I'm in Myanmar!
Today marks the beginning of my two week journey in the country of Myanmar. I'm excited about this trip for several reasons. For one thing, this is my first ever absolutely 100% solo trip.Myanmar is also my fourth Asian country and I'm interested in seeing how it stands up to all of the travel buzz and hype. As I've now been inside the country for exactly five hours, I'd like to share with you my first impressions of Myanmar.
After a morning of last minute packing in Bangkok, I took a taxi to Don Mueang Airport. It was my first time at this airport and also my first time flying Air Asia. I found the airport to be fine, nothing overwhelmingly impressive like Suvarnabhumi, but well organized.
When I arrived at the airport I exchanged my Thai Baht for US Dollars-the recommended currency to use in Myanmar and to exchange for Myanmar Kyat. I told the exchange woman that I was going to Myanmar and she pushed aside her stack of US bills and whipped out a brand new stack of crisp, unused bills, as per Myanmar's OCD about only accepting perfect bills.
Next, I checked in with Air Asia, a quick and easy process. Security Scanning and Thai immigration also shuffled me through pretty quickly, especially considering that today is a weekend day! After locating my gate, I had my last meal in Thailand at non other than...Starbucks. (But, I have vowed to eat only Burmese food while on my trip! Maybe you guys can help hold me to this!!!)
My Air Asia flight began boarding about 20 minutes after the scheduled time. When I stepped onto the plane, I was greeted by a lovely Thai attendant in red who smiled and moved her hands into the traditional wai gesture. The plane itself was a new plane, decked in Air Asia's red and black colors. I was surprised to see advertisements plastered all over the plane, as if it were a subway car!
The flight from Bangkok to Yangon was nice and quick, just over an hour in the air. Following typical airline trends these days, no food or drinks were complimentary, but of course available for purchase. I abstained (possibly because of the secret Kit Kat I had stashed away in my bag!) When I booked my tickets, I had selected a window seat and I spent most of the short flight watching Bangkok's urban sprawl morph into the flooded planes of Myanmar.
Yangon International Airport
As soon as we landed I admired the Yangon International Airport from my airplane window. The exterior of the small building is not unlike a typical Southeast Asian temple or palace--it was golden and lovely! "Welcome to the Golden Land" proclaimed a large banner near the exit of the plane. I was also greeted by a large, red Coca-Cola sign. I looked around the modern, shiny airport and noticed many other popular, international adverts such as Pepsi, banks and MasterCard, whose sign boasted being the first credit card in Myanmar. In fact, every advertisement in the airport was in English! This completely took me by surprise!
The compact airport's design is very open. Immigration, baggage claim and customs are all within eyesight of one another in one large atrium. I noticed that all of the female airport staff wore a smart black and white uniform, but many of the men worse longyi skirts with their button-up shirts! Overall, the little airport seems to be well organized and efficient. It took me less than 20 minutes to get through immigration, baggage claim and customs.
Before I left the airport, I exchanged some of my US dollars for Myanmar kyat. Not very long ago, if I had exchanged my money at the airport I would have gotten just a tenth of the black market price. Most people used to exchange their money at hotels or at the Bogyoke Market. But, nowadays, there are half a dozen currency exchange stands at the airport, offering the best exchange rate in the city. I got about 980 kyat to the dollar. The exchange booths also accepted Euros and Singapore dollars.
The Taxi Ride
I arranged a taxi ride from the airport to my guest house for 7,000 kyat. My taxi ride through the gray, rainy evening was my first glimpse of Myanmar and it was when I realized that Myanmar was going to be constantly surprising me. Through my rain-streaked window, I saw tradition and modernity on the streets of Yangon in addition to some things that I never would have expected to see! As Ke$ha and Taylor Swift sang through the radio (?) we drove past men and women wearing longyi skirts, an Iphone repair shop down a dirt alley, a sign for an American university program, little gardens and even a Novotel construction site. I already had the feeling that Myanmar is changing rapidly to catch up with its neighbors.
I was surprised to see not one single motorcycle! Although motorcycles are a way of life in most Southeast Asian cities, they've apparently been banned in Yangon. Replacing them is a plethora of bicycles.It seems like everybody bikes! One more oddity about Yangon that I've never seen anywhere else in the world is that traffic drives on the right side of the road and many cars (my taxi included) have the driver's seat on the right hand side.
My taxi ride was also my first sampling of the Burmese language. I listed to the ebb and flow of my taxi driver's phone conversation, wishing I could understand him! This was also a wake up call to myself to study basic Burmese phrases asap!
After our half an hour drive through Yangon, we arrived at Agga Guesthouse, where I had pre-booked my first three nights in Yangon. The guesthouse, which is located in Chinatown, was actually much nice than it looked online. The staff greeted me at the door of my taxi and took my bags for me. At reception, I was relieved to find very kind and helpful English speakers! (Yay!)
They led me to my room, a shared backpacker room, for which I paid $8 a night. I seem to have gotten a free upgrade to a shared room with air con! (YAY!) I've got a full sized bed, (which SHOCKED me) towels, and a locker for my valuables. The shared bathroom also exceeded my expectations. Western, flushable toilets with toilet paper? What more could a girl ask for!
After settling into my room, I went back down to reception to chat with the staff. I attempted to practice the two Burmese words that I know: Mengalaba (hello) and Jay zu ding ba de (thank you). They were very helpful with my poor pronunciation.
|Agga is on the left.|
My First Meal in Myanmar
I didn't stray too far from the guesthouse but found a lovely little cafe called Ice Berry. For less than two dollars I had a strawberry milkshake (minus the shake part but still delicious) and the saltiest fried rice I've ever had in my life! I mixed in some chilly sauce to tone down the salt. I still enjoyed it though! My first meal was very tame (I know!) but I'm looking forward to sampling more of Myanmar's food!
After dinner I headed back to the guesthouse for an early night!
I feel really good about this trip so far. I'm excited to meet the people of Myanmar as well as other travelers. I'm excited to learn about this mysterious country. So far I feel absolutely intrigued by everything around me. I'm also really surprised with what I've seen in Yangon. I'm definitely looking forward to the next two weeks!
Have you ever been to Myanmar?
What were your first impressions?