Saturday, July 6, 2013

Getting Around Yangon

Visa
First of all, we need visa to enter Myanmar. We got our visa from Myanmar Embassy in our country, through a travel agency. Pearl Holiday in Kajang settled our visa in 4 working days. The price was RM150 per person (RM120 for visa and RM30 for transportation and insurance). 

We learnt that visa application is available online, which we just need to fill in online forms and pay using credit card. We can get the visa upon our arrival at Yangon airport. The online service, however, required about RM220 per person. 

Currency and Exchange
We changed USD to Kyat in Yangon airport as Kyat was not available in Malaysia. The exchange rate we got was approximately USD1 to 860 Kyat in Yangon International Airport, while we got USD1 to 910 Kyat at Bagan. On our return trip, the best rate we could get at the airport was 925 Kyat to USD1.

There are many money changers in Yangon airport, so we don't have to rush to fill our wallet and purse with Kyat. Why not take a walk around and look for the best rate? By the way, in order to exchange our USD to Kyat, we need to fill in a form- name, nationality and passport number are required. 

Well, we found that it was more convenient to use USD to pay for the entrance of tourism spots. However, when it came to shopping in night market or eating at the stalls by the road, using Kyat might ease complicated convertion. By the way, please be sure that the US Dollar note that you bring to Myanmar is flawless, or it will be as good as an plain paper. The hotel receiptionist might reject the note with even a single crease on it.

 The food menu is in Kyat (left) while the entrance fee is in USD.

People
The pace of living in this city was slow, about the same as Phnom Penh, but slower than Bangkok and Hanoi. Even slower compared to Kuala Lumpur. Down the street, we couldn't really feel that we were actually in a city with 4.5 millions people around us.

We could see people sitting on small chairs prepared by food vendors by the street all day long, drinking and eating, chitchatting, or reading a book, or tapping on their China-made smart phones.

People in Yangon like to sit beside the road, while enjoying their food and drink with their family and friends (upper row). As publishing newspaper daily is now permitted, more people are expected to have a copy of newspaper in their hand (lower left). The yellow flowers (in lower right) are popularly used as decoration.

Longji is the favourite costume for men in Yangon. Yongji is sarung type of cloth that ties at waist to cover the lower part of the body.

This photo was taken 7:30 in the morning. Two boys were walking down the street, carrying stuff for their business. The boy on the left was applying thanaka on his face. Thanaka is local sun block that produced from thanaka wood. Instead of getting the wood from the jungle, it is now available in the market. By the way, Mr. Psy will be very proud seeing his "horse-riding" style have found its way onto the t-shirts in Yangon.

Monks are everywhere, walking in sandals, cladding in reddish robes, and carrying containers for food donation.

Religion is a big part of Yangon. The temples were never lack of visitors.

Most of the people in Yangon were friendly, but couldn't communicate in English. In our three days' trip, we only met with several people with good English, a count with our fingers- two of the staff in the hotel which we stayed, a taxi driver who drove us to Shwedagon together with the tour guide there, a restaurant owner, a security guide at Trader's Hotel, and a few more.

Smile and wave. That's what we did most of the time, after starting a conversation in English, with Burmese in return. Lucky, Yangon was not a complicated maze. Finding way around was not difficult without asking anyone.

We highlight the language barrier, not to keep people away from visiting Yangon. Instead, we really need to prepare ourselves for more DIY, or find yourself a guide.

Place to Stay
The hotels in Yangon were over-priced. A small, old run-down hotel could handsomely charge USD30 per room per night. The hotel that we stayed, with the service at most 2 stars, asked for USD68 per night. The reason, demand rose high above supply. Some said the hotel's licence was strictly controlled by government. True or not, more hotels have to be built to cater the demand from the tourists.

Aung Tha Pyay Hotel was located at 38th Street at Yangon down town (upper left). It was a small hotel in the middle of shop lot. Taking the room and service into account, it was over-priced. However, it was new, and all the facilities were in good condition, and we couldn't find any better in vicinity. That's why we spent all three Yangon nights in that hotel. The photos show the lobby (upper right) and room for two (lower right) of the hotel. We found that the view facing the main road was not interesting, the people there tend to sit at the balcony and look right at us when we opened the window.

Staying at the down town area put us closer to the old Yangon. The historical buildings, although not well-maintained, were still attract tourists. Sule Pagoda, China Town, Bogyote Market, and many Yangon Heritage buildings were within walking distance from down town.

Traffic and Transportation
The most convenient way to move around was by taxi. The buses and small trucks were the public transportation that we could opt for. However, we had to get familiar with the routes before we squeezed ourselves on the fully packed box-on-wheels.

We took taxi most of the time. There was no taxi with meter, but the price is very much fixed- USD10 from the airport to downtown, 2,500 Kyat from our hotel to Shwedagon and so on. Room for bargaining was limited.  With or without air conditioner, the fare was the same. So, we always preferred the one with air conditioner.

Besides, we walked a lot at Yangon. Most of the main roads in Yangon were built with pedestrian walkway, so we had no problem walking around the city. Just bring an umbrella, and a bottle of drinking water, and a pair of comfortable sandals, and you can start your exploration right away. 

Road in Yangon was dominated by imported cars. Astonishingly, there was almost no motorbikes on the road. We were told that tut-tut had been banned to enter the city. But what had happened to the motorbike and bicycles? The drivers in Yangon were obedient, and most of the cars drove graceful. No red light violation was seen.


There are several ways to move around. If you are mentally unprepared to be packed into a small lorry (upper left), or getting onto a bus without any idea where the bus will go (upper right), then taxi will be your best choice (lower left). Getting a taxi is easy at Yangon. Trishaw is rarely seen around the city.

Street
The main street was clean and tidy, with walkway prepared for the pedestrians. Some of the places were quite crowdy. Many comments pointed that Yangon was in fact one of the safest city in the world. That's true. The last thing that we could feel on the street was getting robbed. The second last, being run over by anything with wheels.

39th Street in Yangon (upper left). Road crossing was safe (upper right). Well, at least, the vehicles stop when the traffic light turned red. Vendors narrowing down the pedestrian walkway (lower right), and food stalls beside the street.

Book stalls selling second hand books can be seen on the street (upper left). We could see dogs on the street once in a while. Lucky, the dogs were tame (upper right). Public phone was something unique. We needed to pay to the operator sitting next to the phone before we start dialing (lower left). We saw one very talented young girl selling her drawing beside Bogyoke Aung San Market.  

If you have seen the flats of five or six storeys, and wonder how the people living on the top floor getting down the street, buy some fritters, and getting back to the dining room without sweating, well, the secret is in this photo. These ropes were hanging from the residence's balconies, so that the delivery guys below can tie the stuff on the rope. Pulling up the breakfast is far better than going through the staircase, twice.

There were many abandoned colonial-time buildings along the street. These buildings, either totally abandoned, or only been occupied on the ground floor. In many places, these buildings have long found their way into tourist's directory, or have been bought and refurbished into luxury hotels or restaurants. Well, in our opinion, just a little bit of polish, these buildings will turn into attractions that shine brighter than any sapphire and emerald that we could find in Yangon.

Totally abandoned (upper left) and partially used buildings. These hundred years old buildings are the hidden gems of Yangon.

Drinking water was available on the street, free of charge. However, there was one problem- it couldn't slip through our lowest hygienic requirement. The containers and the cups were shared by the whole city. We saw the people passed by just took one of the cups, drank, put the cup back, and left.

The weather was hot. What could be better than putting a drink station beside a public phone? The water is free, the only thing is, there is only one cup for everyone.

Shopping
Yangon is not an exciting place for shopping. We could survive in a city without any shopping mall. However, in Yangon, getting souvenirs for our friends and family was more challenging than we thought. Most of the clothes, key chain, handphones, sandals, except for food and beverages, if not made in Thailand, then should be made in China.

During our three-day stay, we went to several places for shopping- Bogyote Aung San Market and area in vicinity, China Town, and streets around our hotel.We brought home a few hand-made fridge magnets and rattan works at Bogyote Market, which were authentic to be considered as "made in Myanmar". Then, we bought some Myanmar coffee from a local departmental store. We visited two departmental stores in Yangon- newly opened Parkson at Montgomery Road (near to Bogyoke Market) and Gamone Pwint Shopping Centre at the junction of 42th Street and Merchant Road. The international brands sold there were more expensive than what we could get in our country.

Bogyoke Aung San Market, the place that we could come out with local made souvenirs in our hand.

Some of the local made items on sale- hand made bracelet and necklace (upper left), jewelleries (upper right), clothes (lower left), and fridge magnets with wooden decoration.

Gamone Pwint Shopping Centre at the junction of 42th Street and Merchant Road. By foot, it was just 5 minutes away from our hotel. It was a good place for us to stop and enjoy the cooling air inside. Food court at the top floor good only for one thing- no need to wipe away the dripping sweat while eating.

Yangon's street was dotted by vendors- snacks, drinks, noodles, fruits, books, clothes, handphone accessories, etc.

Food
We have our sharing about food in Yangon in another post.Please read it here.

Overall Remark
Yangon is a good place to spend a few days. Everthing was cheap, except the accommodation. Although there were lack of stunning sceneries and exciting shopping centres, the old colonial buildings and the variety of food could compensate in another way. 

The public transport was not friendly to tourists, which made the taxi the top choice for us. English was limited, but the friendly people and extremely safe street brought merits to the city.

We shared our experiences in Yangon in other posts as well. Please refer to the links below, or you are most welcome to visit All Our Destinations too.



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