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Category / Myanmar

One one of the last days in Myanmar, we decided to take some time off and visit one of the very few tourist attractions in this once vibrant South East Asian City, the Shwedagon Pagoda.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
an alternate childhood

There is a US $5 entrance fee for foreigners, but interestingly, the local currency is not accepted. There was no guide books or brochures given, all you get is a place to place your shoes (no shoes allowed in the pagoda) and a sticker to indicate you are a paid “customer”.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
the main pagoda

The main pagoda is 98 meters high, and is at least over 1,000 years old, with some believe that it was actually built before the death of Lord Buddha, some 25 centuries ago. There are multiple structures and probably hundreds of statues, some with gold plating.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
gold plated Buddha statues

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
roof of the gallery from main road

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
the Singu Min Bell

The pagoda was filled with quite a lot of pilgrims and visitors alike, with many monks as well.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
monks and pilgrims

It was a gloomy and rainy afternoon that makes for a very miserable condition for photography. The fact that I only had the camera for a few days didn’t help the matter either. The photos you see here do not give justice to the magnificent structure that is Shwedagon Pagoda, a place really worth visiting.

During the trip Off-shore at Yetagun, we received a request to head to the FSO (Floating Storage Offloading) to do some minor work. That was all well for me since I was already there, I might as well jump on the chance to visit another oil and gas facility.

Yetagun FSO (Floating Storage Offloading), Myanmar
the FSO, and the transfer boat

FSO is usually a retired super tanker converted to become an engine less vessel used solely for storing hydrocarbon produced by a nearby oil or gas platform. In this case, gas condensate is stored from the Yetagun gas platform, transferred by an underwater pipeline. The FSO is securely positioned with 9 anchors.

Yetagun FSO (Floating Storage Offloading), Myanmar
the transfer basket

A transfer boat (also served as an emergency escape vessel) goes between the FSO and the gas platform, and that would be our mode of transport between the two facilities. The interesting bit was the way you get to and from the smaller transfer boat to the bigger platform and FSO.

Instead of a nice bridge or walk way, a transfer basket is used. This is basically just a round basket with nettings on 4 sides where you place any cargo in the middle, and just stand outside holding the nettings while being swung around by the crane operator from the height of the platform all the way to the sea level. It was a rather thrilling experience for a first timer, considering the top deck of platform A where we took off was at least 10-15 stories higher than sea level. This was better than roller coaster.

Yetagun FSO (Floating Storage Offloading), Myanmar
transfer basket swung around by the crane

Yetagun FSO (Floating Storage Offloading), Myanmar
the nice chap who helped us and ensured our safety

Yetagun FSO (Floating Storage Offloading), Myanmar
FSO is equipped with a heli-deck as well

We used the same method to get on board the FSO and greeted by the very friendly Captain James.. This retired vessel is huge, some 200 meters long. Inside the living area is a maze of walkways with offices, kitchen, dining areas, dormitories, etc. Although physically bigger, it probably has less recreational areas for the working crews as compared to the more modern gas platform. Everything was pretty crammed as well, but the rooms were slightly bigger and more comfortable though.

Even with the tanker this size and a relatively calm sea, you can feel the gentle rocking of the ship and it can be quite uncomfortable if you’re not used to it.

Yetagun FSO (Floating Storage Offloading), Myanmar
the nine anchors

Yetagun FSO (Floating Storage Offloading), Myanmar
view from the front of the super tanker

Yetagun FSO (Floating Storage Offloading), Myanmar
the body is some 200 meters long

We got a permit to snapped a few pictures on the facility before heading back after a few hours of work, experiencing the thrill of using the transfer basket a couple more times.

Yetagun FSO (Floating Storage Offloading), Myanmar
our host, Captain James

This is the reason I have been absent from the blog for the past week. I was fortunate enough to have a chance to go to the Yetagun off-shore gas rig, located at the Andaman Sea.

Yetagun Off-Shore Gas Platform, Myanmar
the driver of modern economy

We took an early flight on board a Twin Otter propeller airplane from Yangon airport to Kanbauk, a small village at Southern Myanmar. From the small airstrip in the middle of nowhere, we transferred to a chopper and flew a further 1 hour plus to the platform. Both the flights weren’t atmospherically sealed, and they were loud, we needed to wear ear muffs the entire duration. No in-flight entertainment, no stewardess, and no talking even. On the chopper, the twelve of us were required to wear life vests too.

Yetagun Off-Shore Gas Platform, Myanmar
our flights

The gas rig is a maze to newcomers. Stairs everywhere, and every structures look pretty much the same. We spent most of our time in the living quarters. This main area houses the shared bedrooms (4 person), a dining and recreation room with huge 50″ plasma TV and pool table, as well as offices and a clinic. If you are a smoker, there’s a smoking room housed outside the living quarters, you’ll need to walk outside and brace the weather a bit.

Yetagun Off-Shore Gas Platform, Myanmar
a guy heading to the smoking room

Yetagun Off-Shore Gas Platform, Myanmar
two rig workers having a discussion

The rooms are pretty small, and reminded me of college dorms, except you have 4 adults sharing the facility. However, the beds do come with privacy curtains and a personal light, so it wasn’t so bad after all.

Yetagun Off-Shore Gas Platform, Myanmar
the 4-men bedroom at the off-shore rig

Workers here run a 12-hour shift from 6am to 6pm daily. If you do the calculation, that comes to an 84 hour work week compared to our 40-45, I don’t think it’s a luxury for these guys to have 2/4 weeks on 2/4 weeks off arrangement. After all, there is no such thing as public holidays around here, everything is 24/7.

Yetagun Off-Shore Gas Platform, Myanmar
the dining hall and recreational area

Breakfast is served at 5:30am, and there are food served almost every 2-3 hours. The chefs actually cooked up pretty decent meals, and there are fruit juice, sodas, as well as coffee and tea for the taking. Nothing costs a single cent.

Heli-deck at Yetagun Off-Shore Gas Platform, Myanmar
snapping pictures on the heli-deck

On the last day at the platform, we requested a permit (everything needs a permit) to take pictures outside the living quarters. A gas detector accompanied our mission, and no flash photography allowed.

Yetagun Off-Shore Gas Platform, Myanmar
the stairway leading to the heli-deck

We took the next chopper back to Kanbauk after our tasks were completed. The two nights at Yategun platform were certainly an interesting experience that I actually don’t mind repeating. The guys were friendly and always made us feel welcomed. On the second day we actually visited the FSO (Floating Storage Offloading) facility, but that’ll be another post.

Yetagun Off-Shore Gas Platform, Myanmar
tranquility

This is my second working trip to Yangon, Myanmar. The pictures from last trip was taken with my now retired Nokia 7610. I have, however, decided to jumped onto the DSLR bandwagon and got myself a brand spanking new Canon 400D as an excuse that I need a better camera to document the stay at the former capitol of Myanmar. Furthermore, I will be traveling to a couple other interesting locations within Myanmar as well.

Yangon city, Maynmar, busy day time
Dyna bus, only 100 kyats to board

Nothing much has changed since I last visited this place about 2 years ago, with the exception of the new Yangon airport that was opened just 3 days prior to our arrival. The city still looks the same, I haven’t spotted any new big buildings, Dyna buses are still roaming the busy streets, carrying at least 5x more passangers than those trucks are designed to.

Yangon city, Maynmar, busy day time
the day market, bustling with people

The main street outside Traders Hotel are still bustling with people and merchants, some of them more energetic than others. Here you can find anything from

Yangon city, Maynmar, busy day time
a high energy merchant selling cloths

Yangon city, Maynmar, busy day time
a tired shop keeper

Yangon city, Maynmar, night market
Myanmar’s very own satey celup?

The scene at downtown Yangon at night is similar to day time, but with more food stalls selling variety of local delights that I haven’t find the chance (or courage) to try yet. Among the usual offerings such as food, cloths, and watches, I changed upon this street artist who employed a pretty unique style of painting by using a brush and a knife to draw up beautiful landscape pictures, very impressive.

Yangon city, Maynmar, night market
an artist at work

Yangon city, Maynmar, night market
one of the many pagodas in Yangon

These are among the first pictures taken using the new gear, many more shall come, stay tuned!

Canon EOS 400D
my new gear, Canon EOS 400D

I recently travelled to Yangon, Myanmar in a company trip. The experience was very different from Vietnam, a place where I have been on several occasions. While Ho Chi Minh City is bustling with development, Yangon appear to be more like a throw back in time, a backwater of ASEAN.

Yangoon, Myanmar

In Yangon, citizen are not allowed to own motorcycles. While this is a good thing evironmental wise, it makes travelling a very difficult task considering the lack of modern transportation facilities, and cars are prohibitedly expensive. For a country where GPD per capita stands at around US$1,700, a lousy used car can fetch up to US$10,000!

What happen then, is what you see on the pictures above, people crammed on the little modified truck, and pay US$0.02 for the trip to work. Often time a small truck fills up so many passengers that some of them might have to hold on at the back as if performing some stunts. Jackie Chan would be proud.

Most people wears Sarong and sandles to everywhere. Perhaps shoes are a bit too expensive for the economy there. I noticed at the airport (with one and only terminal) that even the lower ranked security officials (up to Sarjen) wore sandles instead of black shoes.

temples in Yangon, Myanmar

Fortunately, despite the sanction, the city is not all too dead, and there are a few international hotels to be found. I was staying at Traders Hotel, own by non other than the Shangrila group of Malaysia. Bring plenty of cash if you need to pay for your hotel, credit cards are not accepted in Myanmar, due to the sanction. Room rates at a 5 star establishment is decently priced at $50-$70 USD.

2 things you can’t miss in Myanmar. The spectacular Buddish temples, and scores of beggers everywhere. There are alot of monks too. After speaking to a hotel worker, I found out that people at Myanmar usually become a monk when they reach the age of 20. It is optional and done as a traditional/religious practise. One can elect to be a monk for a week, a month, a year, or however long you wish. Many older folks will become monks when they’re old.

condoms seller at Yangon

On the streets of Yangon, you can find alot of things. Including condoms, don’t ask me about the price, I don’t know. If you have eyes for jade and precious stones, this city offers alot for you. I only got some small jade elephants for friends as I don’t know how to judge the quality of precious stones or jade at all.

Food wise, if you are accustomed to Malaysian food, you should find no trouble at all. Bordering Bangladesh, India, China, and Thailand, the taste is a mixture of those countries. Halal food isn’t hard to come by either. However, I do find that the food generally exhibit a saltier taste than in Malaysia.

Other things to note:

  • Communication is heavily restricted. There is no roaming. During anniversaries significant to the now detained democratic leader, phone services are switched off altogether.
  • You cannot connect to YM, MSN messenger, Yahoo mail, or Hotmail. I tried to connect to Dalnet server on IRC as a last resort but was redirected to irc.communists.org or something like that.
  • Bring alot of cash if you need to pay for the hotel. Credit cards are not accepted since the sanction.
  • Exchange rate at airport is 450 kyats to US$1. At “black” market it is 1075 kyats to US$1. Don’t change your money at the airport!
  • A visa is required to enter the country, can be obtained from the embassy for RM120 or RM160 if you want them to issue it to you in a day’s time.
  • Malaysian girls are alot prettier.
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