Fred Olsen Cruise - Myanmar - Yangon

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February 16th 2014
Published: February 17th 2014
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Yangon – Myanmar 11th – 13thFeb 2014

After three relaxing days at sea (flying fish – tick!) our first sight of Myanmar (or Burma) was the Irrawaddy Peninsula – quite flat, a lot of small fishing boats and small villages of a dozen or so bamboo huts, clustered around golden pagodas!

We cruised up the river for an hour or so before docking 15.00pm at Myanmar International Terminals Thilawa (MITT), which was unfortunately about 30kms from Yangon (Rangoon) – we were told this was as far up the river as the cruise ship could go! We were one of the first cruise ships docking here, so it was all a bit of an unknown! It was also a National Holiday on the 12th Feb so we were advised that a lot of things would be shut!! We had been chatting to a few people around the ship about the problem of how to get into Yangon (as the travel lecture had advised there would be no taxis?!) and there were a few quite unhappy people aboard the ship with various solutions, including staying at a hotel in Yangon! Fred Olsen were offering a taxi for three people and a car at $95 but we decided we would play it by ear and just wait and see………

We were greeted at the dockside by a group of entertainers playing bongo drums and dancing in their magnificent butterfly costumes, and a whole line of girls holding rush trays that spelt ‘Welcome to Myanmar’. A nice gesture and we soon learnt that saying ‘mingalaba’ (hello / it’s a blessing) brings a ready smile to their faces every time! Jai Zu Bair (not the correct spelling!!) means thank you! This was the limit of my Burmese!!

Off the ship and a shuttle bus to the Port gates, where we were greeted with an army of taxi drivers (all wanting about $60 into Yangon) but as we were actually doing a Fred Olsen trip later, we just had a wander up the dusty road to the bamboo huts (on stilts above the stagnant water!!) where there were various ‘bars’ and snacks of crisps for sale. Quite primitive and not a postcard in sight!!

Our trip left at 17.30 so we all boarded the coaches and in police convoy the nine coaches headed across the 2km Thanlyin Bridge and the creek into Yangon (about an hours journey!). Arrived at the Shwedagon Pagoda (the absolute highlight and ‘must see’ of Yangon) and entered by the Eastern gate! It was enormous and rivals the Grand Palace in Bangkok! Entrance fee is $5 and legs and shoulders have to be covered and shoes left at the door! Lots of different Buddhas and people praying and monks who helpfully showed us where to stand to experience the shining of the diamonds on the globe at the top! The Shwedagon Pagoda complex was built more than 2500 years ago, covers 56 hectares and towers 100 metres above Yangon. A quick photo stop at the Peoples Park and then the drive back to the ship where we got stuck in traffic at Thanlyin as the run up to tomorrows festival!

12th February 2014

Decided on an early start the next day as we had a lot of things we wanted to do and caught the first shuttle at 8.00am to the Port Gates and negotiated a taxi into Yangon for $30 which considering the distance didn’t seem too bad! (Hopefully have sorted for him to pick us up tomorrow at 8.00am as well!!) Dropped at the Central Station where at Platform 7 you could buy a $1 Tourist Ticket (didn’t need a passport) for the three hour circular local train ride around Yangon! Quite a few other tourists were waiting and a very helpful platform assistant directed us to the correct train and carriage. The journey was quite interesting and passed very quickly, waving back to all the people – especially the children!! Plenty of stations and activities of local life to watch before the train made its way out into the countryside and to Danyingon Market which was absolutely chaotic!!

Caught a taxi back from Central Station, past Aung San Suu Kyris house, to the colonial and famous Strand Hotel (hoping for some free wifi but no joy!!) had a wander around the shops there, changed some money into kyats ( wish we had got more as once off the tourist trail everyone wants kyats still) and after a wander around the local streets caught the ferry from the Pansodan Jetty opposite the Strand to Dhala. As a foreigner we were priviliged to ride on the roof of the boat – no Health and Safety here – just common sense!! Ie – stay away from the edge of the sloping roof or you will fall in the river!! Some of the locals throw puffed rice into the air and the gulls follow the boats backwards and forwards across the river, hoping to catch some of the food!

A chaotic landing at the other side and found an English speaking indefatigable tri-shaw peddlar who toured us around the peaceful village (no cars!) and a visit to the local pagoda, where he showed us the body of an important monk, now shrouded in gold and some photographs dated 2004 and 2008 when the monk is said to have opened an eye!! A very pleasant hour and all for 4000 kyats! (about $4)….should have paid him more.

Caught the ferry back again and then a taxi to People Park ($4) where we had a pleasant walk around the gardens to the Shin Upagutta Pond Temple. A final taxi who then took us to the Reclining Buddha and then back to Kandawgyi Lake for us to see the golden concrete replica of the Royal Barge, Karaweik, before driving us back to the ship. It was a long drive as the traffic was at a complete standstill in Thanlyin due to the festival ( we think it was something to do with the Kyai-Khauk Pagoda that is said to contain 2 hairs from the Buddha) so we were diverted to some dirt back streets to avoid the traffic!!

13th February 2014

Another early start, hoping to get the 8.00am shuttle to the Port Gates again, only to be told that the Hotel Manager had decided that they weren’t going to run shuttle buses today (Apparently by 10.00am enough people had created a fuss about this that the shuttle bus service had been restored!! So there are now a lot more unhappy people on the ship moaning about cost cutting and penny pinching!!) so it was a 20minute walk to the Port Gates for us ( passed by four Fred Olsen coach trips with empty seats!! )

Anyway, the taxis drivers were all waiting and when we asked for Jai Ou ($20 per hour!) he came running back down the road and by 8.20am we were on our way to Kyauktan. The road is littered with different pagodas but, as the ship was leaving at 13.00hrs, we decided to get to Kyauktan first and then maybe visit a few on the way back if we had time. Reached Kyauktan by 9.00am - a lovely, lively village with a huge market going on but we wanted to visit the Yele Pagoda on the island first. After leaving our shoes in the taxi, we bought our boat tickets ( 5000 kyats ).They do not accept dollars at all but fortunately our taxi driver is happy to supply us with kyats in exchange for US dollars!!) and made our way down the steps amid a throng of local people, all carrying huge bags of corn balls to feed the catfish and flowers for the temple!

The river, a tributary of the Yangon River, was extremely fast flowing and currents were creating whirlpools and the boats looked decidedly dangerous, so it was quite a relief to know, that as tourists, we had to take the ‘Tourist Boat’. A wooden affair, with a roof for sun protection, plastic chairs perched each side and an engine!! There is a $2 charge for entry into the temple and for the first time $ notes were accepted, BUT they had to be brand new ones!. Unfortunately we had plenty of dollars but not new enough but she was happy to accept our brand new $20 note and give us change, so all was well! The temple itself takes up the whole of the island, (along with two electricity pylons that kind of ruin any photographs!!) and although isn’t that special, we were greeted by monks who wanted to take pictures of everyone who came onto the island. Had a quick wander around and then walked down the muddy steps at the downstream side of the island, to where the catfish had congregated and were greedily eating the rice balls. You couldn’t actually see the catfish unless they thrashed out of the water, due to the mud, - it was mainly just a mass of fins and tails!

Back on the boat, where the boatmen asked us for money, money, money! It was a shame really, as all the people here are so friendly and want to talk to you for apparently no reason other than interest! I’m sure in a few years it may change and they will all be wanting ‘money, money!’

Wandered back into the village, past the dried fish shops and into the crowded main street with the market sprawling out into the back alleys. Plenty of unknown vegetables, herbs, spices etc for sale as well as masses of bananas – I stayed with the known and bought a pair of flip flops! (1500 kyats! More kyats to exchange from Jai Ou! Back to the taxi and then back along the main road out of the village. Our driver stopped at a Snake Pagoda – there were a couple of large snakes in cages and also a Pagoda decorated with a snake as well as a line of characters drinking tea!! Quite bizarre!!

Our last stop was a huge lotus sitting Buddha, where after admiring, we were invited to walk across the waste ground (bare footed of course!!) and climb the 30 or so steep steps to see the four Buddhas there!! Back down to see the temple housing statues of the ‘Son of Buddha’ (Sanga – I think?!) before, being Buddha’d out, we made our way back to the ship by 11.00am! Early for once! Two more sea days then next stop Singapore!

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