Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Day 1 in Myanmar: Yangon

Read more about my first solo travel experience in Myanmar here!

Day 1: Yangon

When I boarded the plane, I was feeling scared, yet excited for the trip that was finally here. I met a fellow solo backpacker, Yury, on the plane and I am so thankful to have met a like-minded soul who was on her first solo travel as well. She had some plans on hand and so I asked if I could join her for the day.

Currency exchange and mobile sim card

Our plane touched down at around 1030 local time. I exchanged half of the USD dollars I had to Myanmar currency, kyat. The exchange rate at the airport was pretty alright and I think it is safer to do the currency exchange at the airport. We also got our local sim card at the airport. They had two kinds of sim card:

1) Ooredoo - 5000 kyats for the sim card (top-ups are in 5000 kyats)

2) Telenor - 15000 kyats

I got Ooredoo because it was the cheaper option and also because I thought that I could probably survive without the phone in Myanmar. The reason for the price difference is that Ooredoo only has network in the big cities i.e Yangon, Mandalay whereas the other Telco has network in all the places. I used the card for 2 full days and I switched on my 3G network most of the time. I still have leftover credit in my card when I left so I guess 3G is not really expensive in Myanmar.

Yangon City

We hired a taxi for USD $50 for the whole day. We figured that it would make more sense as we had our backpacks with us and no where to keep our bags. Our first stop was to a social enterprise cafe "Yangon Bakehouse". Yangon Bakehouse operates as a social enterprise that provides employment and training opportunities to disadvantage Burmese women. We were there during the lunch hour, which explains the crowd. Yury had the pumpkin pie which was really delicious while I tried the green curry chicken pie. I enjoyed the pastries there and would definitely recommend this little cafĂ© to fellow travelers!

After lunch, we headed to many different temples and pagodas. Honestly, I am not familiar with the history and traditions of Myanmar so I will let the pictures do the talking.

Must-go temples in Yangon:

1) Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda

2) National Museum of Yangon 

We also went to the National Museum (Yangon). The museum is huge! There are a total of 5 levels and for those who are interested in the history and culture of Myanmar, it will be a good place to spend your afternoon. 

Throughout the day, I was still undecided on my plans for the night and the day after. Yury was going to leave for Mandalay on the 9pm bus and I was still stuck between staying in Yangon for a night or to leave for Inle Lake/Bagan. At least I knew that I definitely wanted to visit Inle Lake and Bagan.

My taxi driver, Tun Tun, was very helpful and helped me to make some calls to check if there were still bus tickets to Inle Lake. I wanted to buy tickets from JJ Express as that seemed to be the safest (most comfortable) option. But the tickets were sold out for both journeys to Inle and to Bagan. Tun Tun suggested another bus company which till now, I don't even know the name of the bus company. After the ticket was bought, I felt more settled. Called and booked for accommodation at Inle Lake and I was lucky to get a room for myself at May Guesthouse.

So, I would definitely recommend you to book your bus tickets in advance if you want a more comfortable bus ride!

Our last stop of the day was to the Bogyoke Market. The plans changed as I had to reach the Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal at 6pm for my bus. The traffic in Myanmar can be quite bad, especially during peak hours. We left the market at around 445pm and reached there at 6pm.

The market was packed with tourists, all looking for bargains and souvenirs to bring back home. The things they sell in the stalls are pretty repetitive and if you are heading out of Yangon, you should probably get your souvenirs there. The prices outside the capital city are more competitive!

While walking around, I got real distracted by the street food. When I shared that I was heading to Myanmar, my friends warned me to be careful of the street food as they had incidents where they ate the food and fell ill. But the food was calling out to me as I walked past the vendors, so I just had to buy.

This is my favourite of all street food in Myanmar! The deep fried stuffed tofu was really finger licking good. The combination of the cabbage, tofu, crunchy nuts, and the special sauce is just heavenly!

deep fried stuffed tofu

There were also many dessert stalls and we decided to buy coconut rice dessert which was not to my liking.

So after a day of exploring, it was time to say goodbye to my travel buddy for the day. I think it is amazing how it felt so comfortable hanging out with her even though we just met on the plane.

Safe journey, wherever you may be now!

Overnight bus to Inle Lake

I was dropped off at the bus station. When I boarded the bus, I was surprised to find that the bus was packed with locals. Then I realized I couldn't communicate with the driver nor the attendant on the bus. I got worried about whether I would be able to reach my destination safely.

The bus ride was not very comfortable as the seat space was a bit tight. Halfway through the bus ride, I realized that the guy seated beside me was actually a Chinese! I felt so happy to find out that there was someone who could speak the language I speak. He said that it was his first time in Myanmar as well, and he was here to work. We didn't talk much as his accent was quite hard to understand. At around 4 am in the morning, we had a stopover. At the point when I was feeling so cold (really cold in the mountainous area) and tired, the Chinese man approached me and gave me a can of redbull. I was so touched by his kind act. Well, so I bought him a hot bun in exchange too! This simple act of kindness brought me so much warmth and I am so thankful to be meeting all these kind souls out there in the world.
the redbull ^^

I will remember to pass this kindness on to other people!

The next post will be on Day 2 and Day 3 at Inle Lake!


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