After our goodbyes to the kids at the Bangkok airport we had breakfast and waited for the ticket counter to open, we were one of the first at the counter, and then our plans blew up. They would not let us board, telling us we needed a pre-visa letter. Our research on the visa was that foreigners could get a visa upon arrival at the Myanmar airport. True, but not so if you are a citizen of the United States. This is our 99 move, perhaps we are just getting careless, but we will say that the Myanmar info on the web is not clear!!
Myanmar is an important country for us and we have three other flights purchased all contingent on getting to Yangon. We had to scramble and get an expedited “letter of Invitation” over the internet, on Sunday. Rescheduled our flight for 7:15 PM the next day and get another night at a airport hotel. 24 hours later got the letter (for $370), which was a bullshit one page document with our names and a watermark seal, and got on the plane. Upon arriving at Myanmar airport, right there--sitting out front of passport control was a booth “Visas on Arrival”. Traveling with your spouse everyday can be a challenge , this issue tested both of us, and thankfully it all worked out, on the upside, with this crisis we did not go through on normal depression after leaving the kids.
We are now in a new country that for centuries had been known as Burma; colonized by Britain and occupied by Japan in the 20th Century. Recently, it had opened to foreign travelers after decades of military rule and isolation. Myanmar has that third world vibe. We landed in Yangon, the former capital. It has some large British government buildings, but it is mostly composed of 4 story cement buildings on narrow street discolored with mold from the constant rain and humidity, and neglect.
Our hotel in the old town section, was more like a hostel, but the rooms were clean and the staff very helpful. We walked around the neighborhood to get the lay of the land and had a simple dinner. Right away we see major differences from our other SE Asia countries. The men wear sarongs and short sleeve dress shirts to work, all the women are in long skirts, no pants. It is gritty, loud and we love it.
The next morning, for a buck each, we rode the rickety Yangon train that circles the city in order to experience the local folks. This 3 hour slow train, stopping 24 times, was just a hoot. One of the best in-country experiences we have ever had. The train cars were purchased used from Japan decades ago and have open windows and door. Passengers and sales merchants. Here people carry on fruits, snacks, and “betel” for sale. Others bring on boxes and bags of veggies of all types to transport to other stops. Young and old ride this train. They were friendly to us and offered us fruit and smiles, some frowns or puzzled looks, but all was ok. The photos were very cool and the video below shows the market and people from our train window.
“Betel” is a weird “chew” that the Burmese have used for centuries; it starts with a betel leaf coated with slaked lime, that looks like white slime, then sprinkled or painted with Areca nuts, and mixed with some tobacco and spices for flavor. This is a stimulant. The chew turns to RED goo in the mouth and has seriously affected the dental enamel. There is red blotches of spit all over the sidewalks. Three leafs cost 10 cents and an average user chews 10+ per day, it is a very disgusting habit.
The women of Myanmar almost always display a special mixture of makeup on their cheeks. It is a pasty substance that is derived from the Sandalwood bark mixed with water and lightly painted by brush or fingers on their cheeks and sometimes forehead. It is not unattractive, but unusual, with the purpose of protecting the skin from the hard sun. Myanmar is not as devote to Buddhism than the other countries we have visited. But they do have women Monks called “Damas”. They wear “pink” over the customary orange robes. On the train they sought offerings—not morning food—but hard cash—smart girls.
That afternoon we hired a taxi to take us to 4 local religious sites; cost 6000 kip/hour. That's $5/hr. The first 2 stops were magnificent. The Pho temple was fantastically large. We took escalators up 2 stories to the entry way of this conglomeration of Buddha buildings of real Gold Leaf covered towers on top of this mountain.. It was a massive, colorful place with 4 separate entrances-north,south,east and west. See a few photos.
We then went to the separate pavilion of the “Reclining Buddha”. This one figure is massive and impressive, Similar but bigger then the reclining Buddha we saw in Thailand, it has painted white skin, open eyes with long eyelashes and maybe a little more feminine. It is interesting to see Buddha figures in different countries—they have different girth, plumpness, and shapeliness; some are feminine looking, but only in Danang, Vietnam did we see an openly female Buddha, a towering white sculpture 3 stories high.
We stopped at one more pagoda, but the rain was so hard that we gave up and ran to the taxi. We had enough—take us home. The excursion was 2.5 hours. That's was it for Yangon . We stayed in that night and did planning, checked visa requirements, and reviewed photos.