Myanmar – Yangon, 24 September 2009

When I first booked my ticket to Myanmar, I had planned on going surfing in one of the towns in the southern part of Myanmar, but unfortunately, the roads were closed, so that left me with few options, but to cut my trip short. Thanks to the complete lack of demand for air tickets, thankfully, changing my ticket at the SilkAir office was not too costly, and just involved a simple change fee.

Like its counterpart in Bagan, the Yangon International Airport seemed really out of place relative to Yangon. While Yangon street life was characterized by all those private generators locked up, to ensure a steady supply of electricity in a city that was all but abandoned by its government, the Yangon International Airport was a very modern, white-tiled, glass-paneled facility. Yangon was a very strange place. I could see flashes if the glorious 70s (in my imagination), and how it was simply frozen in time, because of political strife tearing apart a country. I do hope that the political situation settles, so its citizens can have a better life.

It wasn’t too interesting, but I had my lunch here, and washed down my lunch with my first Myanmar beer. It was a pretty light beer, and served in a frosty mug, I can’t complain.

Downtown Yangon in its heyday

Downtown Yangon

Myanmar Beer

Myanmar Beer


Myanmar – Bagan to Yangon, 23 September 2009

Today was a lazy day. I had an afternoon flight from Bagan back to Yangon, so I decided to take it easy, have some fun with the epic-ly slow, and heavily-censored internet traffic in Myanmar, and just check out the town of Bagan.

The town of Bagan is pretty slow-moving, but has seen better days. The restaurant row was obviously catered for the heyday of tourists, but these days, it seems like its main clientele are the ubiquitous mosquitos. I had some Indian, which was very delicious.

Due to the economic sanctions against Myanmar, trying to get international brands like Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola is a little bit tricky (and expensive). Just for kicks, I sampled a bunch of their sodas, including lemon soda, and the orange crusher. Retailing at 30 kyat, this was like 1/14th of the price of imported soda (500 kyat). Well, tastes like soda to me, and I didn’t go blind. So …

The highlight of my day was the surreality surrounding my trip to the airport, and the airport itself. While the rest of Bagan was dusty, and hot, the airport was a very modern, tiled facility, with air-conditioning, which they switched on, only about 1 hr before the flight was scheduled to depart. Yes, that’s how small it was, and that’s how they operated. When trying to make a decision about how to get to the airport, I had the option of taking a tourist coach, or taking a horse cart. Since I had plenty of time to kill, well, horse cart it is! How many times in life can you say you took a horse cart to the airport?

The flight back to Yangon was fairly uneventful, apart from seeing the flaking insulation on the plane window, and the sign on my tray table writing, “In case of emergency, use seat as flotation device.” C’est la vie! The plane did fly pretty low, so I was treated to a view of the sun setting over the rolling hills of Myanmar.

Orange Crusher

Orange Crusher, Myanmar

Horse cart ride to the airport

On the Way to Nyaung U Airport on a Horse Cart

Turbo-prop Yangon Air from Bagan to Yangon

From Bagan to Yangon on Yangon Air

“Use Bottom Seat Cushion for Flotation” sign on Yangon Air 

"Use Bottom Seat Cushion for Flotation" Sign on Yangon Airways

Myanmar – Yangon, 19 September 2009

I had a late start today, and decided to follow my stomach to lunch. A short walk later, I ended up at this restaurant, Monsoon. It was a pretty fancy place, with fairly fancy prices as well. As In has been going on about the wonders of a tea leave salad (Lephet Thoke), I ended up ordering one, along with a braised eggplant dish (Kayanthee Hnut). The tea leave salad was amazing, and I finished it up. Didn’t really finish the braised eggplant dish, though. They also offer Vietnamese drip coffee. It was pricy, but it was definitely worth it.

Monsoon Restaurant, Yangon

Interior of Monsoon Restaurant

Lunch at Monsoon, Yangon

Braised eggplant and tea leaf salad

I decided to try and walk off my lunch. It was pretty cool to take in the street scenes along the way. For instance, it appears that the city of Yangon seems to be powered by generators, instead of a national electricity provider. It’s kinda sad that people have to take charge of basic services on their own. It’s also interesting to see how people try to deal with embargoes. For instance, they have stuff like Tokyo Fried Chicken, and other local-brand donuts, which attempts to feed the need for fast food. There are, however, also other scenes from the past – for instance, the ubiquitous betel nut seller.

Post-lunch, I surveyed some of the cinemas in Myanmar. It was a pretty interesting experience. While people think the US is the most dominant culture market, with the ability to spread their culture through movies, it was slightly different in Myanmar. The dominant movies watched in Myanmar are from China and India. Red Cliff was showing, and there were also many cinemas at the cinema row, which are showing Bollywood films. In terms of architecture, the interior of some of the cinemas are also quite interesting – they are designed more like opera theaters.

Row of Cinemas on Bogyoke Aung San Road, Yangon

Cinema Row on Aung San Boyoke Road

Tokyo Fried Chicken, Yangon

Tokyo Fried Chicken

Unfortunately for me, the weather was not cooperating that much. It started raining in the mid-afternoon, so I ended up taking a little tea break at a donut shop, and doing some readings. Thankfully, the rain lasted just for an hour or so, so I was able to continue on my little walk.

As a former British colonial city, it was an interesting intellectual exercise. It really does not seem that different from Singapore. It appeared to be another cosmopolitan city, albeit stuck in the 1970s or something. It really makes me think of Singapore that I grew up with in the 1980s, with its intricate mosques, grand churches and elaborate temples beside each other. There are also very intricate shopping malls with different colors. I really felt like I traveled back in time.

Downtown Yangon


Ornate Shopping Mall in Yangon



Mosque in Yangon

As the sun started to set, the city started to come alive in a different way. People started to bring out their food, and displayed them on the streets. They also brought out those tube lights, to give the city some lights. It was a tricky little walk, as there were many potholes on the ground. After a dinner of So Thet (noodles with spring onion oil), I decided to retire early, as it was getting way too dark.

Night Market on Anawrahta Road, Yangon


Night market on Anawrahta Road

So Thet, Yangon


So Thet

Myanmar – Yangon, 18 September 2009

The journey to Myanmar started way before the trip itself. It was one of the first times (actually, the first time) I ever had to make a visa. The visa process was slightly insane. I actually had to write a letter designating my purpose, accompanied with an itinerary, and also a hotel confirmation with a place in Myanmar. For that purpose, I booked myself into Ocean Pearl Inn in Yangon, which you can find on websites like Hostelbookers. It was cheap (10 sgd per night for a room with attached bathroom), and it looked to be an okay place. Lonely planet has much to say about the military junta, and how many of the business interests are linked to the military junta. Well, I’m pretty sure where I stayed wasn’t part of that. If not, that’s some reach. I don’t have really strong opinions about the link between economic exploitation by the military regime, but I also do like the idea that my money is going to some small operator, and not some MNC.

Mission started with a hiccup. As I was checking in for my flight, the ground crew asked me for the credit card which I used to book the ticket. I conveniently left it at home. Thankfully, they let me re-book my ticket at the same rate using my other card.

I arrived at around 3 pm, and Ocean Pearl Inn provided a free airport pickup, so hurrah to that! Ocean Pearl Inn is located some ways from downtown, but it isn’t that out of the way. The rooms are basic, but clean, and the front desk are not only friendly, but also double as your helpful travel agent and money changer. I pretty much just did transacted everything with them. They also have a generator, which really helps with the power failures. I came with grand plans to do things on the first day, but after taking care of business, I just walked round the block, grabbed some grub, and had an early night.

First impression: Yangon seems somewhat decrepit, yet familiar. I guess see the similarities between former British colonial towns.

Aerial View of Myanmar

Aerial view of Myanmar

Rice Shop, Yangon

Rice shop, Yangon