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Published: January 2nd 2017
end of the road
By the Irawaddy River
All flights within Myanmar are operated by Burmese airlines. At last count there are eight Burmese airlines, which is rather a lot for a country only 581 mile wide, and 1275 from north to south. They all have similar prices, so it’s just a question of picking the airline that flies to where you want to go, and choosing the departure time that fits in your schedule.
Yangon Airport is new and clean, with some distinctly Western touches, like the Gloria Jean’s Coffee counter, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. What isn’t just like every other airport is watching Buddhist monks get patted down by airport security.
When you fly with a Burmese airline, you check in at the ticket counter and in addition to your boarding pass you get a sticker to put on your shirt, like the sticker you might get when you pay your entrance fee at a museum. Unlike in the US, you do not board by row, they just announce that the plane is ready for boarding and there is a mad rush for gate. As far as standing in line –line? what line, we don’t need a line; we can just all push
why is this man smiling?
This wood carver just sold me a carving. He then took the money and touched all the other carvings with it to bring him luck.
through at once.
I flew Air KBZ, which is owned by the KBZ bank. They fly exclusively ATR 72s, which is a prop plane popular with US regional airlines 30 years ago. While the plane may not be modern, the flight was actually more comfortable than economy class in any US airline. (I’m looking at you, United Airlines!) There was much more legroom, and I actually got a small meal on a flight of only an hour and twenty minutes.
As we flew into Bagan, I saw very neat farm fields, threaded through with ochre colored dry rivers. There was a haze over everything; I figured it might be smoke from agriculture fires, or perhaps fog. It turned out to be dust. Very fine ochre colored dust. Dust the consistency of powdered sugar. Dust the consistency of fine talcum powder. Dust that covers absolutely everything.
Most people come to Bagan for the temples in the Archeological Zone, and there are literally thousands of temples and pagodas – about 2,200 at last count. To that end, the government imposes a 25,000 kyat fee (about US$18.50 at current rates) on all foreigners. You pay at the counter at the
airport and get your pass, though in my time in Bagan nobody ever asked to see it.
Other than the temples, there is not much in Bagan or the adjacent village of Nyaung U. Nyaung U is a bit bigger, and boasts of a pretty busy local market. However, other than the huge new Korean-made tour buses full of Korean-made tourists, pretty much everything you see in town would not have looked out of place in 1962. (1962 was when the military took over the government of Myanmar, and instituted a policy of economic isolationism.)
But people are pretty good at making due, and I saw some of the most inventive forms of transport here. There are pony carts, and motorcycles married to the bed of a small pick-up. There are trucks with what looks like a tractor engine mounted in the front. There are old Chinese junks on the river, and bullock carts are used to plow the fields. There are old VW buses with wooden bodies that look cool, but are pretty uncomfortable.
And there is dust.
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