Day 69, Tuesday 13 March 2012, Yangon.
very slow internet, so not many photos… but Myanmar is a big yay so far 🙂
I had a pretty average sleep, while the room is quite nice it only has internal facing windows and these are on to a lit hallway, while the curtains and frosting provide privacy they do not block the light – and my bed was right next to them. The hotel is also quite noisy so going to have to take a pill tonight. I am not sure of the status of my stomach, it is quite tender this morning, could be due to emptiness, could be due to one of these last night but who knows – will test and see.
The hotel provides a simple free breakfast, i had scrambled eggs and toast and soon after that we went out for the days mission. Go to Air Mandalay and get seats to Mandalay, change money and visit the Shwedagon Paya.
Through good fortune rather than good planning Air Mandalay’s offices are situated almost between the hotel and the paya and a 15 minute walk from the hotel. After setting off, at my instance, in the wrong direction, we soon realised our mistake and turned round and headed back the way we had come. It was an interesting walk to the office, the guide book says the footpaths are a mess in Yangon, but in this section of town the footpath had been recently replaced and was smooth as silk. As i mentioned last night, the roads are wide and clean, the buildings around are mostly ‘western’ in design and I could easily be walking down a street in Auckland.
The first sign that things are behind the times here was at the air Mandalay office, Air Mandalay is one of a few small local airlines plying the local Myanmar routes, apparently it is not owned by the government so by buying tickets we are not directly supporting the regime – I will post on this separately. Anyway, the tickets were hand written, there is no ticket machine, the confirmation that seats were available was done by phone and we had to pay cash, I think I mentioned yesterday, no credit cards in Myanmar…
On the subject of cash….
I had read a lot about changing money in Myanmar, in guide books, forums and blogs and all have the same story, yet there is always that doubting she will be right attitude that you take when you go.
A few places will change money, apparently the legitimate places, such as banks and the airport (it was closed when we were there) now offer a rate close to the official rate, before you had to use street money changes to get a good deal – with the associated risk of being ripped off. And there are a LOT of stories of people being ripped off, no matter how closely the exchange was followed.
You can only change US Dollars, I read a couple of posts about people managing to change a few Euros, though they got really really bad rates, and it took them a while to find someone to change it.
The USD have to be immaculate, – no folds, no tears, no marks, they must be near new, old bills are no good (even if they are immaculate !).
Big bills get better rates ! you will get more kyat for 1 $100 bill than 10 $10’s….
So those are the rules…
We handed the Air Mandalay clerk are money $105 each (a massively expensive trip but will save us a day). As we were paying in USD rather than use a precious $100 we used a mix of $20’s and $10’s. The clerk went through all the bills and rejected 3 $20s and a $10 saying the bank would not accept them, we couldn’t see what the difference was with some of the others, but changed them for other bills from our wallets and these seemed to work. We also had to pay a further $3 fee for the airport and again 2 of $1 bills were no good… I used 10 and got us some Kyat (local currency ) in change as we needed some anyway. First mission completed.
Second was to visit Shwedagon Paya. The main Zedi (stupa) is 98 metres tall and is layered in a rumoured 55 tonnes of gold leaf and is incrusted with 5000 diamonds and 2000 other precious stones. The paya can be seen from just about everywhere in Yangon and is central to Burmese Buddhists faith.
The paya is certainly impressive ! started 2500 years ago it has been added to over the years and is quite large. Unfortunately it was late morning when we arrived and sun was blasting down on the reflective tiled ground so it was quite warm. I took a lot of photos but will only upload a couple here due to bandwith, I may do a bulk Myanmar upload to Flickr later on.
After the Paya we set off to walk into down town, it was a couple of kilometres away down a hot wide road, but it gave us an opportunity to see some more of the place. We were looking for a bank to change our money and after an hour or so of walking around in the heat I was pretty gone, my back was aching badly and I had tanked energy wise, so we ended up getting a taxi back to the hotel with the aim to get a cab directly to a bank in the morning. Another sign we are not in the real SE Asia, no scooters in Yangon – and now this – how will they drive !!!
I spent most of the afternoon lying down and pouring water in to my mouth, I was feeling very average and think I got a touch of sun stroke, was hot and achy and very tired.
We watched a few bad movies on TV, ate some food, I had a chicken cashew, my first non-western food in a few days. Now my stomach appears to have settled i can back to trying local foods again : )
I popped painkillers, Imodium and half a sleeping pill and hit the pillow at 10.30, hoping for a good sleep..