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2/10/2013

TIPS, TRICKS & WISE ADVISE (read before you go)



This is the most tricky part of my blog: with the passage of time I believe a retrospective of our month in Myanmar could be a source of practical information, certainly for travellers without any/little knowledge of Myanmar. That said: these are my reflections and my opinion and everybody is different, so what I hated, might be great fun for someone else or vice verse. So don't judge me for this. I just wrote down how I experienced things, to help you. It was a hell of job to write this blog. I have put an incredible amount of energy, love and care in it. If you don't agree with me, I totally understand this, but please keep it to yourself and just pretend you never read it :-)


CLICK ON THE PIC TO SEE ALL OUR PICS AND MOVIES OF OUR TRIP: 


MYANMAR

Click for this whole blog as a PDF file HERE 

Click for an 11 minutes movie compilation HERE 




ABOUT US

This was my second time in Myanmar. In 2004 I explored the country on my own, for only ten days. This time I travelled for a whole month (tourist visa is only valid for 28 days) with my boyfriend Klaas. He's 35 and into architecture and I am 42 and freelancer in PR, Marketing & Communication. We live together in an apartment in Amsterdam. We have no kids, because we like to travel instead of raising crying little monsters. 

We are pretty experience travellers. I've travelled (solo) in Asia over the past 12 years. This trip was Klaas his 4th time in Asia. Before Asia, he travelled in South America. We like to explore countries independently and we are allergic to group tours, especially the one's with retired elderly, type: white socks, big belly, silly colonial hat or baseball cap, talking loud in their own language, often show no or little interest in the local population as long as their beer is cold and the hotel looks like they have at home. Same same goes for the Japanese and Chinese groups. This sounds very judgemental, I know, but truly the way I feel about group tours (and all the individual travellers I met shared my opinion heavily. I believe even Aung San Suu Kyi is worried about the 'group tour tourism' that seems to have 'taken over' her country).

RESEARCH

Before we arrived in Myanmar, I did a lot of research online. I used Tripadvisor as my main source and Thorntree as my second. The Lonely Planet also, but his royal highness is totally outdated (although only one year old). The prices quoted in there have to be multiplied by at least 3 or 4 times (Myanmar is rapidly changing). If I couldn't find what I was looking for, I googled until I found what I was looking for. There is so much information online. 
I also read several novels about Myanmar.


WHAT DOES THE MYANMAR VIBE FEEL LIKE?

Myanmar is a beautiful country, but what does that mean? There are so many beautiful countries in the world. Well, Myanmar is special because it hasn't dealt with tourism on a massive scale yet. That makes it special (but also difficult). But Myanmar offers also many breathtaking temples, pagoda's and (golden) rocks, beaches, small villages, statues, vibrant cities and so on! 

The landscape differs from region to region: sea, lake, mountains, palm woods and rural areas; Myanmar offers it all. The people are in general very shy and traditional, but overall lovely and kind (although not many speak English and that's why they are very reserved). Men practically all wear longies and like the women use tanaka (white powder) make up on their face, which is very special to see. Sexuality is totally hidden, which I found very refreshing in the beginning and easy going (I live in a neighbourhood with too many Moroccan guys who whistle all the time) but after three weeks I was wondering if the Myanmar people ever have sex :-) 


At Ngapali beach I wear shorts and shoulder less tops, which I tried to avoid in all the other places in Myanmar. Please make sure to wear at least a shirt that covers your shoulders and please do wear anything that covers your knees at temples and other religious places. THIS ADVISE IS ALSO FOR MEN! I've seen many stupid tourists with singlets and tiny short jeans, just covering the butt, walking around the Shwedagon. Really? Yes really! 

The food they serve is tasteful. Not like Thai or Vietnamese food at all. It has it's own special flavor. The Myanmar people mainly eat rice with meat (curry) and vegetables. At Inle lake and the beach, avocado salad is very much in vogue and of course fish. So mjumie! There are no bars, no nightlife, but there are tea houses (only men). At 9pm streets are empty.

Alcohol is available, beer very easy (Myanmar beer often comes free...see my blog chapter Ngapali beach), as well as Myanmar rum and whiskey (dirt cheap, 2$ a bottle). Wine is also available, but more difficult and only in the big villages or at the beach. They have their own vineyards and this wine taste pretty okay. See my chapter of Inle Lake.

Pretty much all the Myanmar men have red teeth. They constantly chew beetle nut which makes their teeth horribly ugly, rotten and red. They spit the left over beetle nut and their lumps of spit on the streets, so these are all red. This aspect of Myanmar I didn't like too much. It seems that everybody chews this light speedy drug and it looks very unattractive.

Four weeks is enough time to get to know the country well.

HOTELS

All the hotels we slept in, I 'booked' online. Sometimes I e-mailed a hotel four to six times (!) before I got an answer back. A month before our departure, I reconfirmed all the hotels by e-mail. I mailed them till I got a reconfirmation back. From the whole e-mail correspondence I made a PDF and copied that on my iPad. When we arrived we encountered with three hotels (out of nine) problems: our reservation was NOT known or known but according to them not properly reconfirmed (they make up all kinds of stories). This is the most difficult part of travelling independently in Myanmar.


Here is what you need to do: try to book all your hotels weeks (better months) in advance. Don't take any risks by not booking ahead. We've seen several times travellers walking around in the streets, tears in their eyes, totally stressed because there was NOT ONE SINGLE ROOM AVAILABLE. Certainly the better ones are sold out quickly. Reconfirm at least a week and three days before showing up and do this by telephone through a staff member of the hotel you stay in. I am not kidding you, this is how it works these days in Myanmar. There is a gigantic lack of rooms and most hotel owners don't have any service attitude (anymore) because they fill up anyway. So yes they are rapidly becoming arrogant and unfriendly. This was the biggest change I saw compared to eight years ago. A total shame, but what can I do about it? Once I tried something, I confronted one of the hotel owners with his behavior and lack of service (PYI1 @Inle Lake) and a very unpleasant situation occurred.

Because it's not possible to pay for the hotel online, many travellers make reservations for a few hotels in the same town. They check out the competition and take the room they like the most. The other rooms are left over. That's why hotel owners basically take the whole 'reservation system' for granted/not seriously. So in a way it's our own fault!


PRICES

Hotels are very expensive in Myanmar (for a poor Asian country). Mid range hotels are between 45-100$ a night. Certainly Yangon is horrible. Shit holes for 60$ are very common. Mid range is often still pretty basic, do not level the rooms with European or Thailand standards. When I visited Myanmar eight years ago I paid for the same room 10$ instead of 55$. This shows how crazy things are getting in Myanmar. There is basically little to no service in the hotel, what you see is what you get. If they can take your Kyatt, they will. Service is something that they just have no experience with (the way we expect it when paying 75$ for a room). You can pay for the rooms in Dollars or in Kyatt. Euro's basically NOT!

Flying in Myanmar is between 80-135$ per flight (see exact prices further in this post). Flying is not dirt cheap, but it goes fast and we thought it was very reliable. KBZ is the most expensive one (but has the most air plains and according to my travel agent the most reliable one). According to a few bloggers as of February there is a new company offering budget flights. See post on Tripadvisor. 

Food is very affordable and it seems that the price for meals and drinks didn't change that much over the years. But I think the variety of dishes and what they offer changed very positively. As well as the hygiene of the food preparation (although I still suffer from stomach problems and needed antibiotics).
So except for accommodation, the prices in Myanmar are okay.

MYANMAR PEOPLE

During my online research, I've read over a hundred times how nice and warm the Myanmar people are. I agree, to a certain level. Often we felt an attraction when we walked down the streets. People taking pictures of us, waving, yelling 'Mingalabar!!!' or just smiled at us. We liked that a lot. We brought from our home country small presents and tried to interact with the locals as much as possible. But language is a problem. We really tried hard to learn a few Burmese sentences but gave up after 2 weeks. 
Many Burmese don't speak any English, French or Spanish so conversations are difficult, which I found in the end a bit frustrating. Always the same question and the same answers. The people who speak a tiny little bit English is the hotel / restaurant staff and I didn't particular fell in love with their kindness or hospitality. Walking an extra mile for a guest: no way, this is just not in their system. They obey to the strict regulations and rules of the owner. Everything goes precisely as they are told to do. Nothing happens without any good reason. I often felt that the staff was cheap labour just for handing over the key and collecting the dollars. I was very intrigued by all this but couldn't find any answers to all the questions I had.

I really missed talking chit chat style with the staff. I am curious how they live, what their interests are etc. This was most of the time not possible. The only big exception was at Ngapali Beach at the Bayview resort, but that is a German owned international hotel (and unfortunately so not Myanmar). The staff here is very well trained and more open to conversation then any other hotel staff I met. They also truly seem to enjoy hanging out with us, talking, making jokes etc. 

Every place we visited was totally different. The southern part is more rural, undeveloped and the people were far less friendly and hygienic, with Kinpun (base camp for Golden Rock) as the most unfriendly and dirty town we visited. 

Moulmein is a funny special little town. A great place to unwind with a lot of nature and beautiful monasteries and pagoda's. It's only reachable by train (nightmare) and bus. Easy transportation in and around town with your own scooter for example.

We liked the spirit in Bagan (Nyaung Shwe area). It was so relaxed driving around and exploring the town on our bikes. We also liked the way they made their restaurants cosy with lampoons and candles. Inle Lake was also chill. Basically what we found out: everywhere bikes can be hired, there is a nice vibe in town.

Although Mandalay sounds exotic and laid-back, it was by far the dirtiest and most polluted city. Because of our great guide Lamyou (highly recommended) we had a fantastic time, but be well prepared if you go there and spent some extra $ on good accommodation, you will definitely like a little extra here.

Ngapali beach is beautiful, but nothing like the Thai beach life. You want to drink and party: avoid this place. You will only see older people, big posh resorts and no action, -except for laying cards- what so ever. A few travellers told me that the place looks like Ko Samui 30 years ago (with Swiss prices anno 2013). It's quiet, there are many great restaurants, a beautiful white beach and a clear blue sea. 
I you are in for reading a book, eating grilled fishes and drink an occasional cocktail at one of the resorts, this might be just the perfect place for you.  


BUDGET

We were not really on a budget. We took plenty of pristine dollars with us to avoid running into cash problems (we saw many people with cash flow problems). Pristine unused notes are still the only way to get Kyatts. So pre-book them in your country. 
If we would have known that euros were also exchangeable in Myanmar -really!-, we would have brought those and only a few dollars in small notes. Would have saved us about 100€ commission fee (! ridiculous) back in Holland. 


It is really bizarre that they still want pristine notes, but it's like it is...
Our € notes don't interest them at all, so you can bring filthy, used notes to the country without any problems. The reason is very easy: Just compare the bills. With a good photocopy printer you can reproduce the just two-coloured Dollar bills easily, and if you then just "age" them a bit with dust and folds, it is difficult to see that these are forged. Now try this with a Euro bill with all the extremely refined security marks, holograms, metal band, watermarks etc. Hard job to forge those and you can see that even if they are used.


You basically cannot use your credit card in Myanmar. Not in hotels (only a few in Yangon). There are now several ATM's in Inle Lake, Yangon and Mandalay (as I remember correctly) where you can withdraw cash from (expensive). Visa seems to be more in favour/practical then MasterCard. 


At the airport they offer a good exchange rate (same as all the banks in Myanmar). It was hilarious to see all these tourist at the airport exchange booth changing only 25$ because they read in the bible that the airport rates are the worst in Myanmar. This made me really think...the majority of the travellers obvious haven't done any real (last minute) research...They just bought a Lonely Planet and thought: off we go?


On average the two us together spent daily 55$ without accommodation but with souvenirs/clothes/medicines. 
For guesthouses and hotels we paid another 35-65$ per night. See all the details in my blog.

NOT in our daily budget:
  • We splurged at Ngapali Beach with a 113€ per night room (it was worth every euro cent but we felt terribly spoilt). But food here is dirt cheap. So our daily budget at Ngapali beach was 25$ a day.
  • We paid once for a private taxi ride Yangon-Golden Rock: 90$
  • We paid average 90$ per domestic flight (we took 5 flights)


TRANSPORTATION

Short: avoid buses and trains, take plains. Why? Read my blog. 
No seriously, we are not that good with buses. The ones we've been on were so full with people and leg space was so little, that we didn't enjoy it (understatement).   


This is what I've heard several times: 
The night buss stops every 3 hours. Lights go on and everybody will be swept out. They also play music throughout the whole night. So that's kind of tricky for for a good night sleep. I've heard there are now several itineraries with great buses were you can totally lay down/stretch. This information must be available online.

The train: do it and you will never do it again, I am almost certain of that. It's bumpy, goes slow, it's dirty, very noisy, busy and not really cheap. 

A glimpse:


















Flights in Myanmar:
We decided to use a travel agent to book flight tickets with. This is not possible online, you need someone in Myanmar. I e-mailed quit a bit back and forth to my contact in Yangon because it's not easy getting things done (quickly) in Myanmar. I've repeated my question sometimes several times and occasionally I had my doubts if they really understood what I meant. So be patient and always, stay polite! There are loads of recommendations for travel agents to be found online. Mine is clearly described in my blog.

This is what we paid at Peace House Travel:
(click here to e-mail May from Peace House Travel directly)


(NOTE: Mandalay -> Bagan is by -11 hour- BOAT!!!!)





SHOULD I GO NOW?

I honestly don't know. What happens right now in Myanmar is totally incomparable with any other country. I talked to several people who worked for years in the tourist industry and they all start trembling at the thought what will happen if this situation goes on. Me too. I have serious doubts if the Myanmar government is doing the right thing at this moment. I hope they will hire the right advisers from abroad to guide them through this difficult process. If things will go on like they are now and did in the past 8 or 9 months, then Myanmar will soon become a no go area. If I had anything to say, I would close the borders now (or at least decrease the total amount of tourist visa by half) for a while, and start reflecting on what happened and how to go on in a fair and much better structured way. 


Anyway:

If you don't mind paying ridiculous amounts of money for simple accommodation, yes go! 

If you can handle the stress of being refused because the hotel/guesthouse is full (although you have written proof of your reservation): yes go! 

If you don't mind to get some stomach issues: yes go (you will get them how careful you are..)

If you insist on being the first to discover (authentic) Myanmar: NO, don't go. You are certainly not one of the first, and the country has already changed totally. The 'real authenticity' is already gone. Wait a few years till the country is used to tourism. 

If you are afraid of travelling on your own and you want to go by a group tour: NO, don't go. 
At this point in time Myanmar is better off without tourist groups (I know there are some real cool travel agents like Shoestring that organises local orientated group tours...these are probably very okay, but still I don't think the country benefits from these kind of tourists & tourism). 

ALSO INTERESTING FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

Spanish

A fun blog to read for Spanish travelers:
http://www.bakpakin.blogspot.com

Myanmar touroperators

A handy touristy website from Zaw Win Tun, a web developer from Myanmar:
http://www.goldenplacemyanmar.com

Another one:
http://www.dragoman.com/press/press-releases/872-burma-overland-


2/04/2013

Moulmein (Mawlamyne)

Day 25: Back in business

It was a 3,5 hour drive in a wobbly bus that was packed with mostly locals. They have this wicked middle row system, to make sure 5 people fit in one row. I could hardly move my legs. I am not the bus type at all. Half ways we had a stop in a shocking dirty place were a few vendor ladies tried to sell us their stuff. Like in Kinpun, the people here at Thanton are not friendly and of a totally different kind then all the other people we've seen during our travelling through Myanmar. Everything was covered with mud and the garbage was laying everywhere. For us, it is totally shocking to see that everybody just throws their litter in the streets and obviously don't care at all.


Some bitching vendor ladies:




We were so glad the bus stopped and dropped us off at the bus station of Moulmein. Nightmare ride was over. We took a tuktuk that brought us the the Sandelwood (1.000K each). We called them this morning to make a reservation because our reserved hotel for the next two days, the Cinderella, is full today. The Sandelwood is okay, not really charming, but spotless and the room is very well equipped, a drying rack..wow! I love that, the first I've seen in Myanmar.





We took a long hot shower to wash off all the dirt and negative vibes we collected in Kinpun and in the bus. Because the wifi works really good here, I took a look on Tripadvisor for food suggestions. Not many. When we went downstairs to go out, we met a Dutch guy Gerrit who gave us many tips for exploring town and her surroundings. He rented a scooter, which he thought was totally safe here, and showed us the place where we immediately booked one for the next two days.

We had a lovely dinner at Ykko a very modern and clean place next to the river. They have an extensive menu, also one for coffee. So this is the place where I hang out for some decent cappuccino tomorrow,..yeahhhh!
The food was delicious. We both liked it a lot. It's not Myanmar style (I am a bit done with Myanmar food), more Japanese. Truly a highly recommended restaurant and very affordable, slightly more expensive then the other places we've been to (between 2.000-4.500K per dish).

We went to bed early. Both exhausted from the hell journey and the awful place called Kinpun. If I had known all this....well what we say in Holland: Looking back, you look a cow in it's ass hole. What a ridiculous phrase,... now I think of it, hahahaa.


Day 26: You are so nice Moumein!

We had a quick breakfast (don't bother....the usual tasteless bread, eggs and fake orange juice). Why do they feed us this? We pay 40$ a night, I guess a proper breakfast with a little more choice must be possible for this amount of money? I can't stand eggs anymore.
We checked out and went to the Cinderella. It was still raining, what a bummer!



Our room wasn't ready yet so we killed some time in the lobby using their wifi, which is super fast at the Cinderella.





When they showed us our room, 45 minutes later, we were indeed very pleasantly surprised. It comes with a laptop, an iron, 2 bath robes, a fridge full of drinks (and Heineken beer), wet cold refreshing towels (all cheaper then outside), complimentary fresh fruit (every day) as well as fruit juice. Really amazing, what a service. The beds are also very comfortable and for the first time in Myanmar we had a real duvet instead of a sheet and a blanket. What a treat! No more nightly hassles.

TO ALL HOTEL OWNERS IN MYANMAR:
I like to say to all the Myanmar hotel owners, take the Cinderella hotel as an example how well quality/service versus price level can be achieved. Why is the Cinderella able to provide a fantastic service for such a decent price (35$ for a room, the cheapest rate we had in Myanmar) and all you (greedy) hotel owners are not able to provide at least half of this service and comfort but you charge so much more. This kind of misplaced greediness works now, because there are not enough hotels, but eventually will turn against you (at least that is what I hope).


We quickly unpacked and jumped on our scooter.


First stop, the train station for our train tickets back to Yangon. The place looks totally deserted (trains are the worst way of transportation in Myanmar, but we thought to give it a try anyway).





This is how it works:




After this old skool train ticket adventure, we hit the road for the second destination of the day: the declining buddha. Half ways we saw a Thai restaurant were we had a (same same but different) Myanmar style pad thai with a real Singha. When we arrived at Yadana Taung we were pretty shocked...this buddha, wow this is buddha is really biggggggggg! If you thought you'd seen some big old buddhas, just wait till you get a load of this one (quote from the bible). Draped across a couple of green hillsides at Yadana Taung, and surrounded by a forest of other pagoda's and shrines, it's recently constructed 560ft-long reclining buddha is easily one of the largest in the world. Many other stupas and standing buddhas dot the area , including 500 (!!) statues lining the road to the Win Sein Taw Ya.



The whole place looks a bit, well how shall I put it, like Monks Disneyland? We walked all the way inside this big guy, while Klaas noticed that the construction is poorly done and that soon the whole thing probably will collapse because of rotten concrete. We thought it was a strange 'building'. Inside there were many sculptures of people representing daily life back in the days? It looked rather like a deserted prison. Not really something to spent a lot of time. We took the scooter again and went all the way up the opposite mountain for some good snapshots of this large (almost to collapse) buddha.






Back in town we explored lovely Moulmein. The town has several monasteries with beautiful pagoda's. The first one was lovely (it inspired the English writer George Orwell who lived in Moulmein for a while). It was covered with mirrors, rubies and diamonds named 'Mahamuni Paya'.
The second one we visited, 'the Kyaikthanlan Paya', was taking our breath away. We didn't expect this place to be so cool.




The view from this pagoda was breathtaking. The pagoda itself is so well maintained, we were very impressed.
We went back to the Cinderella and took the bottle of wine, we bought at the beach, and headed for the viewpoint, the place for sunset. I read in some reports that this sunset is the best of Myanmar and I agree!





Of all the sunsets I saw, this is definitely the most authentic one. And there we sat, on a concrete bench, with a chilled bottle of white wine enjoying the view. It was a fun place to hang around because the local youth eats their food here (there is a vendor who was so smart to start a small BBQ stall). We are still some kind of attraction. Everybody stares at us (secretly) and giggles nervously when we try to start a conversation.




When the sun disappeared we were already quit tipsy.


The BBQ stall made us hungry so we decided to go to the beer garden 2, a BBQ place, according to the bible the place with truly talented grillers and indeed: truly talented! BUT, the place looks dreadful. A big concrete garden with plastic chairs and along the sides big see through refrigerators stuffed with all kinds of vegetables, meat and fish. You just point out what you want them to grill.




We took some squid, chicken, cornflower, small eggs, which all comes wit a separate delicious spicy sauce. Klaas is a BBQ lover so he had the time of his life. I am more sensitive for the way things look, so I wasn't really impressed, though the grilled items were very tasteful. It wasn't dirt cheap though. We paid 16.000K which I think was a bit too expensive for what we had.
Social life in Myanmar stops around 8/9pm, so we went to bed early and read for some time in our e-books. Still so happy with the 400 books I brought with me :-)

Day 27: OOOH NO! NOT AGAIN...!

And there we are, climbing a huge mo.. fuc.. mountain: 4 hours up, 2 hours down, counted in Dutch tempo. Outside temperature: at least 40 degrees. After we had breakfast, slightly better then what Sandelwood offers (extra: papaya and chicken soup) we jumped on the scooter and headed for the other direction, 'The Nwa la bo Pagoda'. In the jungle-cloaked hill to the north of Moulmein the Tolkienesque side of the country comes to life in an extraordinary fashion at the Nwa la bo Pagoda, a local pilgrimage side. Very few foreigners make it out here, which is surprising because the pagoda is a smaller but, geologically at least, far more astonishing version of the Golden Rock in Kinpun (quote from the bible). Since we missed the real Golden Rock for all the wrong reasons, I was convinced never to visit any other Golden Rock in the whole wide world, but while we are here and still feel a bit tricked, we decided to hike all the way up to the second best Golden Rock Myanmar has to offer.


We scootered 12 miles north (lovely to drive across the bridge out of town) and parked our scooter around 10am near the entrance of the path that leads to the golden boulder. The first truck to the summit of the mountain didn't leave before 11am so we decided to start walking. One of the vendors told us: 'Two hour up and two hours down'. Okay we thought, we can do this with two fingers in our nose. Water: check. Biscuits: check. Sneakers: check. Camera: check. Suncream: check.

Off we go. After 45 minutes we were already totally out of breath (read: death). The path was so so steep, hallelujah. We stopped for a while to take some pics of women carrying big bundles of grass on their heads. While we gave them some Dutch souvenirs (they all love the lanyards from my former employer) a 4-wheel drive passed us. They stopped asking us if we wanted a lift. Oooh yes...we want a lift! So the both of us were squeezed in the back of the vehicle with some peasants, their tools and a tourist. We drove at least 20 minutes (fast tempo) to the summit.

Want to join our ride?



Can you imagine how long this would have taken us by foot?? Yes we can too..this would have taken us ages!! My god, this vendor lady almost killed us with her 'only two hours to the summit' story. Our bum was totally fractured after the bumpy ride, but we made it. The other tourist, a French lady wasn't feeling well. She suffered from food poisoning and run straight to the bushes to take a .. When she returned she was white as a sheet! When we asked her if she was okay, she rushed to the bushes again where she couldn't stop vomiting. Poor poor woman!
We left her (her own wish) and climbed a few stairs that lead to the Golden boulder. And this is what we saw:




Another Golden Rock under renovation.

NO NO... NOT AGAIN!

I just couldn't stop laughing. This is Myanmar playing with us! But why? We behaved ourselves, we were good travellers? Weren't we?
Anyway, we pulled ourselves together and started the hike back. We calculated a 2 hour walk. And it was.




I was worn out. Death. Not able to speak anymore! My legs were shaking and I already suffer from major muscular pains. But I did it. (Klaas had no problems what so ever, grrrrr). We had a coca cola, which gave me some of my strength back so I could sit on the scooter again. We went back to Moulmein and had a quick lunch at the Mothers & Fathers help restaurant. Nice view but incredibly dirty and smelly place. The rest of the afternoon we stayed in our air conditioned room just doing nothing.
For diner we went back to Ykko and ordered many small dishes. Again delicious food and the view from our seats was also really good.




Day 28: The train....never ever ever again!

So here we are, for the last bit of my travel journal. I am sitting in a fantastic place in Bangkok, called 'The Legacy Suites' writing an end to my Myanmar confessions, and specially about our last day in Myanmar. And that day was...well how shall I describe it, kind of special. I wish now, that this day wasn't going to be our last travel experience in Myanmar, but it was, so I tell you all about it. Before you start reading, I really can't think of anything good of this particular day, so be prepared: this is going to be a dreadful story about a train journey. Great book title by the way :-)

The morning of our departure by train to Yangon, a tuktuk brought us to the train station. So far so good. When we arrived at the station a guy hand pointed at us to follow him. While I was walking a saw two Dutch blokes (you can see it from miles distance). I knew one of the guys so I told him: 'Hey I know you, but I can't remember from when or where!'. The other one said: 'Maybe from AT5 Television?' 'That might be true', I replied, 'I work also often for television companies'. Six hours later I figured out he was one of the anchor man of that broadcast company... that's why he looked so familiar. Stupid me!
Anyway, we arrived at our carriage and I just could not believe my eyes....is this an upper class carriage? Seriously? Yes seriously.



I just could not believe that we were about to sit in this dump for at least 8 hours (this is what they told us at the train station, but you know Myanmar people by now...). The chairs were all loose and wobbly, not to mention the (lack of) hygiene of the cushions. Disgusting. How many people vomited on my chair or worse, did other things I just don't want to know....I wasn't feeling very well that morning and entering this train didn't make it any better.

We shared the compartment with 14 other white (French) travellers, the rest was all Indian or from Myanmar.
When the train departed it went verrrrrryyyyyy sloooooowwwwwwwww and it made a hell of a lot of noise....hoooooooooonkkkkkkk hoooooooonkkkkkkkkkkk. We thought that this was because of start up problems but I can tell you now, the speed of a Myanmar train will not go higher then 20 km an hour. Seriously? Yes seriously! 

So after 1 hour we found out that:
*The train driver basically honks all the time (and this is a really horrific loud sound which sets your teeth on edge);
*that the train doesn't go fast;
*stops every minute or so;
*millions of vendors walk up and down the carriage to sell their stuff CONSTANTLY! (And other strange species...)

Like this holy ghost:



All these kind of annoying things were still pretty 'do-able' but what wasn't, was this guy, our neighbour:



He was constantly (!) rasping & spitting, making a hash sound so loud and filthy, all the non-Myanmar people in our carriage were disgusted by him. When he was done, the lump of spit went out of the window. I think there are at least a thousand lumps of spit along the Moulmein-Yangon route. I wanted to say something about his viscous manners, but Klaas made me promise to shut the f...up. The French people already made annoyed face gestures to him, but this guy just didn't give a shit. He's what I believe the embodiment of a true governmental ass hole. I think they all look like him, the people who oppressed the inhabitants of Burma for such a long time, just because they were in power and thought they deserved it to be greedy and selfish at the expensive of the majority of the Burmese population. I might be painfully wrong, (my apologies) but I doubt it.

Klaas and I weren't feeling 100% fit (understatement). I suffered from diarrhoea along with many cramps and I felt sick the whole time. Klaas felt awkward too. We couldn't eat and when we saw the toilet, we decided to stop drinking as well.

There is one positive thing to tell, and that are the views from the train. You see so many kids waving at the train. Very cute, but their living circumstances are far from good. We've seen so much poorness, brrrrrrr. So I threw all the amenities I collected from the hotels we stayed in, like brushes, shaving kits, toothpaste, shampoo etc., out of the window. No idea if this is a wise thing to do?


But we also saw incredible amounts of litter, everywhere you look you see garbage and litter!



Anyway, the 8 hours became 9 hours, 10 hours, 11 hours and exactly 12 hours after we left Moulmein we entered Yangon. I have never been so ready to jump out of a train. This was the most ultimate disaster ride in my whole life.




We pre-booked our previous hotel in Yangon 4 weeks ago and did a down payment. From the station to the hotel was only a 15 minutes walk. They didn't raise the price of our room (!) so everything was the same as how we left it: still no working wifi (despite the 150 wifi stickers covering all the walls), no attentive staff, a camphor smelling room, but a comfy bed an air con and a hot shot shower. What more do I need?
I felt really sick and low on energy. The idea to eat something did not appeal to me at all but we figured out that we had to eat something after this hell journey. Around the corner of our hotel we found a lunch room were we ordered some take away sandwiches. Good choice, I managed to eat one and went to bed at 9pm.

Day 29: Bye bye Myanmar!

When I woke up I was a new person. Me happy, back in the land of the living! We packed our bags and decided to have breakfast at the airport of Yangon. We had an appointment with May (Peacehouse Travel) at 10am and waited for her in the lobby. She came with a colleague, both very funky dressed!




May explained to us how bad she felt how things with the aircraft companies are going at this point in time in Myanmar. She thought choosing KBZ was the best option for us since they have the most air planes and so are the most reliable company. A wise thought, but unfortunately that didn't work out for our flight from Thandwe to Yangon. May understands that she can't sell this to her customers, so she called the boss of KBZ. Again, wise thought. He agreed upon a 15$ administration fee instead of 30% of the full ticket price. We were very thankful to May that she managed this. I was also happy that we saw her before we left. She is such a sweet lady and I highly recommend her travel agency Peacehouse Travel.

And that was it. We kissed May goodbye and took a taxi to the airport. The four weeks travelling in Myanmar are over. But a week Bangkok was waiting.