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Entries about yangon

Journey Hpa An to Bagan

Buses and late nights

Our bus to Yangon left at a reasonable time of 9 a.m. and left us enough time for a bakery breakfast of tasty carrot cake, cheese cake, puri and potato curry, and banana pancakes. The whole feast was less than three dollars. We also managed to book a cheap flight from Perth to Bali in May on a great sale from Air Asia, just over $50 a ticket. Sometimes it paid off to be on their e-mail list. Ryan was quite pumped since it now felt like Australia was really going to happen. We didn't have time to book any of our more current Asia tickets, but the big one was out of the way.

At the bus stop, we waited and watched half a dozen buses go by that weren't ours. A French woman came to talk to us for a bit in very basic French. She found Myanmar a bit expensive especially the guesthouses. Her bus to Bago left before ours. Finally ours came, nearly empty and curtains closed. Not bad for 5,000 kyat considering it came with free water. I laid out my sandals to dry as I had decided to wash them last night. I'd have to be careful to grab them when I left.

The bus ride went by fast and by four or so we were in Yangon. As the taxi drivers fought for our destination, we managed to attract the attention of someone who could sell us tickets through to Bagan. The first bus only had one seat, but there was another company they called for us. One of the guys even walked us over to the bus station past the regular bus stalls. As it turned out, the food was out there too. We relaxed after the hot walk until I realized that I couldn't find my sandals. They must have still been on the bus.

I grabbed our old tickets and took off sprinting. People seemed more determined to ask me to buy tickets this time. I sailed past taxis, clothing vendors, briyani restaurants and fruit stalls before turning into the main bus station area. I prepared to ask someone, but spotted the same white bus with a blue stripe and ran toward it. There was a pair of flip flops at the door meaning that someone was cleaning and I could ask for my shoes. Then my now dry sandals caught my eye. I picked them up and examined the familiar tears and wear that confirmed they were indeed mine. I was quite lucky. It could have been a costly shoe wash.

We had to try a few places to find vegetarian meals for supper. Two orders of fries and fried vegetables filled our uneasy stomachs before the ride. On the bus, we got a water and comfort kit to add to our collection of Burmese toothbrushes and wet naps.

Along the way, we stopped at a neon lit strip off the fancy highway in the middle of nowhere. For Myanmar, it felt wildly out of place, like it would more likely fit in near Vegas. I had popcorn so gross that even the dogs wouldn't touch it. Ryan had made a wiser choice and had banana cake.

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At around 3:30 a.m. we arrived in, or more accurately outside, Nyaung-U, the main town area of Bagan. I hadn't anticipated this as last time the bus stop dropped us right in the middle of town, close enough to walk. Now we had a supposed 20 kilometers to cover to get into town. The taxi driver started quoting 15,000 kyat. We told him it was far too high and that we'd walk instead. He began to ask us what price we wanted to pay. 3:30 in the morning wasn't ideal bartering or brain activity time so walking free of hassling drivers seemed like an appealing option. After all, we didn't have a hotel booked until the afternoon as we'd assumed the bus would arrive at a better time. We had little else to do if we weren't walking.

The driver dropped the price to 10,000 kyat but we started our walk to the city. He followed us to give us the 3,000 each (according to a site online 1,500 to 2,000 is the average price) and we finally broke and gave in. He had us wait for 15 minutes to see if we were impatient enough to pay the 10,000 to go right now. After that he bumped our price to 7,000 collectively which we agreed to. We jumped in the back of a truck with bamboo mats as seats and held on for the short ride into town. Definitely not 20 kilometers.

The driver who was different than the bartering middle man was quite happy with the 7,000 which made us feel better after paying another $20 admission into the region. We'd expected that one, but it most of that money went to the corrupt government. At least the inflated taxi fare would help out a few local people.

At Winner Guesthouse, the owner had waited up for us. Unlike last time, where I had the pleasure of crashing on a mattress in the lobby when all the rooms were full, we were able to get into our room early for 50% off the normal price. If we hadn't already paid so many fees and tickets we may have said great we'll take it. Instead we hummed and hawed, contemplated sleeping outside on the lawn furniture (not uncommon with the silly bus times in Asia) then watching sunrise. In the end, we paid for the room. They gave us an extra large one with a third bed.

We slept in since biking to sunrise grew unappealing compared to the softness of the bed and few hours of sleep we'd gotten. The breakfast was small given the price of the room: one egg, 2 toasts, watermelon and tea or coffee. We found bikes with good gears and decent looking tires. Since I was still feeling cheap and unsatisfied with our hotel, we took off into town in search of better value.

Soon the $45 rooms were making ours look like a bargain until we found Shwe Na Di which had rooms with a fridge, air conditioning, and hot water for $25. We'd only save $5 a night, but over two nights that was $10 and it could go a long way out here. Plus breakfast could be better. The only problem was that we forgot money for our deposit so Ryan biked back to drop it off while I tackled more laundry.

Posted by Sarah.M 19:57 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bus bagan highway yangon nyuang_u late_arrival 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)

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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