Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rangoon, finally in Burma

It was 4:30 am wake up for our taxi ride out to Bangkok airport; the driver drove at the speed of light so no delays there.  Then we got another time bonus when we talked to a fellow Western passenger in the check-in line and he took us with him to an unmarked check-in line – which was only possible because he could speak Thai.  So all in all an excellent start to the trip.

Arriving in Yangon it took 45 minutes & US$10 taxi ride to get to our hotel through rush hour traffic (returning was only 25 minutes and 7,000 kyat). The East hotel is directly opposite Traders Hotel which makes it a good reference point for directing taxi drivers.

Our run of good luck continued and we could check into our rooms at 8:30 am and then at 9:30 met with our travel agent to pay for our travel arrangements in shiny crisp USD 2 of which were rejected as they each had a light crease mark on them.

1st point of call was the Bogyoke market, still referred to by its European name Scott Market, mainly because this was the best place to change money.  We then spent an interesting 2.5 hours in the area.

Scott Market

Alongside the stalls selling everything from tourist gee-gaws to jewellery, there were the artisans and crafts people making the goods.

Stalls

We wandered into the local food court and were just about mown down with ladies waving their menu cards at us. We sat down and three ladies waved us with hand fans as we perused the menu. Two coffees were ordered and Andrew also opted for a couple of spring rolls. Our lady returned with 2 lovely cups of hot water and proceeded to open the Nescafé sachets - mmmm milky sweet instant coffees - its just like sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Paris - not. But the lady was fantastic, the spring rolls deemed excellent and we had a lovely time being stated at.

IMG_4917x1

Based on popular reports Burma is THE place to go this year and we were expecting to see truck loads of tourists. We haven't seen many at all and people still seem to think we have novelty value. Taxi drivers don't pester you with endless offers of ride but there are plenty of people offering to change money for you. Now the currency has been floated/pegged there is less advantage in taking the black market rates. Currently it is about 832 kyat to the US dollar, pre the float a few months back the official rate was 6 kyat to the $, so unofficial changes used to make sense.

Of course the change process is a typical developing world system. One girl takes your money and examines for marks, stains, creases etc. and refuses them if any of these are there. A second lady enters your passport details into a register. A 3rd lady checks the notes again and handwrites the transaction to another ledger (really she seems to be multitasking doing 2 processes). The fourth lady presents a form to be signed and finally the 5th lady counts out the cash. As Andrew says it is amazing the BNZ copes with a skeleton level of staff in comparison.

We opted for a 'safe' lunch at a westernized cafe beside the market. Dagon beer is OK, but Myanmar beer is good, almost as good as Beer Lao, but not quite.

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