We got to the KL airport at midnight on a Monday night–Rachel slept for a few hours but I was still feverish (have had more sick days than healthy ones since we came back to Asia). Not complaining, mind you, just describing Finally, at 4 am, we went through all the check-in process. It was relatively painless, though I did get patted down by a serious but gum-chewing cop.
I snooze until we get on the plane, and then snooze for most of the plane ride too. It’s a short trip, 2.5 hours only. We get to the airport, and although we have lots of USD (what you need to have), you need local currency to catch a cab (there are no busses). It’s 8 am and the counters don’t open until 9:30. What’s weird is that everyone else on our plane seems to head out; not sure what they knew that I didn’t.
Right away, it’s a different place. Most men in Burma wear a longgi, which is a kind of skirt that folds in front. Maybe 20 percent of everybody is wearing thanaka, tree powder that is pasted and then put in designs on their face. What’s more, everybody is happy, silly, and just overwhelmingly friendly. I don’t see too much of this as I’m asleep for the next 1.5 hours, just on the floor of the airport. One little girl, Rachel tells me later, looks at me in alarm as if she thinks I’m dead.
You need to take brand new unblemished bills into Burma. Like, any sign of a crease or a fold and your money is worthless. This is what all the guidebooks/website say, and it was the same when we did our visa run into myanmar a few years ago. The place we changed our money, however, gave us some old notes with obvious creases. But the money changer in Myanmar, when they finally opened, decided to take it all anyway so we were really in luck.
Armed with a very large pile of kyat, (a chunk of which I put in my wallet) we got a taxi at last. Again, everyone was so friendly. When we got to downtown, I hopped out of the cab, went to the back, grabbed my pack. The taxi drove off and we were leaving when a man on the street came up and grabbed my arm. He didn’t speak, as he must have suspected my Myanmar skills aren’t what they could be, but he pointed to the road.
One car had just driven over my wallet and more were coming. Yikes! I grabbed it and mimed thanks to the guy and we were off. Now the guest house was another worry. Technically we were booked, but we knew that might not mean anything. Rach had booked weeks ago, but when she checked for confirmation she got a response of “tomorrow, you really arrive?” Because so many more tourists are coming here now, and because only guesthouses with special government licences can host tourists, demand has blasted pretty far past supply.
And it was expensive. 45 dollars doesn’t sound like a lot based off US prices, but it’s triple the highest we’ve ever paid before. If you think that our daily budget is 25 dollars each, that leaves us about 2 dollars each a day. (Although we did only spend 2 dollars each on dinner, which was unlimited rice and veggie curries).
But the hotel was sweet! Way fancier than we were expecting. There’s a guy who opens the door, and then he brought us lemonade while we were waiting. There’s an elevator! And our room was huge, with TV, a fridge, aircon, and maybe the first mini-bar I’ve ever had. (no booze, but lots of sodas, water, and chips. And not expensive either; all of them are at or under a dollar). So although it’s relatively crazy expensive, it kind of feels worth it. That said, we will have to leave Yangon tomorrow because outside the city the guesthouses are only 20 bucks a night or so, which will make a huge difference.
Anyway, Yangon is awesome. Like at the airport, everyone seems happy. It’s bustling, but not in the business man going to work sense. The markets have all the fruits and goodies of Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia PLUS about 1000 other things that we have no idea what they are. There are faded colonial buildings everywhere. We are staying right by the major market which is housed in an old colonial building. Today we are going to THE Yangon landmark, which is a 2500 year old pagoda. It should be good.