Published: March 25th 2012January 18th 2012
Just outside of Yangon
Ten years ago Myanmar was one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. It receives less than a fifth of tourists that neighbouring Thailand gets every year. I had NO IDEA what to expect.
We arrived at 830am (its 1/2 hour behind Thailand) and were shocked to see a very clean, modern looking airport. Apparently the governement put a ton of money into the airport in 1996 as push to bring tourists into the country. There was a lot of debate over this as labour laws were questioned and many people asked tourists to actually avoid Myanmar.
Our first order of business after arriving was our finances. Money is a bit tricky in Myanmar. There are no international ATMs so you have to 'pack in' all of the money you need for your entire holiday. In addition to this, the country only accepts mint condition US currency. The man in front of us had 6 $100 dollar bills and got 5 rejected because he put them in his tri-fold wallet!
Our money was the nicest, cleanest, crispest US dollars around. They were sandwiched between 2 pieces of cardboard and well taken care of! No questions were raised
with our dollar bills!
In the past, travellers were expected to exhange money on the black market because the governments 'official' rate was about 6 kyat to the dollar compared to the 800 kyat that you are supposed to get! This has all changed now and exchanging at the airport actually gives the best rate. (People on the street will give you a better verbal rate but will often try and rip you off in the counting process - beware). You get a slightly better rate for $100 dollar bills but its not enough to stress about.
One down side of this is that the money changers on the street are technically out of work!
After sorting out our money we found Mr. Chan, our driver for the next 14 days. He is 62 years old and is a fomer lawyer, teacher and cashew nut farmer. He speaks good english and is a great person! We were then introduced to our beauty of a vehicle.
The Town Ace is an old, beaten up white Toyota van. The back seats face each other, there are no seatbelts, and the windows and one door is held on by
numerous bungy cords. It really is special.
Our first day was spent driving to TAUNGOO. On the way there we stopped at a WWII cemetary where 27 000 Australians are buried. Weirdly enough, we saw a pop star shooting a music video there as well.
For lunch we had our first taste of Burmese food. It was absolutely amazing! It is quite different from other South East Asian countries. Traditionally, everyone at the table chooses their 'meat' or 'main dish'. This is usually some sort of curried or fried meat or seafood. Everything else is shared between diners and is all you can eat. The number of side dishes is crazy - there were probably 20 different things on our table. Some of them were delicious and others did not appeal to me. There were a few dishes that were just too sour tasting for me, some were very fishy, and others were extremely spicy. Myanmar also consumes the most onions per capita than any other country in the world. Great.
The people in Burma, so far, are beyond nice. I have never seen people so genuinely happy to serve me in restaurant. Everytime I took a
At 6 cents/piece how can we ever say no?
scoop of anything off of my plate, someone was there smiling away and replacing it. I picked up a piece of chicken to eat it and someone came with a bowl of water to wash my fingers in...
We stayed at Mother's House Bungalows in Taungoo. They were beautiful and clean but expensive ($30/night for a double including breakfast). We spent the evening wandering the main road, taking in Myanmar, and trying out a few street side snacks (DFG = deep fried goodness).
There are more photos below