The oldies are off again! Backpacking to Myanmar, Vietnam and Singapore.

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Asia » Burma
January 10th 2018
Published: January 14th 2018
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Weds 10th January 2018

It’s been almost a year in the planning but the time has finally arrived for the olds to hit the hippy trail and we are off backpacking to the Far East calling in at Myanmar, Vietnam and Singapore. We will be staying in Bed and Breakfasts, Guesthouses and Homestays as we prefer this to sterile hotels and from experience we really get to meet and talk with the local population.

Up early to say farewell to Ben and Claire as they headed off to work 😂 and then John headed out with the dogs for there morning walk, whilst Sarah finished some last minute packing and made sure all was in order before we left the metropolis of Marsh. Around 10am we said goodbye to the dogs, loaded the jeep and headed off up towards the smoke and Heathrow Airport. First stop was Hillhead for lunch but more importantly to spend a couple of hours with Kayleigh and Sebastian. Poor George had started back at work today 🙁. A really nice couple of hours chatting, having cuddles and a pasty for lunch. Around 3pm we drove the last hour up to Heathrow arriving just as
Tea Anyone?Tea Anyone?Tea Anyone?

Shop selling tea! Changi Airport
it was getting dark. Parked up the jeep, got the transfer to T4 and made our way to the Premier Inn for our overnight stay. Relaxing evening, enjoyed a meal and a glass of wine before heading off to bed as we had an early start the next day.

Thursday 11th January 2018

Awake just after 5am after a good nights sleep. Time to head back to T4 to check in for the start of our marathon trip to Myanmar. It’s Qatar Airways to Singapore with an A380 Airbus from London to Doha for the first leg. Then a couple of ours transit in Doha before boarding the A350 Airbus for the overnight flight to Singapore arriving around 9am. Then we have a long wait in Singapore Changi Airport so will try and catch up on sleep by the pool, visit the butterfly park, watch a film or just chill. Then it’s Air Asia to Yangon. First leg to Bangkok, a quick transfer before the last hop to Yangon. By the time we arrive we will be very tired so it will be off to bed!

Firstly tho it’s check in at Heathrow. All very painless and at this time of the morning not to busy. Quickly thro security and time for a wander. Not the most exciting of terminals compared to some we have used and will of course be a long way short of Changi Airport in Singapore which is rightly one of the very best in the world. There was nothing to tempt us on our stroll around the shops so it was now time for a cup of tea, no breakfast as we were still full from our meal last night. On time we were called forward to board the aircraft. First impressions were great, it was certainly a lovely looking plane and the passenger cabin looked very clean and smart. Settled into our seats and exactly on time the flight pushed back and we were on our way to Doha. Great IFE and a breakfast meal and a snack kept us going and we landed in Doha on time. Managed a quick stroll round the shops and then before we knew it we were boarding and setting off on the second leg of our marathon journey to Singapore. This time it was an Airbus A350 aircraft, again very smart looking plus a nice amenities kit of socks, eye pad, toothbrush/paste and wipes available for everyone. The time zones were beginning to get a little confusing as it was dark outside but to us our heads were still on U.K. time and we were not that tired. A little more turbulence on this flight which made eating our meal interesting for sure. Landed in Singapore at 9:20am Singapore time but to us it was still only about 1am. Overall Qatar Airways are a good airline, with great new planes which even have mood lighting in the passenger cabin. However; having flown with Singapore Airlines we just felt Qatar didn’t quite match them. They were let down on the little things.....Singapore did a drinks service before the meal.....Qatar did not, Singapore Airlines meals were a little better overall plus they also gave out fresh fruit and cakes between meals or whenever you asked. Wine came in a bottle with Singapore whereas Qatar had one large bottle of red/white wine which they used to fill the cups. Plus they were not as forthcoming after the meal with coffee or more drinks. This is not to say Qatar were not good, far from it -Singapore are
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Everything and anything travels on the circular train around Yangon. This was a bag of plastic. There were about 4 bags loaded. As we approached a station there by the tracks was a group of people sitting through the plastic. The bags were simply heaved off the moving train!
still the leaders for us.

Friday 12th January 2018

Singapore appeared out of the grey skies and right on time we landed. Outside the rain was falling but the temperature was still 22C. As we were changing airlines we had to “arrive” in Singapore, pass thro immigration, collect backpacks and head to T4. Immigration went well, with additional fingerprint checks for security. Collected our backpacks and headed out to the main concourse. So what to do now! Decided let’s wander around T3 and check it out, lots of shops plus huge food court. A nice wander before we headed via a covered walkway to T2 and jumped onto the coach for the short ride to the new T4. Changi Airport is super efficient! T4 was obviously very new but we decided first stop was food and headed to the food court - just too much selection with different varieties of food from all over south east Asia. John went for the Singapore chicken rice and veggie dish with a bowl of soup to start whilst Sarah had a big bowl of rice with pork in a lovely ginger sauce. Both were yummy. Despite it being an airport the
Snack anyoneSnack anyoneSnack anyone

Many people on train selling everything!
cost of the food was very reasonable. Whilst we were enjoying our meal we were fascinated by the electronic, moving robot tray collector.....yes tray collector! 😮 Picture the tray stacking units you see in places like IKEA, M&S or Debenhams cafes. Except this one is motorised and programmed moving thro the food court and tables and as it passes your table you can slot your tray onto its shelves. When full it goes down to the service bay where all items are washed, cleaned and stacked ready to be used again.

Meal done we headed back downstairs to check in, all automatic as you would expect....including auto bag drop. As we were travelling to Myanmar, once we had checked in via the computer terminals we were then directed across to the manned check in desk. This was to ensure we had a visa to enter Myanmar as without this you cannot travel. Then to security, very thorough with everyone having to enter the booth for a full body scan. Then more electronic wizardry as you scan passport, then boarding card to open an automatic gate. Then one last check is that you have to place your fingers on the scanner for a fingerprint check before a final gate opens and you are airside and in duty free. The thing is it all works......fantastic. All terminals at Changi Airport are good, they are so relaxing, carpeted flooring and no manic rushing around....all just seems so calm. Plus the terminals are huge, light and airy with plenty of green plants, sculptures etc. A wander around before settling down for a coffee and a light snooze.

Next leg is Air Asia to Bangkok with a departure time of 5:05pm. When there was no aircraft at the parking bay by 4:30pm we knew we were going to be late, hopefully not to late as we still had our final connection to make. Eventually at around 5:30pm we started to board the aircraft, an A320 Airbus for the hop to Thailand. Air Asia are the EasyJet equivalent for this area so things not as upmarket as Qatar Airways. 😊 Good job it wasn’t a long flight. Took off an hour late with most of the trip in grey cloud so couldn’t see very much. Flight was fine and we were served with a sandwich snack and water on the way.......think for some reason this was included in the price we paid as all food etc had to be purchased but we were just handed this to nibble on. Arrived at Bangkok.....landing Don Meaung Airport. Seems this is the old airport for Bangkok and yes it looked it, very tired and run down. Never mind we had arrived and whilst we were a little late it did mean less waiting around. Transferred thro the airport and entered a very manic, chaotic and crowded departures area. We just grabbed a seat and waited. Lots of announcements, waving of arms, holding up of written flight departure details and general mayhem...but it all seemed to be working as we eventually got called forward for our flight to Yangon. Usual rugby scrum on the coach to the plane - not convinced the driver knew which one it was as he seemed to drive around for a while looking for it! 😂 This time we boarded a bit of a shed - an old Airbus A319 that certainly had put in the hours. We left on time for this the final leg of our journey which would take around an hour leaving the bright lights of Bangkok behind us. Another in flight snack and before we knew it we were descending to Yangon. The lady in the seat next to Sarah was obviously happy being an international jet setter as she took lots of pictures of herself posing on the flight, she even took some of us two as well. Approaching Yangon the first thing noticeable is that whilst it was lit up, there were none of the the bright lights of Bangkok, it all looked a bit subdued. After landing there was the usual arrivals process, took about 20mins as all foreigners need to have a visa before being allowed into the country. Once thro immigration we found our bags, handed the uniformed customs man our declaration and wandered out into the arrivals hall to be met by our driver. It was about a 25min drive into downtown Yangon and on the way we managed to glimpse a couple of pagodas lit up in the night sky. Finally we arrived at the Lotus B and B. Nice friendly welcome as we checked in, given details,of breakfast timings and shown our room. Room was a fair size, one double and one single bed, clean shower and loo, fan and aircon plus bottles of water and free toothbrush/paste available. Quickly unpacked and then it was time for bed - sleep at last!

Saturday 13th January 2018

So we think it must now be Saturday morning. John was awake around 7am after a good nights sleep. Outside we could hear the morning life of Yangon beginning to stir as the sky began to lighten. Today it will be a slow introduction to Yangon. Breakfast, maybe change some money, a stroll around to get our bearings and hopefully we will find the train station along the way. Plan is to jump on the circular railway that goes around Yangon, taking around 3 hours. Hopefully we can just sit and immerse ourselves in our surroundings and get a good feel of Yangon and local life. But first its shower, dressed and head for breakfast. Nice breakfast room and we found out that this little B & B is run by the university and they use this as a training option for students. There are a few full time staff, all graduated from the university and then a few learning their trade. Have to say service was with a smile and food was perfect. John had the traditional Burmese breakfast - Mohinga whilst Sarah had fried rice with two fried eggs on top. All accompanied by juice, tea, coffee and fresh fruit. Nice start to the day. Breakfast done we chatted in reception and we’re given a map to get us started - this had all the places of interest on it that we may want to visit. Once we had our bearings we headed out into the big city. First stop was to change some rate is 1,800 Kyats to the £, so it’s big numbers when buying anything! With a bucket load of cash in our hands we then strolled thro town to Yangon main station - easy to find as everywhere is on a grid road system. Down onto the platform and tickets purchased. 400 kyats each, so for two it works out at about 50p! 😊 All this for a 3 hour circular trip around the city. We thought this would be the best way to ease ourselves into local life. Well what a trip - we headed out of Yangon on a packed rickety rattling train complete with hard wooden seats. We were in the last
Sule Pagoda YangonSule Pagoda YangonSule Pagoda Yangon

Pity it’s situated as a roundabout! Strangely interesting, beautiful and yet tacky all at the same time.
carriage. No doors on the train, windows open as no fan or air con, but to be fair it wasn’t that hot a day. The journey was brilliant. Saw all forms of local life with the train being used not only to carry people but also every bit of market goods imaginable. It was amazing to see the locals heave the sacks on and off at each of the stations. Add to this the constant jabbering of the hawkers selling everything from fruit to lottery cards, peanuts, hard boiled eggs, pancake rolls and full blown meals and it was certainly an experience. Some stations were very crowded and others deserted as the train wobbled it’s way along. For most of the journey we sat in the open doorway or wandered to the back of the carriage and stood on the backplate taking pictures. There is no health and safety on this train! We have been to India but it was sanitised Goa so nowhere near like this experience. Some people are so very very poor and along the tracks some had built their homes out of bits of wood, corrugated iron, tarpaulin and anything else they could find. It really does make you think. At one station whilst we were waiting to depart a young lad and his mum were smiling at us, waving and eventually the boy asked to take our picture....we returned the favour. The journey was just what we needed as we saw inner city life, a little of the countryside but more importantly met the locals. Sarah even managed a 20minute chat with a local man about life in Myanmar. Exactly 3 hrs later the train arrived back at Yangon main station, a place which has certainly seen better days but it works and it’s cheap.

We then decided to head to the Bogyoke Market a short walk away. This market is pretty grand and sells lots of clothing, footwear and jewellery. Sarah loved it! A pleasant hour or so wandering and eventually we came out on a side street. As is the norm out here every side street has cafes, food stalls and more sellers selling everything you could need. Time for a cold drink and small snack. So Myanmar beer for John, freshly made pineapple juice for Sarah and a sweet and sour chicken dish to share. All enjoyed sat on tiny stools at tables by the roadside. Perfect for people watching. Onwards again and adjoining the market is a very swish mall with high end retailers selling fashion goods. We never stayed long! Onwards down the road to what is described as the real market - Thien Guzei.....this is a wet market with veg, fruit, fish and meats of all varieties for sale. It went on for a good number of streets, with the road covered with stalls. So much so that when the odd vehicle comes down the stall holders move to one side and the baskets of produce are left in the road and the vehicle wheels straddle either side as they drive over. Onwards towards Sule Pagoda, we will call in another day. Opposite is Marharbandoola Park which was full of people out enjoying themselves in the early evening just as the sun was setting. Walking around downtown Yangon the British colonial rule here was clear to see, lots of impressive buildings of that era, some refurbished but many just faded glories of a time long past. Again there isn’t the money to sort them out. As Myanmar is really only just beginning to surface on the tourist trail the place is still emerging from a long time of isolation. It is a fascinating city for sure. Time for another pit stop for a coffee and tea in a typical Myanmar tea house, with granny sat in the corner overseeing everything and making sure the young boys did a good job. At around 7pm we were back at the B & B and decided that after our first day in Myanmar we were well and truly cream crackered. We asked at reception about somewhere close by for food and they said we could consider going to there own restaurant a few blocks away or we could order off there menu and it would be delivered. Delivery was agreed and whilst we waited we sampled another bottle of Myanmar beer. 🍺 Approximately 30mins later our delivery arrived and the waiters at the B&B set up a table so we could enjoy our meal. Tonight’s Supper was curried mutton, rice and various side dishes for John and curried butter fish for Sarah, again with side dishes. Just the job at a bargain price of £5 for the two of us. Feeling full and decidedly tired we reckoned it was shower and early to bed time to catch up on sleep and prepare ourselves for another day.

Sunday 14th January 2018

Woke up feeling much more with it. Breakfast this morning was a Myanmar noodle, chicken and veggie selection......that is when they got it right. Maybe the students had been on the town as our first breakfast was what they call the western selection, not what we ordered but we thought never mind it had got lost in translation! However the girl in charge was having none of it; so she made them take it away and we got what we ordered, with profuse apologies. Breakfast done we gathered together our things and headed out onto the streets. Up to Sule Pagoda about 800mtrs away. This pagoda is acting like a roundabout with all roads leading from it. As Sarah said, back when it was built it was probably not surrounded by traffic careering around like mad things. All foreigners pay an entry fee and of course its shoes off time. In we went and strolled around trying to understand what it was all about. Beautiful statues and different praying areas, but all a bit tacky - but of course that is just our western taste. There were different praying areas for each day of the week depending on what day you were born. Lots of people praying and making offerings of money, flowers, fruit etc. Also lots of what we thought were flashing Christmas lights around many of the statues. We decided we must do a little research to understand more. About 1.5hrs later we came out of the pagoda and braved the traffic and crossed over to the Maharbandoola Park where we just sat awhile watching the world go by. Then onwards down a couple of side streets to wander again thro the market stalls, we just love seeing how the local people make use of every and we do mean every part of an animal. Some very strange items being sold. Heading back to the b and b it seems everyone is trying to sell something - if it’s not food on every corner, it’s screws, refurbished tools, clothing, mobile phones - you name it and they are selling. Eventually we arrived at a cafe across the road from our accommodation and decided to pop in for an iced coffee and relax a while. Time to plan the rest of our time in Yangon.

This evening after consulting the Rough Guidebook we took a stroll up 49th St to the Lucky 7 traditional Myanmar Tea room which also served food. It wasn’t lucky for us! Unfortunately whilst the Rough Guide is great for the logistics of a holiday, maps, places to visit etc, it probably isn’t that up to date with places to eat/stay.....maybe Tripadvisor is a better source of up to date info. Wasn’t the place we had read about In the guidebook for sure. After a brief stay we decided why not try the Lotus Myanmar Restaurant which is part of our B&B. Our takeaway from last night was good so we decided to visit in person. A great choice. Greeted by a friendly team and shown to a table. We looked over the menu and they would explain anything we were not sure took us a bottle of beer before we had made our selection, For Sarah it was a fish curry with side dishes of veggies and dipping sauces and for John an Asian chicken fried rice and hot and sour chicken. Lots of food and great value. It was service with a smile, well cooked and presented food which we really enjoyed. At around 9:30pm we strolled back to our room and it was time for a bit of reading and sleep.


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