Monday, 22 February 2010

Into Myanmar: Yangon

Our descent into Myanmar’s erstwhile capital was very quiet; almost silent, infact. That’s because Air Asia, the area’s leading budget carrier, has a policy of turning off the plane’s engines before landing as a means of saving on fuel. Bang! We hit the ground running. Well, actually in both senses. Swiftly through customs, we are accosted by a fantastic chap called Khin Maung Toe, who honestly directs us to a cheap shuttle bus as opposed to one of the expensive taxis. What a change from the rest of Southeast Asia so far. He also told us where to get a good black market exchange rate for Dollars to Kyat. OK, so the bus appeared to be straight out of the 1950s with edges fringed with rust, but it got us into town and dropped us beside a main road nearby the train station. We had to walk for what felt like miles but we surely made it in plenty of time to get our tickets. Fortunately we had a glance at the famous Shwedagon Stupa in the centre of Yangon, and we saw some green parks as well! As we walked along, Simon paused to ask directions from an elderly, bearded man selling all the accoutrements for paan chewing.
“Excuse me, please!” said Simon, at which point the man solemly, and with no sense of irony, saluted him. Wow, we’re certainly in Burma now!
After purchasing the tickets to Thazi, with still a couple of hours to spare, we snooped around a small, dusty market section of Yangon in search of a money exchange shop and snacks for the long journey ahead.
We eventually found a suitable location to change dollars for kyat inside the huge, teaming and majestic Scott Market. After counting the money thoroughly to make sure we hadn’t been done out of pocket, we handed over a new, crisp and unsullied one hundred dollar bill each to the moneychanger, feeling very rich: 100,000 kyats sounds very good, doesn’t it?
Before heading for the station we stocked up on water, popcorn, coconut bread buns, chocolate bread buns, biscuits, chicken sandwiches and more! At the station, the stationmaster guided us onto the train and we were greatly welcomed by fellow passengers, who were all Burmese, low and behold! Not a single westerner in sight. We really had swerved onto the beaten track once again. Foreigners aren’t permitted to travel with the locals in ‘ordinary class’ so how we managed this will always remain a mystery. But it’s the best move we’ve made so far; cheap too, which means that few of our dollars will make it over to the coffers of the wicked regime.

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