Such a hidden gem waiting to be explored. Burma or Myanmar is the same country, previously Burma and now called Myanmar. The name has changed out of political reasons.
What is obvious about Myanmar (for a first time visitor like me) is its contrast. Though they were ruled under military junta and once colonized by British. Their culture remains in tact. For instance, the way they dress. I have not seen any woman who wear short skirts. Everyone is wearing a long skirt up to feet length. Men and women are eating betel nuts, that leaves a colored red in their mouth which stains their teeth. Plus, perhaps they are the only Asians who put tanaka powder on their face. And Burmese are really really hospitable people without a doubt. These are just a few spot on observations about Burmese unique culture.
I was mistaken as a Burmese a few times because I look like one except that I can only speak “Chezu ba” (thank you) and “Mingalar bar” (hello). Someone told me “Chit tey” and I said sorry I’m not Burmese and I just smiled back and left. Later, I asked a local friend and I learned it means “I love you”. Then I said, oh I should have said “Chit tey too” ;)).
I have a friend who is going to visit Myanmar in three weeks. We have a coupled of exchanged messages where I had come up with some playful idea which I hope he will not get upset with me. I decided to share here my response to him (with a bit of refinement) because I think that it captured my Myanmar First-hand Experience. The letter goes like this:
Whoa you are indeed a world traveler! Sure I will show you some photos though it may take quite a while, I have yet to check all the photos in my memory card, I’ll do it this weekend. I have started creating a blog it’s a work in progress and I am not familiar yet with the commands so I commit mistakes every now and then, it demands more time to come up with photos plus article, sort of trial and error. I admit I am not an internet savvy so I have to be patient in learning new things :).
I hope my rather brief trip to Myanmar can somehow help you in making your way there very soon.
Where to stay
Are you ok to stay in a hostel? For me, it is my usual choice of accommodation every time I travel. If you are okay with it then probably I can recommend you the place where I stayed in Yangon, it’s called “Okinawa Guesthouse”. It’s within the central of Yangon, near Sule Pagoda. A walking distance to city’s attractions like Bogyoke Aung San Market, Chinatown, different churches around the area, City Hall and several government buildings. It’s a 40 minutes walk to the famous Shewadagon Pagoda. There is a small lake nearby but I need to recall the name.
About the hostel:
1. It is located at 32nd Street, from the airport it will take 30 – 40 minutes by taxi. The normal fare should be at least 6 USD. With me since I was not aware I’ve paid 10.
2. The hostel is one of the cleanest and really one of the best (I’d say) for a hostel standard I had stayed to, plus the friendly/ kind staff, Than Oo (Mr) who is in charge speaks good English.
3. The hostel serves free breakfast. Sometimes it goes with noodles or pan cake, local dishes with fruits, tea and coffee.
4. Originally, I was booked for 20 USD room per night because at the time that was the only available they have. When I arrive I was asked if I’d like to stay at the dorm and I’m OK with it. I ended up paying ONLY 6 USD per night! And it doesn’t look like a dorm! It’s air-conditioned, you have your own locker, and the bed is very comfortable, it’s really clean! And it goes with mosquito net! A cozy place I should say. In addition, there’s a choice of 10 USD for room for 1 person.
1. They have no internet connection, but there are shops nearby or you can go to cafe or restaurant with wi-fi.
2. No hot shower but the water is not that cold, with the weather in Myanmar around 30 degrees celsius and up, its very warm! really warm! so be prepared to sweat all the time.
Once you asked for direction be prepared to get lost :). I accompanied a Canadian traveller in her 70s who would like to visit her friend. She got the business card where text are written in Burmese language so we have to relay for the help of locals. We were like walking for already past 30 minutes and an hour but alas we have not found yet the exact location. And it happens a few times with me :). Perhaps its a case of miscommunication, you talk as if you understand each other and it goes that way. You talk as if you understand each other. Anyway its fun to get lost! 🙂
Please bring mosquito repellant, mosquitoes are everywhere! with my auburn skin complexion the bites are still very visible in my arms and legs till now. Good thing I didn’t encounter bed bugs.
US dollars and Myanmar Kyat are both acceptable currencies in Myanmar, 1 USD is equivalent to 800 plus Kyat. Public transport, hostels and restaurants accept US currency. For Euros, Singapore dollars and other currencies you need to exchange it to either US dollars and Kyat at the designated money changer. Although, you can have your money exchange along the street and at several local stores but beware to be cheated and usually the exchange rate will be lower than the standard.
Please make sure that your dollars looks good, literally I mean, if its crumpled, with dirt and looks old, they will not accept it, really, I have encountered it several times, it was not accepted in the hotel where I stayed in the Yangon suburbs. I heard some issues about it though I am not really sure why.
When you travel outside the city, the bus will stop at a certain place to collect your passport to photocopy. This is only being done to foreigners.
Tea in Myanmar is free anywhere! I mean everywhere! You can always ask for as many cups as you can :). We did quite abuse it on my last night, we have taken 6 cups each and counting at KSS Café where I had my favorite rice noodle soup. Know what, me with a French friend had gotten a free take away tea from the restaurant manager. I guess its his polite way of saying, you should go and leave now ladies :)). Whereas we were really up to consuming more! 😉
It is SAFE to travel in Myanmar.
Being sensitive and open minded to other culture will go along long way. Am sure you are good at it since you’ve seen and experience both worlds, aren’t you a seasoned traveler? Burmese are good-natured people. The city’s a little messy but there’s a whole lot of fun.
Due to my limited time, I missed seeing Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake (this is really what I’d like to see in my next visit) which is in the north part of Myanmar. Since you’ve got 1 month you have enough time to see and experience Myanmar. The furthest I have gone is a 4 – 5 hours travel to see Golden Rock. It is located in a place called Htee Yoe (read as chayt tey yow). Mountain trek and travelling to the country side is a relaxing experience in spite of a little long journey.
Myanmar has a lot of exotic foods that I’m not too adventurous to try because I am worried about my stomach. But I did take their famous “monghe”, a rice noodle soup. I even go back to the restaurant the day before I leave to have it one more time.
You know what, football is a favorite sport of them. In every corner I pass by I always see a group of young men shouting and passing the ball here and there. I was almost being hit once I was walking along the Bogyoke Aung San Road.
One more, please bring enough cash depending on the length of your stay because there is NO ATM anywhere in Myanmar. With me I did not spend more than 200 SGD in my 4-day stay that includes my meals, accommodation and transportation fee plus I still have some penny left to bring home some souvenirs.
It’s getting long and am still in a high spirit to share my journey. I think I can copy and paste it for my article 🙂 > I just did! ^^
If you have other queries or if there is in anyway I can help you feel free to write again.
Meanwhile, please refer to the attached photo of the guesthouse with its respectful staff plus me 🙂 wearing Longyi – a traditional costume used both by men and women of Myanmar.
Coming up: Myanmar Snapshots 🙂