Sunday 15 December 2019

"Mingalaba" Myanmar - Part I | The Arrival

I had just about returned from my diving holiday in Amed (check the diving videos at the bottom of the page) and now had two weeks to survive at work. I was leaving Hong Kong for good and Amed was supposed to be my last holiday. However, I was not flying out for another two weeks and while my head was telling me to utilise the time to pack my bags, my heart was craving for one last outing before I became officially unemployed. When the travel bug bites, the heart always wins over head. It was already middle of October and I only had two weeks to decide. So it was time for business.

Some of my tips about visiting Amed published in For Something More. They are an amazing site for visiting offbeat places. Do take a look around their page.

I had always wanted to visit Bagan. The mystic images of a landscape dotted with thousands of temples had always fascinated me. But there wasn't any straightforward way to reach Bagan and direct flights to Myanmar from Hong Kong was through Yangon only. Myanmar has only recently started to open up as a tourist destination and information still isn't as easy to come by. The travel forums, with real answers from experienced travellers were of immense help for the planning. But on the flip side, the more I read, the more places I wanted to visit. I ended up with an itinerary much longer and complicated than I had intended thus leaving me with just five days to wrap up my life in Hong Kong. I figured that was something I could worry about once I returned. At that moment, I was pretty chuffed with myself for pulling out an itinerary that felt incredible! I even managed to use my air miles for the flight to Yangon, a good start to an intended budget holiday.

I bid goodbye to my colleagues at work and headed for the airport on 30th October afternoon, a day before I was officially finishing. It was good that I had kept my last holiday as a contingency, as otherwise the flight times would have been very inconvenient. The Cathay Pacific flight landed on time just after 4pm in Yangon. The e-Visa had already been applied for and approved. Immigration was smooth. I stopped to buy some Kyat (pronounced 'chhat') at the airport. The rate was good and interestingly two neighbouring shops sold it at different rates. Couldn't figure out who would opt to buy at a lower rate.

My hotel was near Sule pagoda in downtown Yangon. A bus service runs to the city from the airport, and I was directed to the stop by the helpful locals. As I stood in front of the open doors of the still driverless bus, an elderly gentleman approaching asked in broken English where I wanted to go. I mentioned Sule and he confirmed I was at the right place. Passengers boarding the bus deposited 500 kyat in the money box as they walked in, unsupervised and I did the same. The helpful gentleman was already seated at the back of the bus. He pointed at the seat beside him asking me to sit. He then took out his glasses and read my hotel address and assured me he will tell me where to get off. It was a slow journey through the traffic, taking around an hour and half. We alighted on brightly lit busy streets of downtown Yangon. My knight in shining armour walked me to a distance and then directed me how to find my hotel. I couldn't thank him enough.

Steep set of stairs greeted me at my hotel. I was staying at the Royal Star, even though it was more a backpackers abode. I had booked a single room, but was upgraded to a double, which turned out to be a fancy duplex with wooden steps leading up to the bed. I dragged my backpack up the stairs on to the tiny space by the bed. This would be my home for the next two nights. The days would be spent finding Yangon.

Facebook post from the night.
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Some diving videos from Amed. Subscribe to Breaking out Solo to see more videos from my travels.

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