For decades, Myanmar had been isolated itself from western eyes. It began to open to tourism in 1996, but its use of forced labour and the house arrest of “The Lady” Aung San Suu Kyi led to international economic sanctions and tourism boycott.
Now though, things are changing for the better, Aung San Suu Kyi is free and an official visit by Hilary Clinton recognizes the Junta’s efforts to bring Myanmar into the modern world. Myanmar is finally ready for its moment in the spotlight.
Before Myanmar becomes too touristy, now is the most exciting time to explore the country.
With the help from Exotic Myanmar, our itinerary is tailor-made land tour with our choice destinations of Bagan, Inle Lake, Kyaing Tong, Yangon.
Expenses in a nutshell:
SGD1159 for SIN-KUL-RGN-KUL-SIN tickets by Air Asia for 5 pax
USD3937 (equivalent SGD5055) for 4 adults and 1 child without guide, includes domestic flight tickets, car and driver, 2 days trekking guide at USD20 per day, admission tickets and passes, hotels include breakfast.
SGD35 x 5 Myanmar Visa Fees = SGD175
Basic cost per person = SGD1278
Day 1: Wednesday, 13 June 2012
THE JOY OF REGAINING WHAT WAS LOST
We took Air Asia from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, allowing 3 hours to connect between flights to Yangon. This was not my first time travelling on Air Asia, however, it was my first time coming to KLIA LCCT (Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Low Cost Carrier Terminal).
On the plane I switched off the Blackberry before the plane pulled away from the gate. I handed the Blackberry to Dominique because he had a bag. I didn’t. During the flight I managed to get some sleep and reading. When our plane landed in KLIA LCCT, I asked Dominique to return me my Blackberry and then I discovered that it was missing. Dominique insisted I kept it. I was sure I didn’t because it was not my style to put such a bulky item in shallow pocket. After getting off the plane, I searched frantically for it. No luck. I was confident the Blackberry was in the plane. The next thing – how do I get back the plane?
Judging from anecdotal evidence, most people do not get the stuff back after losing it. Leave it on the plane and it’s gone forever. Security in airport and airplanes are especially tight, but I believe the best strategy was to be proactive and to act immediately to beat the odds.
I explained to the airport technical crew, an Indian guy who was in charge of the security and maintenance. Fortunately, he allowed me to enter the cabin. Several Air Asia attendants and cleaners were on board. They were shocked to see both of us barging in.
Dominique and I checked under the seats, the cushions, and there it was, on 28E, the seat which Dominique placed his bag. I said sternly at Dominique in frustration, waving the Blackberry in my hand, “It’s on your seat and you said you didn’t have it.” Dominique was speechless.
The sinking feeling the moment I realized I lost the Blackberry and the joy of reunited with the lost Blackberry- all happened in just 5 minutes. It had me on the emotional roller coaster.
Day 2: Thursday, 14 June
Got up really early to catch the flight from Yangon to Bagan. It’s 3:45am, barely 5 hours of sleep. Yesterday, the long queue at Yangon International Airport took us so long that we hardly had enough time to orientate ourselves. We arrived at Yangon Airport last evening at almost 8pm. Most people visit Myanmar for conference and business. In fact, there were very few tourists.
Flight departure from Yangon to Bagan was 6:30am, YH917. It was our first time taking ATR 72-210 aircraft with a 72 seating capacity. This flight was a direct flight. My family got the back row 16A, B, C, D and 17A. The roaring engine was deafening and propeller looks like it could fall off anytime. Anyway, we made it to Bagan safely in 1 hour and 20 minutes. Those fear and worry were unwarranted. We should not have let our imagination run wild.
Bagan is a destination appearing in nearly all Myanmar itineraries. This dry land fills a 42-sq-km plain of 4000-plus temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins, many of which date from the 11th and 12th century. With more sites in a smaller area than anywhere else in the world, Bagan can be comparable to Angkor Wat, Sukhothai, Ayuthaya and Borobudur. Its golden age ended in 1287, and many of the temples were destroyed with more falling into states of disrepair since. Regardless, the city is one that is well worth exploring, particularly now, before it takes off as a commercialised tourist destination. June 2012, Bagan is named as No 1 in Top 10 Most Off-The-Beaten Track Destination in South-East-Asia.
We ended up visiting 15 temples in the morning. At 1:30pm, after lunch at a local food stall, we checked in at Kumudara Hotel which has balcony views of mighty red-brick temples just 50 metres away.
The sun was scorching and the first thing on my mind was to get the water supply replenished. Even though we were absolutely exhausted and our poor bare feet were filthy and aching as we made our way to the temples. Footwear is not allowed in temples.
The beauty of Bagan comparative to Angkor Wat was the lack of people. Bagan attracted far fewer visitors than Angkor, with the result that one can stay at the site as long as you want without seeing another person for hours. Having the chance to have the temple on your own, the feeling was amazing.
When we were at an ancient temple, a middle-age woman approached us and she instructed a girl to open the gate of the temple entrance to let us enter. The woman openly talked about her family, her 5 children and her lacquer ware business. It was obvious that the low season affected her business quite badly. I was surprise that she could speak good English. Her knowledge of the temples and historical facts could make one mistaken her as a tour guide. To thank her for the initiative to bring us around, I bought a lacquer ware from her for Ks3,000 (equivalent to SGD4.50) even though I don’t really want to buy it. The amount was small to us but I hope by buying something from her, I could make a difference in someone’s lives.
Part II: OLD SCHOOL TRAVEL ADVENTURE
For all the love, joy, and productivity that our mobile devices bring us, it’s often a sobering reminder that they are relatively tiny devices that can either slide right out of those comfortable holiday shorts, or unexpectedly become useless when there is no network connection in a foreign land.
Since the time we arrived Yangon, my husband and I had been trying in vain to get a connection to the local network. While we take the services offered by these devices for granted, we found ourselves in situations that we were disconnected from office, in terms of telecommunication network.
No one likes being disconnected. Having no access to family or business contacts wasn’t at the top of our to-do list while on vacation. Instead of reaching for the window to the digital world in the pocket, we saw being disconnected to office as a blessing in disguise. But it took us a while to realize that we should stop wasting time in trouble-shooting, to accept the reality and move on.
Welcome to Myanmar where you see dark, skinny men wearing skirt-like longyi, woman and young women with patchy white thanaka smothered all over their faces. Turn back the clock and you will see that Myanmar is not unlike Singapore, perhaps 35 years ago.
This is what I called authentic, with it’s rickety buses, lack of electricity, generators that don’t work, squat toilets, but also with the nicest and warmest of locals who greet you with arms wide open – trusting – untainted by tourism as yet. This is where the old school travel adventure lives on. Forget the internet, forget the smartphones. We immerse ourselves in a culture where holy men are more revered than movie stars and golden buddhas are bathed every day at first light.