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Published: February 12th 2007
Bear with me - this blog entry is rather lengthy as the internet in Myanmar is really crappy and slow. Since it is illegal to access Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo the only way to do so is via a proxy server.
Arrived in Yangon Airport on 29/1 and was organising to catch a taxi into town. The lady asks - do I need someone to share to split the cost? Sure, why not. So she assaults this young English dude named Ian (poor guy looked dazed), and we head to the same guesthouse (the friendly Golden Smiles Inn).
The first thing you notice is how quiet it is as no car horns are allowed - a real novelty in Asia. And that everyone wears a longyi (like a sarong). But 1-2 days is more than enough or one goes stir crazy (not the most exciting city).
It's really easy to walk around Yangon. Visited Chinatown, Sule Paya, Chaukhtatgyi Paya, Kandawgyi Lake and Bogyoke Aung San Market. But the most famous and revered place is the Shwedagon Paya.
Ended up being escorted around the Shwedagon by a couple of monks on the pretext of practising their English. Found
Thought I was in Vegas. Can't believe that someone thought this was a good idea.
out I was born on Wednesday a.m. which is the luckiest day as it is also Buddha's birthday. Afterwards the monks took me around a quiet section and asked for money. I was happy to make a small donation, but then they had the hide to ask for US$10. WHAT THE .... ?!?! If I'm going to get extorted it might as well be by monks. But it was a little disillusioning, and rather pitiful that the monks (and also nuns) have to resort to acting as pseudo-guides in order to get a feed. A far removal from the situation in Laos.
Then had to endure a 15-hour killer bus ride to Mandalay, the royal capital of the last monarchy of Myanmar. About as much fun as you could have on 4 wheels, complete with non-stop action DVD's (very entertaining for the locals) and food/rest stops every 2-3 hours.
It was the "Full Moon" festival while we were in Mandalay. Very atmospheric with the monks chanting, and all the locals going to the Mahamuni Paya to pray (amazing to behold). Also traipsed up Mandalay Hill for the sunset, and around the Kuthodaw Paya (world's biggest book on marble
slabs). Finally did a full day-trip to the ancient cities of Amarapura and Sagaing.
Normally you have to shell out US$10 entrance fee to see all these sights (govt charge), but we got out of paying it by sneaking in through the side entrances used by the locals (hooray!).
There's always the ethical question concerning whether one should go to Myanmar. As an independent traveller the best thing we can do is try to direct as little money as possible to the govt coffers and as much as possible towards the locals. So you don't catch any trains or the govt airline (which has a dodgy safety record), or go on expensive package tours (and I saw a lot of foreign tours, which made me cringe). What surprised me most was the number of tourists visiting Myanmar, a lot more than I expected. And how relatively advanced the tourism infrastructure appears. In spite of Western sanctions, there's certainly a fair bit of investment particularly from China (aka Big Brother), India and the other ASEAN countries.
The govt likes spending money on big projects, like bridges. Pity they don't spend as much money on their roads, which need
Wearing a bit of thanakha on their faces (natural combo of tinted moisturiser and sunblock)
a lot of TLC (my buggered back can attest to this). Plus there are beggars everywhere hitting up the tourists, especially the monks and nuns. Contrast this to the recent wedding of the leader's daughter where she wore a rumoured $50 million diamond necklace. It's hard not to notice these aspects, even only after being a few days in the country. My eyes were certainly opened.
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