Monday, February 10, 2014

MYANMAR/BURMA: February 10-March 10, 2014 INTRODUCTION

     We decided to add Myanmar/Burma to our SE Asia trip as it was so close to Cambodia and Thailand.  We were heading to Cambodia primarily for Angkor and to Thailand to meet up with our daughter and grandson in Phuket in March when she has her spring break from teaching school in China.  It was Myanmar or Laos and Myanmar won.  Actually I wanted to go there before the prices went through the roof!

     Getting our VISA was not as hard as I thought it would be.  Since we live in NY state I sent all our completed forms, passport size pics (believe I sent 2 of each of us), our current passports (I really worried about this), and a $40 money order (for the 2 of us) made out to the Myanmar Consulate and sent to the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to the UN, New York City address.  I needed the period of validity to be good until March 11th-the day after our planned departure date from Yangon.  This all happened right before Christmas so I was concerned as to whether we would receive our passports back before we left on Jan. 4th.  Per research everything was sent via Fed Ex.  The package was sent out from here on Dec. 6 and received by them in NYC on Dec. 9.  It was shipped back to me Dec. 13 and received by me on Dec. 16.  Valid from 11 DEC 2013 until 11 MAR 2014.  I also included a handwritten note explaining that even though we weren't going to enter Myanmar until Feb. 10th we were leaving the US on Jan. 4th.
     I knew from my research on Trip Advisor and Fodor's that it would be best to have a local agency book the hotels and flights.  I contacted several with my itinerary outline including all my hotel choices, # of nights at each destination, etc.  I was very specific with what I wanted.  I started this process in May/June 2013.  From the several that responded we decided to go with ONE STOP mainly based on the many positive reviews and most importantly the fact that we would not have to wire money before we arrived.  We would pay the agency once we arrived in Yangon.   I e-mailed back and forth with Tun of ONE STOP fine tuning things.  In the beginning of July we had a set itinerary and we were good to go!  We would arrive in Yangon on February 10, 2014 and leave Yangon on March 10, 2014.

     YANGON 4 nights, 1 night, 1 night   All at Summit Parkview.    It had a pool (my husband's request) and was within walking distance to Shwedagon.  Because the only night we could get a room at Mountain Top was March 8th we had no choice but to do the 1-1 night split even if it wasn't our first choice of scheduling.  Cost $180 per night for superior double/twin room.  A hotel with a pool in Yangon is pricey.
    BAGAN  6 nights at Bagan Thande.  It had a pool, good reviews, and per hotel's website looked nice.  Cost $95 per night for superior double/twin room.
     MANDALAY 4 nights at Ayarwaddy River View chosen for price at $95 per night for deluxe river view double/twin room.  A surprise when we arrived was a pool!
     INLE LAKE area 4 nights in town as I didn't want to be isolated on the lake.  I booked the Princess Garden myself.  Very good reviews and a pool.  Cost $55 per night for our own bungalow.
     NGAPALI 4 nights at Bayview Beach.  Cost was $175 per night for a beach front bungalow.
     MRAUK U 3 nights at Shwe Thazin.  Cost for the package which included guide, driver, all sightseeing, permits, etc. was our splurge at $405 per person.
     GOLDEN ROCK 1 night at Mountain Top.  Cost for driver/car $200 total.  Cost for the standard room $80 as all the deluxe rooms were booked.

Prices for the hotels included breakfast and all taxes.

     We did flights Yangon to Bagan, Mandalay to Inle Lake/Heho, Heho to Ngapali/Thandwe, Thandwe to Sittwe, Sittwe to Yangon. Used Air Bagan, Air Mandalay, Air KBZ.  Total cost of flights was $593 per person.   Boat/ferry from Bagan to Mandalay which cost $40 per person. Real splurge was the balloon flight in Bagan-premium service at $360 per person.

    The big surprise was how much we loved Ngapali and the Bayview Beach Resort.  If I had to do it all over again I actually would have given Mrauk U a miss and added those 3 nights to Ngapali.

     After I had booked and paid for my flight round trip Bangkok-Yangon-Yangon-Bangkok I realized I was spending 28 nights in Myanmar but 29 days if you count the day of departure.  You're only allowed 28 days in the country.  I e-mailed the embassy and was told I could get an extension by filling out a ton of paperwork and paying a pricey fee.  I was resigned to do this but when we landed in Yangon and went through Immigration I looked at my passport later to find it had been stamped 10 FEB 2014 until signed-10.3.14 by some official whose writing of his initials I think is a scribble.  So I was ok and when we left in March no one even gave us a second glance as our passports were stamped to exit the country.

     Myanmar was the most expensive of the 3 countries with Cambodia being the most inexpensive.   We had our ups and downs in each country.  There were things we loved and things we didn't love about each country.  Are we glad we went?  Yes.  Would we do it again knowing and having experienced what we did?  Yes.  But there are some things I would have changed which I'll touch upon in my blog.  In summary the people of SE Asia will be what we will remember the most, then Angkor and Bagan for me, Ngapali and Khao Lak for my husband.


YANGON-February 10-14, 2014

February 10, 2014

     Our AIR ASIA flight does not leave until 11:15 am so we are able to have a leisurely breakfast.  Easy check out BAAN SOONTREE.  We have really enjoyed our time here in northern Thailand-Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.  We leave the hotel around 9:00 am or so and get to the airport with no trouble.  Cost for the taxi/car to the airport was 150 baht.
Chiang Rai Airport

Our plane going to Bangkok

     I had booked our flights-CR to Bangkok, one way (cost was 3654.70 THB/$123.68 for 2 adults) and then Bangkok to Yangon, round trip (cost was 11140 THB for 2 adults) prior to our leaving home via the internet/website for AIR ASIA.  The one thing I really liked about AA was that you can purchase extra weight for not much money.  Since I know myself well, I had purchased an extra 10 kg above the allowed 40 kg (20 kg per bag) for the 2 checked bags.  Check in at the AA counter uncomplicated.  My checked bags total 45 kg-whew!  I picked seats 11A and 11C-window and aisle but didn't do enough research.  Seats in rows 11 and 13 don't recline.  Luckily our flight FD 3204 is only a bit over 1 hr. so no big deal.  Our flight leaves on time and arrives DMK/Bangkok at 12:35 pm.  Flight was short and sweet.  We claim our bags and wait for our next flight heading to Yangon.  That flight doesn't leave until 4:20 pm.  I pass the time reading my notes on Myanmar and having a very tasty pineapple smoothie.  In no time at all it seems we are checking in for this AIR ASIA flight to Yangon.  We have seats 6A and 6C on FD 2753.  This flight is also very good with no problems.  There is a 1/2 hr. time difference between Bangkok and Yangon.  We arrive in Yangon 5:05 pm  I follow the instructions from my research completing the arrivals form on the plane, going down the escalator, to the foreigners line at the far end of the luggage carousel. Luggage trolleys are free.  We collect our bags, go to customs, through the scanner and opposite from the scanner area is the Duty Free liquor store where I buy a bottle of shiraz wine for $11.  As we're heading to exchange our USD to kyats we see a guy with our name on a sign on the other side of the glass.  We motion we'll be out soon and change $300-I hand over 3 of the new US $100 bills- and receive 294,600 kyats.
Shuttle from plane to DMK terminal

We are in Bangkok at DMK

Our plane to Yangon

     We exit the area and are greeted by a rep from ONE STOP-Michael I think he said was his name.  We drive to the OS office and Joe goes over our itinerary, gave us all our hotel and flight vouchers with instructions, our receipt/letter for the Bagan balloon, etc.  We hand over $5836 in pristine USD, mostly the new 100s.  We're given a receipt for this and phone #s to call if necessary.  My husband is so relieved to not have to carry around that money anymore even though it's been kept in all our hotels' room safes.   Michael then drives us to our hotel-SUMMIT PARKVIEW.  We tip him 7000 kyat for all his driving and help with our luggage.

     SUMMIT PARKVIEW What a beautiful hotel and the staff are so welcoming.  We get a refreshing drink upon arrival.  We have to show our passports and fill in some forms and sign them.  It's basically a form showing our date of check in and our date of check out.  We are shown to our room #327.  Porter 2000 kyats.  I look out the window.  OMG!  We have a superb view of Shwedagon!  Can it get any better than this??  Yes it can as I take in our room.  It is very nice at $180 per night which includes breakfast and taxes.  There's the tub in the bathroom!  (I love bubble baths)  By now it's too late to go out for dinner.  We're tired so we call it a night.


View of Shwedagon


February 11, 2014

     It's our first full day in Yangon!  I look out the window to make sure Shwedagon is still there.  It is!!  Almost glowing-beautiful even from this distance.  With coupons in hand we head downstairs and over to the Parkview Cafe where the breakfast buffet is.  We hand over our coupons to the hostess/greeter, find a table, and are quickly asked if we want coffee or tea.  The buffet is a huge spread and just by the outside seating area is the egg station.  I have what will be my usual breakfast for the this trip-1 egg, toast or danish, fruit, juice, and coffee.  Everything looks good.  Now it's time to make plans for the day and explore the hotel now that it's daylight!  First I make arrangements with the hotel for a driver to take us sightseeing.  $10 per hour-wow-pricey but I agree for the few hrs. we will need.  We have time to do a quick tour of the hotel.  Huge lobby area with lots of seating, a business office area that also sells some items like nail clippers which I need, area that sells very nice looking jewelry, and of course that pool that my husband is overjoyed to see.  Near the pool area is a well equipped gym.  There's also a florist shop and a bar and a huge ballroom where weddings, etc. are held.
View of Shwedagon from our room

View using telephoto lens function

Entrance to Summit Parkview



Dagon Bar at hotel


This is also where the breakfast buffet is located.


     We meet our driver at 9:30.  We have a list of places we want to see which were written out in Burmese by staff at the lobby desk.

     SULE PAGODA entrance fee $6 for us both.  Our driver has parked in a large parking area where he will wait for us.  We cross the busy street by the designated crossing area.  Over 2000 yrs. old, located on a busy roundabout.
Sule Pagoda 




A Hinthar bird carrying a pagoda on top of its body.

From here we start our mini walk.  We pass CITY HALL, walk around inside MAHABANDOLA GARDEN up to the INDEPENDENCE MONUMENT, out to the BAPTIST CHURCH, the HIGH COURT, the CUSTOM HOUSE.

Under renovation

Immanuel Baptist Church-founded in 1885, destroyed during WWII, rebuilt 1952.

City Hall-construction finished in 1936.  Listed on the Yangon City Heritage list.

High Court-formerly known as Parliament for Justice.  Constructed in 1914 before World War l.

Independence Monument

View of City Hall from inside Mahabandoola Park

View of Sule from Mahabandoola Park

Custom House-well preserved British building.  Located along Strand Road where most colonial buildings are.

We walk back to our car and driver and go to BOTATAUNG PAGODA-Pagoda of the thousand military leaders.  They escorted the relics of the Buddha brought over from India over 2000 yrs. ago.   Located near the Yangon River.

Buddha's sacred hair relic in the main pagoda

Almost blinding!

Botahtaung Boe Boe Gyi

We then walk over to the YANGON RIVER.  Busy.



     Over to ST. MARY'S CATHEDRAL, then the STRAND HOTEL.  The hotel is Victorian style built in 1896 by Aviet and Tigran Sarkie.  Opened in 1901 and faces the Yangon River to the south.  We go inside this hotel I've read about.  I really wasn't as impressed as I thought I would be.  We decide to have lunch here.  Cost $21.  Our driver takes us back to the hotel.  I's now 1:30 so I pay $40 for our "tour."  The rest of the afternoon is spent at the pool.
Street vendors

Family outing?

St. Mary's Cathedral-designed by a Dutch architect, completed in 1899.

Myanmar beer

Lunch at the Strand

Me and my lazy feet and my DH swimming away the afternoon at the hotel pool-bliss!!
     Dinner-PADONMAR  A very good choice.  It's within walking distance from our hotel but I've been having problems with swollen feet so a taxi it is at a cost of 3000 kyat.  We have appetizer of mixed vegetable tempura.  Entrees consist of rice, pomelo salad, stir fry shrimp with peas in the pod, and chicken curry with potatoes.   This time my husband samples Tiger beer.  He's on a mission to sample all SE Asian beers available in the countries we will visit!  I have colibai and a coke.  We're given free desert of fried bananas.  Bill is 27475 kyats with 10% service charge included.  The restaurant secures a taxi for us back to the hotel, this time for 1500 kyats.  As we are leaving there is a big group of people coming in.  Now I know who all those reserved signs were for.  There must have been 30 or more in this group.  Glad we got there first!  Back to our hotel and warm greetings from the guys holding open the entrance doors.  The staff here are super nice.  Now it's bubble bath time and my aching feet, etc. disappear.  DH and I relax with some glasses of the wine I bought and some macadamia chocolate chip cookies left for us by the hotel.

Dining in the outside garden area

Lovely setting

Mixed veg. tempura

Chicken curry with potatoes-delicious!

Pomelo salad

Cauliflower and carrots

Stir fry shrimp with peas in the pod


Fried banana

Getting dark so lanterns are on

Friendly, efficient wait staff