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.
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.
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.
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.