to. It was a good job really, as there was no way we would have found it on our own. In a hidden area, in straw-like huts, there were several people making different pottery in a shabby space. There was no electricity; the clay was spun on boards using feet and hands. It was impressive to see how it was made but also how quick they were making pots and bowl. As they had limited English, we managed to figure out the process but not where the pottery goes after.
While trying to find our bus back, we met a lovely lady calle Kite, who spoke good English. She let us use a toilet, offered us food and told us to get a taxi back to the ferry port, which is what we did. In the evening, I headed to my new friends hostel to skype friends from home as I didn’t know how good my internet would be then we had dinner at an Indian/Myanmar restaurant. I ate a prawn dose and curry for 5000kyat (a little more than I expected), which was nice. After I walked back to my hostel, I found that I had the room to myself, which was a lovely surprise.
The next day, I had arrange to meet up with the same girl at 7 to see the sunrise behind the Shwedagon Pagoda but unfortunately after wait for her, I never found her. The Shwedagon Pagoda is a huge complex with four entrances. The Pagoda and surrounding temples are spectacular with gold sparking in the sunlight. Just as I was leaving, an older guy approached me to tell me about the history of the place. Around the pagoda there are 8 stations, one for each day of the week (In Buddhism, they have 8 days, I’m not being silly). Wednesday is split into two. He took me to the day I was born, which happened to be Wednesday afternoon, and explained what I needed to do. I had to pour water over different parts of some statues, which represented being blessed in wealth, family, friends, health etc. Then he prayed over me. It was an interesting experience.
Exiting the Pagoda on the west wing, i entered the People’s park, which is a huge garden with a pond, restaurants, amusement rides and beautiful scenery. After, I wandered around, finding the National Museum, the National Theatre, a deaf school, where they do massages but unfortunately it was closed, and the main market. I somehow walked into a tiny village, where there were mud huts and children playing by a dirty stream. The kids all were smiling and greeting me. After eating Shan noodle gravy, I rested in the park by the city hall.
I planned on going to a church that afternoon, which my friend will be volunteering at the charity linked with it. I decided to take the train, which was an awesome experience in itself. It was a very basic train with hard benches on each side. People crammed on with their large baskets full of bananas. There were people walking through the carriages selling the red chewy tobacco, cigarettes, water and food. It was funny because there was a sign saying ‘no smoking’ and ‘no kissing’ and there were definitely people doing both. The ride was very bumpy. At the station platform, there are no signs and if there are, it’s not in English. I managed to get off the wrong stop but no big deal as I just walked.
The area where the church was a extremely busy area full of cars. Church was great with worship in both English and Burmese. It was a special service as some Burmese tennagers got baptised. After the service, we ate some Burmese food (tomato, tofu, pineapple, cucumber curry and rice) together and I chatted to some of the people there, who were all extremely friendly.
From here I got a taxi back to the Shwedagon Pagoda to take some photos with the sun setting behind. It was incredible. After walking back to the hostel, I skyped my mum before chatting to the two people from Sweden in my dorm room.
In the morning, I had complimentary breakfast from the hostel, which consisted of a chapatti, salad, sausage, tea and a banana. I wandered for a bit before getting a taxi to the airport.
Myanmar was a great experience and a interesting place to visit.