A Travellerspoint blog

Food Poisoning and arriving in Mawlamyine

From night until morning, I was sprinting from our bed to the squatters as whatever sketchy substance I consumed wreaked havoc on my stomach. As luck would have it, the power went out too. I tossed and turned to the soundtrack of loud snores from the other room.

Come eight in the morning when we should have been getting ready for the bus to Malawmyine, I had blankets over my head trying to enjoy the lack of snoring. I still wasn't moving except to get sick. We hadn't booked a ticket and being confined to a bus seemed daunting.

Ryan figured out something was wrong and we came to the decision not to move, except to a room with its own sit toilet and luckily they had plenty available. Luckily, whatever had affected me hadn't affected Ryan at all and he felt fine. Going up the stairs with my small bag hurt my joints with each step. My body was in hyper sensitive mode. In our new room, the bed was softer and the bathroom clean.

After nearly passing out, likely due to dehydration, I got scared into taking some of our cipro (a must pack item, especially for Myanmar). Ryan stayed with me all day, only leaving to eat. The town broadcasted a monk speaking all day and night too. We were too beat to be bothered by it. Travelling and the heat had really worn us down. On the plus side, Ryan had gotten free dishes at the restaurant he'd been frequenting to go with his chicken curry.

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  • **

With a third dose of cipro and immodium flowing through my system, I was ready to tackle the world outside our hotel room again. We went to Sea Sar restaurant and I ordered some toast. It tasted smoked, like they had made it over a fire, but the jam helped mask that a bit. I ate it quickly while Ryan enjoyed his fried rice.

At 10:45, we headed to the bus stop to find a tuktuk that would drive us to the nearest station, which was luckily included in our bus ticket price (7,000 kyat). It took about half an hour through the back roads and some slight confusion as to where to disembark, but we found the Win Express stand and they confirmed the bus would arrive at noon. We were lucky we booked seats and didn't end up in the aisle as the bus was full. At least the aisle seats were pull out attachments from the main ones, more stable than stools. The ride went by without issue and we arrived at a small dusty bus station.

Down the road, the fancy hotels with large green yards were asking 35 or 60 US dollars for rooms which was too much to spend over the three nights we planned to be here. To put this in perspective, a meal typically cost between $1-$5 US. We flagged down a tuktuk to Breeze, mentioned in Lonely Planet to check out their rooms. They were pastel green like little ship cabinets, hardly rooms, so we felt their $16 price tag was a bit high.

We ventured to the Lower Road area as there had to be other hotels. We saw a sign for Aurora Guesthouse and I went up to check the rooms while Ryan stayed with our bags. Our accommodation had to be comfy enough to rest off this food poisoning. The $20 twin room had soft beds, lots of space, hot water, our own bathroom and a fridge. Perfect! To top it all off the wifi was pretty good too. Sometimes ignoring Lonely Planet's advice was in our best interest. The guidebooks just created a situation where a handful of hotels knew that they had a steady stream of guests and didn't take pride in maintaining or improving their facilities. The others who weren't in the book had to offer something substantially better to compete. At the time, there was no online booking for low budget spots either, so guidebook recommendations made a huge difference to their business.

We were probably a bit too taken by the air-conditioning, comfy beds and wifi. But hey, rest was great for the sickly.

Around five in the afternoon, we went for a walk down by the river so we could get in my photo of the day, something I had started doing for 2015. The river stretched pretty far and the lack of buildings along it allowed for a nice sunset shot. The flat landscape made the sunset colours more pronounced. What you won't see if the trash that unfortunately lined the river bed and stunk.

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We went to a restaurant called 'Grandfather, Grandmother', that Ryan had read helped support the elderly. We got an outdoor seat to watch the sun go down. I ordered an omelette and rice, hoping my enthusiasm would turn into an appetite. The omelette had too many greasy vegetables, but I managed to eat some of the rice. I was a bit afraid to eat as I wasn't sure if there was a washroom around. Ryan helped me finish the food along with his chicken fried rice and we called it a night.

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Posted by Sarah.M 09:42 Archived in Myanmar Tagged mawlamyine food_poisoning Comments (0)

Golden Rock

sunny 30 °C

We woke up bright and early for our 5:30 European breakfast. I put back a juice that I really shouldn't have considering we'd be on the bus so soon. Eggs and toast were good though. Our cab driver upped the price of our cab to 10, 000 kyat ($10) because there was a marathon that never even affected us traffic-wise. Considering the hotel had arranged the whole thing, we were less than impressed and out of other options. Thanks for that Motherland... We arrived more than an hour early and could have easily shared a cab with the others leaving in 15 minute intervals. They'd certainly perfected the art of fleecing tourists now.

Our bus left a little late, but not too bad. I thought they'd stop for a washroom break after three hours but when I checked Google Maps, we were quite closed to our final destination, the town of Kinpun. The bus even took us directly into the town, past the building that resembled the bus station, to Emerald Hotel. At least they had washrooms, albeit busy squatters. The trip only took us around three hours which was quite speedy when we expected five.

We walked down a road, through a field, then back alley to find many children's smiling faces and 'Mingalaba' welcomes. It was a nice change from Yangon's indifference. People seemed to be happy enough to see our sweaty foreign faces.

It was easy enough to find Pann Myo Thu Guesthouse and they offered us the cheapest rooms without even asking if we had a reservation (which we did). We gladly swapped for the cheapie which turned out to be like thin walled little shacks with a shared squatter toilet. But for $12 we couldn't really complain.

We walked out to a restaurant with the same name as the guesthouse (though apparently no association) and had some fried rice with egg, and chicken for Ryan. It was actually really tasty and exactly what I had been craving for weeks after all those less than satisfying meals in Northern Thailand.

Next, we walked to the truck station where seats had been installed in seven rows along the back of industrial-sized trucks. There was even a staircase to climb just to get inside. We squished into the truck holding 50-60 people (yes, I counted), picking up more when I didn't think it was possible, but that seemed to be the theme in Asia. They're much better at utilizing space than we are in the West. From there, we began the long seven mile motorized climb of Mount Kyaiktiyo. A Japanese guy was having a blast photo documenting the whole bumpy voyage up the mountain. Not a bad place for a GoPro.

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We stopped twice, once for food and the other time to give our 2500 kyat ($2.50) payment, a price paid by all, regardless of nationality for once. Our truck stopped every once in awhile to let other vehicles pass, but most of the ride was a bumpy roller coaster, gripping the back of the seat in front of us. No seat belts of course.

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From the drop-off, we walked past tons of vendors until we had to take off our shoes. The golden rock was still a blip atop a gray boulder from here. We stopped at various points to photograph it at a distance. People were also camped out in various sections with floral blankets and bamboo mats forming tent shelters from the sun. We figured it was all part of the pilgrimage to the top.

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From close up, we could see Golden Rock with a zedi built on top of it. Men, and only men as women were prohibited from entering this section, would stick gold leafs (thinly crushed gold to about the width of a tissue) to the rock as was often done to Buddha statues as well. We walked below that small walkway to glimpse the rock from a lower vantage point. It was incredible that it was standing based on how it had been balanced. People lined up small clay dishes up the stairs and chucked the broken pieces away.

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Toward the back there didn't seem to be much but shops and a hotel. We did catch part of a conversation from tourists who had climbed the ride we took in the truck. We had thought no one was crazy enough to attempt it in the midday heat. This planted an idea in my head.
Near one of the lookouts, a Burmese man was playing the guitar and singing very well. We let the breeze cool us as we looked out the surrounding mountains.

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On the way down, out a samosa vendor spoke my language 'no meat' and 'gift for you' also known as a free sample. After tasting one, how could I say no? So, we bought four tasty treats to share.

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We searched for the walking path, starting down the truck's road until Ryan really didn't think it was the right path. There had to be a better, less dangerous way. Sure enough, we found it when we back-tracked. It passed through little vendor shops where the people seemed to live as well. There were friendly children, especially as we passed. The views were gorgeous too, now that we weren't bouncing around too much to enjoy it. We ran into a British man from our guesthouse who had climbed all the way up. The ascent was supposed to bring good fortune with you in the next life. We'd certainly done it wrong and hopefully it wouldn't do the opposite for us. We got to give him the good news that he was nearly there.

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We stopped for sugar cane juice at a nice viewpoint. It seemed a shame not to drink in the view, and the juice. I'd been craving it since Yangon. Afterward, Ryan wondered if we should have been more leery. The sugar cane stalks were soaking in local water, the cloudy stuff that some people would bottle and try to resell to tourists even with the plastic seal on the bottle top. We'd find out if it was a good idea.

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Toward the end of our three hour descent, we passed a swimming hole. The water looked refreshing, but maybe not so clean. Another European man on the path was looking for the smaller Kinpun golden rock, but we unfortunately couldn't help him locate it. The sun set and we carefully did the rest of the trail in the dark, following the town and market lights once we left the bush and trying not to trip too many times.

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We had supper nearby and were soon joined by the British guy. He had taken the truck down. He told us that we had misinformed him on the time expectation, but we think the message got lost in passing. He'd spent a fair bit of time in Myanmar, loving Hpa An and Hsipaw, two towns on our list. We had fried noodle and veggie dishes along with sweet and sour pork.

Posted by Sarah.M 15:27 Archived in Myanmar Tagged golden_rock climb truck pilgrimage kinpun Comments (0)

Synagogues and art

Another day in Yangon

sunny 30 °C

We had seen most of our big sights the previous day. There was still a synagogue, art gallery, food and some book stores to enjoy. Being too tuckered out to order a Myanmar breakfast last night, we were stuck with the standard western breakfast which was good but bland in comparison.

We set off walking down Anawratha to 26th Street. More businesses were open down here during the day. We glimpsed an abandoned military building where once imposing fences topped with barbed wire were being torn down and the sidewalks widened. It appeared they no longer wanted to appear so uninviting. The sidewalks had improved substantially since my previous visit. Less broken concrete and less walking on the road for us.

We passed through a market, ripe with the scent of fresh and too often in this heat, not so fresh, meat and fish. The trucks and vendors made the streets virtually impassible without stepping on tomatoes, leafy vegetables or roasted nuts. Eventually after waiting in a few alternating cues of two-way foot traffic confined to a narrow stretch, we passed the potent market and found the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue down 26th street.

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When Burma was more open under British rule, many Jewish people lived and worked in Rangoon (known today as Yangon). They were very involved in the community through projects, business and helpful initiatives. As Myanmar closed up and with the invasion of the Japanese during the Second World War, business became more nationalized and much harder for the Jewish community to earn a living. The synagogue crowd lessened more and more.

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Today, they run occasional services for just under a dozen people and visitors. The owner, Moses Samuels (who since our visit has passed away and is now under the care of his son), came around to speak with us through a voice box. His son had written a lot of the information on the Jews of Burma featured on the notice board for us to enjoy. The structure of the building, built in 1893 was still in use. It had two stories with many benches and white and red curtains with gold menorahs and writing embroidered on them.

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We continued to 37th street (after checking the charitable restaurant one more time that seemed determined never to open, pity) to find the book stores and art gallery. We browsed through Bagan Book House which had an English section on Myanmar and Burmese culture along with their regular Burmese language selections. After some time and contemplation, I bought Myanmar Short Stories, translated by Ma Thanegi for about 7000 kyat ($7).

The Lokanat Art Gallery was housed in an early 20th century building at the end of the street. To get to the second floor, we took some questionable wooden stairs, hopefully a little less ancient than the building.

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It was quite large and the gallery took up a small portion of it. It held painted scenes of famous places in Myanmar, portraits and more abstract paintings in warm or cool colours. An artist was in house painting hats hung from the walk and explaining it to another Burmese man.

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We passed a few book markets on the street with mainly Burmese books and a few very rough looking English books that I suspected might have been passed around secretly for a few decades before the country opened back up to outside influences. It made me want to load up a bag full of books from Canada and bring them over for people to read.

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After buying a pomelo from a street vendor, we walked back to Lucky 7 for lunch. Bit heavy to carry around the fruit, but we missed them from China. To create the Lucky 7 teahouse, the sidewalk turned into a covered courtyard complete with a fountain. We both ordered puri dishes. Ryan's dish came with chicken curry and mine with potato. The puri was a thin, fried balloon-like Indian bread meant for dipping in the curry. It was tasty and filling, though Ryan found the potato to be the winner curry. The waiters all had t-shirts and shorts with 'lucky' followed by different numbers.

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The afternoon was relaxing and we only ventured out to find closed restaurants, so we ate at Motherland 2 again. Ryan had a tasty lemon chicken and I had less tasty veggie noodles. Not much food luck in Yangon so far for vegetarians. We packed up our bags so we could bus to Golden Rock early the following day. Sadly, no Myanmar breakfast available at those hours, but they'd give us the regular one.

So long Yangon.

Posted by Sarah.M 20:21 Archived in Myanmar Tagged art gallery yangon myanmar synagogue musmeah yeshua lokanat lucky7 Comments (0)

Yangon

Pagodas, tea houses and fried cashew nuts

In the morning, I woke up early to Skype the bank with little success. Then I tried the guesthouse computers and the software was too outdated to run the program. Ryan and I had the Myanmar breakfasts while I kept stressing. My breakfast was rice, beans, and onion cooked in groundnut oil. Mine was called Penan Bye. Ryan had a coconut based soup called Onnoth Khawk Hswe as his Myanmar breakfast. We enjoyed them both and would have ordered them again.

I ventured down to the internet cafe, getting a bit lost and taking the better part of a half hour to find it. On my route back, I spotted it. I tried the computer with no success before paying the 100 kyat (10 cents) a minute to sit on hold with TD over Skype. After talking to the guy, nothing was wrong with the card, in fact it didn't even register any attempts at withdrawals let alone the failed ones. At least the sort of peace of mind was only 2000 kyat, or a couple dollars. Though, I still wouldn't have access to my funds.

We set off walking to Botataung Pagoda near the river and the guesthouse. There was plenty of life on the streets: people selling machinery parts, drinks or snacks, vehicles ranging from old buses to trishaws just chugging along. We found the pagoda on Strand street, not really marked but a Buddhist archway told us we were going the right direction. The building instructing foreigners to come in that direction and an admission fee told us that we'd made it to the right one. It was 3000 kyat to get in.

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The main hall had paintings depicting the voyage of two men who met Buddha and received eight of his hairs. The voyage took 1000 military leaders who accompanied the hairs from India to Myanmar over 2000 years ago. The hairs were enshrined here briefly as was the case with many of the other temples around the area. There were English subtitles to the story too. The large Buddha at the back was around during the reign of King Thibaw, the end of a long monarchy before the British annexation and colonization. It was sent to London for awhile and returned in 1951, around the time of independence.

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We went inside the zedi itself, a rare occurrence but a bomb from an allied raid in 1943 had damaged the paya and when it was rebuilt they built a hollow zedi which was most unusual. The walls were gold from ceiling to floor and embossed. Given the round nature of the zedi, the interior felt very boxy with zigzag triangular sections and tight narrow corners. In the centre, people swarmed to a window to glimpse a statue and the spot where the hairs would have sat. We got our quick look too. I found the fact that there were large metal locks on all of the relics different than other
temples, but I could understand why.

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Outside the temple was more relaxed. A painted archway led to a pond with 'Turtle Island', which was a miniature mountain structure where the terrapin turtles could climb up out of the pond and bask in the sun. As there were many turtles, it became a show of turtles climbing over each other just to warm up. A giant turtle swam around too. There was turtle and fish food for sale but the animals didn't seem too keen on it.
A few mentally ill people sat along the archway paths which left me wondering if they might have been subject to torture a few decades back during the military regime.

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There were more shrines and small pagodas to visit around the site too, all pretty relaxed. They featured different Buddha statues with his followers surrounding him.
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Next we took a quick look at the Yangon River, not as picturesque as some.

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We kept walking down Strand Street, passing the fancy Strand Hotel and a collection of British-Burmese era colonial architecture. We passed a number of embassies too.

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After cutting up a few streets, we made it to Mahabandoola Garden. The park was free, an exception among the rest of the attractions. Democracy monument ironically sat in a park surrounded by fences and guarded entrances. It seemed to fit the city. From 1988 to 1990, when tensions with democracy protestors was high, soldiers occupied the area. Today, people took refuge in the shade of bushes or around the tall white monument, far more relaxed. We checked it out quickly and ventured elsewhere. Ryan enjoyed got a laugh out of the well endowed statues.

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We tried to visit LinkAge, a restaurant that supported street children and those from poor families by giving them cooking and catering skills, but the staff said they were closed and to come back at 4. We returned to the area near Sule Paya Thon and the park to Thone Pan Hla tea shop that I'd eaten at on my first trip here (another Lonely Planet recommendation). I ordered a dish that was almost identical to my breakfast, but the naan bread had been substituted for rice. The groundnut oil was still delicious. Ryan had Si Chet - chicken and garlic noodles that he also enjoyed along with the sweetest tea you'll find nowhere but Myanmar and table snacks. The whole meal hardly made a dent in the budget.

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Visiting the Bogyoke Aung San museum required quite a bit of walking. Luckily the sidewalks weren't in the abysmal state I found them a few years ago so we didn't have to walk on the road, as much. Repairs were underway and the progress was visible. The route did require a fair amount of creative jaywalking and a few stops to photograph the buses out of the 60s roaring by. But the walk fueled us with constant entertainment. We tried to guess the ages of the cars and see the mix of left and right hand drive vehicles due to imports from all over and different time periods. There was a large housing development in the works near Shwedagon Pagoda that looked really swanky. A few people helped us find our way to the museum located on a conveniently named road.

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The museum was the two story house where Aung San had lived with his wife and children, including his well known daughter Aung San Suu Kyi, for just over two years. Aung San was a man regarded as a national hero. He led a fight towards an independent Burma during British rule. He and other comrades went to the Japanese for training and assistance during the Second World War, but conditions became worse than they were under the British, so they rejoined the Allies to fight for their independence and against the Japanese, driving them out two months later in 1945. Aung San met with the British Prime Minister to agree upon a pact where Burma would be under self-rule within a year. He also signed the Panglong agreement which guaranteed ethnic minorities to choose their political destiny if dissatisfied after 10 years. In 1947, he and six aides were gunned down. Speculations point to dissatisfaction with his plan to demilitarize the government.

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At the museum, they had us check all cameras and mobile devices in the lockers. In the first room, they had his table with name plates. There were excerpts from his speeches and write-ups on his education: an English student and graduate. He also wrote his own address to the public in English. The sitting room was set up with an old radio and furniture. Upstairs there were more photos of the families and his childhood home, as well as the beds. Aung San Suu Kyi's was a crib bed as she'd only been two when the assassination took place. Aung San also had an extensive English book collection. I picked up a quite cheap, much newer book on his assassination that I have yet to read. Outside they also had his old car on display.

We walked toward Shwedagon Pagoda after passing markets of sugar cane juice, flowers, incense and religious articles before the long, shoeless walk up the staircase. I remembered how surprising convenient the escalator had been on my first visit, but they weren't at every entrance. At the top, the entry price had inflated from $5 US to $8 each, just for foreigners. Ryan and I were indifferent. He didn't want to go in if I'd been already and I was content to go in or stay out. It was another temple to us in the grand scheme of things, even though it was one of Yangon's top attractions. Ryan preferred to see life on the streets as it was more representative of the culture. We turned around and decided to go for supper. It was a good thing as the whole zedi was covered with burlap-like material due to renovations. No sparkle or excitement to be seen, even if we'd paid to get close up.

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We stopped at two other pagodas, Maha Wizaya Zedi and Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda. I'd visited the former on my previous trip to Myanmar. We followed a bridge across a turtle pond where a bright gold zedi gleamed as the sun set.

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Hardly anyone was there so we walked around enjoying the scenic paintings of Buddha's life and near superhero like presence and the forest-like interior of the interior of the zedi.

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Sein Yaung Chi pagoda caught my eye as it was silver and more rectangular. The mirrors lit up with the sunlight. It was virtually empty as well and didn't take long to go through.

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We tried again to support a good cause with our supper selection, but the staff told us they were closed for a special event, reservations only. Out of luck, we walked back through busy and frustrating markets until I started to see English restaurant signs. Too bad Lucky 7 teahouse was closed in the evenings.

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We did find Rubyland where I ordered fried cashews nuts. Cue my surprise when exactly that showed up on a plate. I'd been expecting a stir fry or meal of sorts since their menu had some interesting and entertaining translation difficulties. Ryan and I split the cashew nuts and I ordered a very oily fried rice to go with them. Ryan enjoyed his fried chicken.

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We turned in for the night. I still had no luck with the ATMs I tried during the day.

Posted by Sarah.M 18:03 Archived in Myanmar Tagged tea pagoda shop pan shwedagon_pagoda democracy_monument sein_yaung_chi_pagoda maha_wizaya_zedi botataung bogyoke_aung_san_musuem thone hla Comments (0)

Arriving in Yangon

In the morning, we took full advantage of the noon check out. I even got to Skype with my mom before we packed up really quick. We went out for a street breakfast: rice cakes, eggs and a banana cake.

The walk to the BTS was quite hot. On the second train a woman gave her seat to Ryan, seeing our giant bags. From the BTS, we got right on a bus to the airport for only 30 baht. Quite the unexpected deal after taxi fares around the city yesterday.

The lines to check in were pretty good and fast so we could ditch our now 16 (Ryan's) and 18 (mine) kilogram bags. The clay pot was really weighing me down, but it did fit in the bag. We checked out the food options and settled on a place with a menu page for vegetarians. Ryan enjoyed a crispy fried pork dish before mine was even out of the kitchen. Later, I had fried vermicelli noodles and veggies. On the other side of security, there turned out the be plenty of other options. Go figure. We gave into Dairy Queen and got brownie and Oreo blizzards. Not enough dairy in them to make me sick thankfully.

Our plane boarded half an hour late but the flight was pretty smooth. Myanmar had far less urban development from above than Thailand and China. Our e-visas got through without issue and the stamp even took up less room than it had two years ago. Ryan grabbed our bags and we found the guy with the Motherland 2 sign. He had a few more pick-ups to wait for before our van would be leaving.

I went to the ATMs and each one would go through the prompts with me but then tell me transaction failed. All three machines did this. I was beginning to get worried. At least, I found a city map during the attempts. Ryan went to try his card while I chatted with a couple from Spain and France who'd also been travelling since November. They'd seen India and Nepal. They'd loved Nepal which made me even more excited to go there in a few months. Ryan managed to withdraw from his account just fine, meaning it was my card and not the machines or TD Bank that had issues. At least we'd have some cash now and would figure out the rest later.

After a drive through the congested city on the unchanged bumpy roads, we arrived at Motherland 2, a guesthouse a bit removed from city centre. Yangon was a dusty city with a mix of new and old architecture. It was slowly under repair. Traffic ranged from bicycle rickshaws to trolleys, buses and cars.

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At the guesthouse, we received free lime juice with sugar before handing over large amounts of kyat to pay for our room. Their bills came in pretty small denominations and they typically accepted US cash, though we weren't parting with ours yet. I fought with the wifi all night to try and look into my bank issues. No answers, but a lead to use skype to place collect calls. The internet cafe was closed till morning. I ate my vegetable sandwich and sulked while Ryan enjoyed his sweet and sour pork. I did get to do laundry through.

Posted by Sarah.M 18:56 Archived in Myanmar Tagged flight bangkok yangon atm_issues Comments (0)

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