Jessica’s Yangonathon in Myanmar

Yangon has an eclectic mix of vehicles - like this gorgeous vintage Mazda
Yangon has an eclectic mix of vehicles – like this gorgeous vintage Mazda

It took me six years to see Myanmar with my own eyes, but it’s been worth the wait. I was so excited when I put down a deposit for a one-way flight from Melbourne to Bangkok at STA Travel back in 2006 after finishing university.  My first destination of a year-long trip was intended to be Myanmar, however when I asked the travel agent for a connecting flight from Bangkok to Myanmar’s then capital of Yangon, the travel agent mumbled, clicked the mouse a few times and then asked me to wait five minutes.  He disappeared into a room out the back before waving over a female colleague to join him. He later told me sheepishly that no one at STA had heard of a place called “Myanmar” and he had to consult an atlas.  I guess I should have said Burma.

Ultimately, however, I decided on Cambodia’s Phnom Penh instead, because I learned that tourists were only permitted to stay in Myanmar for around a week – and that was only possible if you arrived and left by plane, to and from the same destination. As I needed to conserve my savings, I was reluctant to fork out for the flights.  These conditions have been relaxed and beautiful Myanmar is apparently one of 2012’s top 10 tourist destinations.

The irony wasn’t lost on me that I nevertheless had to enter Myanmar via an indirect route from neighbouring Bangladesh, as there are no direct flights and although the two countries share the Naf River whose width varies from 3.22km to 1.61km, crossing it is illegal. My husband, our pet cat Butters and I instead flew 1,500 kilometres to Bangkok before boarding a flight to Yangon 10 days later.  Bangkok is always fun though…

We’ve been in Yangon for a little over three weeks and for the most part, it’s been brilliant. After spending nearly three years in Dhaka, the most densely populated city in the world, the peacefulness, value for money and comparative conveniences of Yangon have been (sometimes literally) intoxicating. Yangon is a very green and spacious city of over five million – even our hotel room is larger than one of my flats in Dhaka!  However that’s not to say that I don’t miss Bangladesh (and especially you Bangladeshis!) and the reason I named this blog post “Yangonathon” is because the trip has certainly tested my endurance – or so I felt when returning to hospital for the third time last Thursday.

'Bitten' by Shark energy drink
‘Bitten’ by Shark energy drink

I’ve just been a bit unlucky.  I have anaemia and fainted under an uncharacteristically hot noon sun after eating like a sparrow and drinking two cans of “Shark” energy drink.  The last thing I remember is half-stumbling in my sweaty, pink plastic sandals and seeing snack shops ahead that disappeared like an oasis.  I woke up to see a large crowd of sympathetic onlookers and confused everyone by calling out for my husband Sherpa, who I mistakenly believed was with me at the time I fell (I think this just goes to show how much I love him!).  Fortunately, like one of those irritating US criminal/legal/medical television series that are constantly on the English cable channel, a Burmese doctor arrived on the scene, complete with his medical kit. He and his two friends drove me to Yangon Central Hospital and I had a wince-inducing injection (“Did I want an anaesthetic?” – yes please?!) and four stitches in my forehead and an x-ray (my preceding mental state is unfortunately unchanged) plus lots of Betadine and bandages applied to various wounds on my hand, ankle, lips and knee. Shark really does have a powerful bite, so I’ve switched to UFC Ice Coffee…

The second and third trips were to Bahosi Hospital, which is less than 50 metres away from MGM Hotel. The doctors and nurses there are so nice that it was almost fun having the itchy stitches removed and returning last Thursday due to a persistently sore, swollen and sick belly felt like catching up with friends.  I’m still not 100 percent but I’m not too far off it.

Cute!
Cute!

There’s a lot more to say (obviously about the destination itself, which remains largely neglected), however as this is the longest stretch of connected wifi we’ve had at MGM Hotel (almost two hours) I don’t want to risk forfeiting a post to describe extra things for now.  I’ve been making weekly trips to internet cafes and I haven’t used my mobile phone as I’d need to pay $200 for a SIM that lasts a month. I haven’t felt this unreachable since I was backpacking six years ago – after the frustration wore off it’s been very relaxing – apart from not being able to blog as much as I’d have liked to…

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7 Replies to “Jessica’s Yangonathon in Myanmar”

  1. Hi:

    Since I have been going to Myanmar (2003) there have been 28 day tourist visas available. The week long visa discussed above was in the BSPP era (1974-1988) as far as I know.

  2. Rather timely! Leaving tonight via Bangkok for arrival at Yangon tomorrow at 10 am. Wish my trip would be as long as yours (as I would have loved to explore the country so to speak), but I would be there only for 4-5 days on business. Nevertheless, wish you a fun and lovely stay and hope that I can have one too (albeit briefly)! Cheers.

      1. Interesting choice of accommodations. The owners of MGM are Myanmar-Chinese with US citizenship, and it used to have the most popular Chinese karaoke in Yangon on the second floor. How did you wind up staying there?

      2. Oh my gosh, I’m so stupid – thanks for correcting this (which I’ll correct in the text now). I looked at Lonely Planet and missed the ‘4’ in c4,348,000!!! We first stayed at Motherland Inn II and then by chance saw MGM – as it had wifi (supposedly – it’s working well this week but not before) and allowed a cat and has gigantic rooms for $30, here we are… KTV is still pumping – well give it a go this Thursday! Thanks for your comments – the 1-2 week long visa was as I remembered travel advice at the time, but I’ll check it out for accuracy. Thanks!

        1. Hi Jessica:

          I used to stay at Motherland II, I think that is the one. Is that over on Lower padaung zaung road? A very backpacker place and the opposite of MGM which is like 95% local.

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