Flying AirAsia from Bangkok (where we’d just flown in after 3 days in Luang Prabang, Laos) we arrive in Yangon for our whistle-stop tour of Myanmar (Burma), a country closed off to tourists for nearly 25 years and only recently opened up to the world.
We got into a taxi from the airport and headed for our hotel.
It took about 50 minutes to travel a relatively short distance, as all the roads were gridlocked.
We found out later, that traffic congestion is so bad, that due to repeated accidents, mopeds and motorbikes are banned in the city.
Although closed off from tourism for a number of years, that didn’t stop Myanmar from keeping it’s business connections going. Jade mining and processing is massive in this country and has enabled it to thrive despite it’s previous status as a pariah.
I was mildly surprised to find a BMW showroom on route, which had clearly been there for some time.
We’ve travelled separately to get here, but now we’d be joining an official tour.
In the reception, was an invitation to our initial meeting. These are quite common on trips of this kind, but the surprise for me was this one was marked as COMPULSORY !
Our first glimpse of local culture, was a table in the hotel’s reception, which had local make-up which doubles as sun protection.
Well, it was morning and the meeting wasn’t going to be until afternoon, so we decided to go off exploring on our own.
Not far from our hotel, we cross a railway bridge and see a train packed with people, travelling to work.
We decide to pay a visit to the National museum of Myanmar.
Hazardous road crossings are not new in adventure travel, but at points this was really quite scary.
The museum was old and a bit run down, but had excellent air conditioning.
One minor disappointment, was you couldn’t take pictures, so I borrowed this one from the internet.
After a couple of hours in the museum we head back to our hotel. The heat of the day justifies a taxi. I was impressed by Taxi’s in Myanmar, drivers were always polite and well turned out, cars were comfortable with seat-belts.
Back at our hotel, I’m preparing myself for 10 day of oriental food, so snatch the chance of some western food with a burger and chips from their restaurant.
Our introductory meeting begins, and we meet all the other people on the trip and our guide, Kay introduces herself.
She tells us a bit about the country, what we’ll be doing on the tour and stuff like that.
This was a fast track trip (we needed to be at the airport for 5am the following morning) so we headed straight out onto town to see the highlights.
The Karaweik Royal Barge. Its made of stone and doesn’t actually float, but is in the middle Kandawgyi lake.
As we explore the inside of the barge we get to know our guide Kay a little better.
She explained although English is taught in the country, it is not by native speakers.
Considering this, I thought her English was superb and it was also obvious that she had previously worked as a school teacher.
She was also strikingly dressed at all times.
Exploring around the Park around Kandawgyi lake.
We now head towards the Shwedagon Pagoda.
We visit the famous Bodhi tree on the hill top, which is 99m high.
The main Pagoda itself, is an incredible sight on a hilltop overlooking the city, its visible from practically everywhere in Yangon.
In the evening an almost carnival atmosphere as thousands of local congregate there to pray and celebrate.
When we had handed our passports to Kay earlier, she had worked out our birthdays so explained which birth animal we were.
At times the area was quite spiritual and I felt a real connection there.
In some of the smaller Pagodas, it got a bit silly and in this one for example a female warrior who looked a lot like Margaret Thatcher.
The introduction of Christmas tree lights and screens didn’t help. This one looked like something from 70’s era Dr Who.
In this temple, we met some Monks who wanted to photograph me (on account of my blond hair, which they had never seen before).
We finish the evening with a meal at Padonmar Restaurent, one of the best in the city.
We returned to Yangon a few days later and picked up where we’d left off.
Kay shows us around a street market, which you could literally buy anything from food to fire engine parts.
Yangon City hall building, in Maha Bandula park.
It was a Sunday and lots of people were relaxing in the park.
Burma (as it was then called) gained independence from Britain in 1948.
The statue of Queen Victoria was returned to the UK and The Independence monument above, was put in its place.
Wandering around Pansondan Street you can see lots of colonial buildings.
The former British customs office.
I always like to Finish a trip in style. And where else but dinner at the Strand Hotel.