I booked tickets with Golden Myanmar Airlines to Yangon, as they were the cheapest airline. For family reasons I changed my flight last minute to the next day. Their website was a bit sketch, and the transaction fell through halfway resulting in the CC being charged but the ticket not being issued (I have to say, I still prefer this to Lion Air, an Indo-Thai budget airline where booking a flight means blocking a ticket, getting a numeric code, running around to find an ATM that works, withdrawing money for the ticket, then running again till you find an Alfa-Mart (sort of like a 7-11), then paying for the ticket with the code and the withdrawn cash, all within three hours of blocking the ticket on the internet).
I had to then place a call to the Airline’s office, which only had burmese phone lines listed on their website. This was the downside. But the moment I called them, they were really responsive, and even gave us free upgrades for checking in luggage and exit row seats (which is the closest to business class. The plane didnt have a business class).
Arriving in Yangon airport I saw the first instance of the fast changes that I heard about:
When we had decided to go to Myanmar we heard that an online visa service had just started up. I went online and procured visas. By the time we reached Myanmar (today: Nov 17th), a Visa-On-Arrival system was already up and running well.
Then came the next step. Waiting in line to get through immigration.
Though the line was long, the process was smooth and easy (and polite. These were the politest immigration officers I have met. If 1 were a Buddhist Monk and 10 were the US Immigration Authorities, these guys would be a 3).
After immigration, and picking up luggage, I found the next change. Wifi. We’d heard it was terrible throughout the whole country. Not so. At the airport, I was getting speeds of 3Mbps.
which was a whole lot better than most airports in Indonesia (or most of Indonesia come to think of it, where I had just flown in from).
However, the wifi kept kicking me out every 10 min and I had to keep logging back in.
I had a snag with the ATMs. Though there were 4 ATM machines, even those that took Cirrus and StarPlus cards, for some reason Jodee’s and my cards wouldn’t work.
Though I did see a couple other french folks being able to get money. Thankfully, I had brought with me some USD (clean crisp notes, else you’re out of luck!) which I converted to Myanmar Kyat.
After getting into a taxi (8$ for a 40 min ride to downtown were we had got a hostel), we made our way through honking buses and traffic and slowly weaved our way through equally scenic and gloomy city views to downtown.
Cheap lodging for travelers is slowly picking up. We’d heard that most lodging was expensive. I found 2 ‘backpacker’ style hostels, good, clean, secure lockers with english speaking staff for 15USD here and here. We stayed at the Backpacker Myanmar hostel and I would totally recommend it.
I met a Swedish Journalist at the hostel who covers Myanmar news for a Radio programme back in Stockholm. I went with him to a coffee shop (with good wifi, where I’m writing this post right now!), and he filled me in a little bit on the political history of the country. Another part about the rapid changes were that Telenor just introduced pre-paid Sim cards last month (Oct 2014) into the country. The moment sanctions are lifted, things are rushing in!
Driving in a taxi to the cafe, Axel, the journalist, pointed out something interesting. We were in a right-hand-drive car driving through right-side traffic! In other words, Burma’s traffic drives on the right side of the road similar to mainland Europe and America. However, all the cars feature right-hand-drive, built for commonwealth countries! He told me that that was because all the cars were imported used from Japan!
So right now, I’m enjoying good coffee in Myanmar, salad, chatting with the Journo, and planning on what to do next in this awesome country!
Will keep you all updated through the Myanmar Series Blogs!