September 2, 2014

Sightseeing in Yangon

We were in Myanmar in May and it was very hot then. Temps could go as high as 40 degrees Celsius so we would wake up early in the morning to sightsee while it was relatively cool and the light is softer, take an early lunch, have a siesta and resume sightseeing late in the afternoon just before sunset.  It helped that Myanmar is an hour and a half late to the Philippines and we took advantage of that time difference.

We spent a total of 3 nights and 3 days in Yangon and it was more than enough time to go around the city in a very leisurely pace. We napped a lot at middays or escaped the heat in room just reading a novel.

When we actually went out to explore, these were what we saw:

Shwedagon Pagoda
The grandest, most impressive and most sacred pagoda for the Burmese.  Over 2600 years old, the Shwedagon houses strands of Buddha’s hair. The actual pagoda is covered in gold plates and the top of the stupa is encrusted with diamonds.  It is located atop Singuttara Hill and so massive that it has 3 entrances. My favorite would be the one that has access to a lift.  And because it is a place of worship, you have to walk barefoot which can be tricky if it is 40 degrees hot out, so I suggest you visit early morning or late in the afternoon like we did.  Entrance fee for foreigners is 8000 kyats or 8 USD.






In and around Sule Pagoda
Right in the middle of downtown Yangon, not as impressive as Shwedagon but still worth a visit; entrance fee is 1000 kyats.  Since Sule is right in the middle of the city, a walk around it can be quite interesting.     







Kandawgyi Lake and Nature Park
Kandawgyi Lake literally means “royal lake.”  The park is well maintained and very clean, perfect for a morning stroll. Entrance and camera fee is 1000 kyats.  The park has several restaurants, a pond and a children’s playground.




Chaukhtatgyi Paya (Reclining Buddha)
Paya is a Burmese word for stupa or pagoda and this paya houses a 60 meter long and a 30 meter tall reclining Buddha. It is also a monastery.




Bogyoke Market
A great place to buy souvenirs, they have everything from hand carved magnets and key chains to laquerware, gemstones, longyi, paintings and fruits.






Yangon Central Railway Station / On Board the Circular Train 
The jam-packed with locals railway station in downtown Yangon is already an attraction in itself with its traditional Burmese style architecture.



The complete loop takes 3 hours and probably the best way of getting a glimpse on how the locals actually live their daily lives – the backyards with their gardens or animal pens, the monasteries with their clothesline full of monk’s robes fluttering in the wind to dry, the slums, the farms green with produce or cracked dry lands. It’s a tour of the facts of Yangon’s life without walking on foot.




Foreigners pay 1 USD or 1200 Kyat in a little ticket office on platform seven in Central Railway Station regardless of the length of the journey. Ticket is valid for the whole day.

Service hours are from 3:45 am to 10:15 pm daily. 

We did this right after lunch and it was like riding a furnace on wheels. It is an experience and a good way to interact with locals but we strongly recommend that you do this early in the morning. Learn from our mistake.



July 23, 2014

Sleeping in Yangon: 30th Corner Boutique Hostel

While we splurge our hard earned money once in a while luxuriating in French toiletries on long drawn bubble baths in claw foot tubs and rest our weary bodies on good quality high-thread-count sheets, we appreciate good hostels as well if we must.

We like good value, regardless of the price we actually fork out and 30th Corner Boutique Hostel definitely gave us ample bang for our buck. As mentioned on our previous post (CLICK HEREbecause of the recent influx of tourism and lack of infrastructures, accommodations in Myanmar are still limited and a wee bit pricier than other Southeast Asian countries . 


Once we got past the shock of being deposited in the heart of Little India and that dreadful staircase, we found that 30th Corner is a clean and sweet escape from the very lively and interesting downtown area and accessible to sightseeing spots. It is within walking distance to the Sule Pagoda, Bogyoke Market, the old railway station and to a lot of dining options. The location in terms of accessibility cannot be beat.



We booked their best room - the Deluxe King Room overnight in May for 65 USD and we loved our clean, modern, well lighted and spacious air-conditioned room with en-suite bath. There’s a coffee and tea facilities supplied with good quality coffee. Bottled drinking water all you can is complimentary. There’s also wifi and a cable TV that we never get to use.




Checking in right from the airport to the hotel is a great welcome to Yangon. The staffs are welcoming, spoke good English and gave us good recommendations for dining, sightseeing and directions, even going so far as writing the Burmese script of the places we wanted to go to just in case our transport couldn’t speak English.


On the day that we have to leave for Bagan via an overnight bus, they let us check out at 6PM so we could comfortably freshen up and get enough rest - at no extra charge. They really imprinted us with Burmese hospitality. Now that’s what we call 5 star services on a budget!

We wanted to book with them again when we got back from Bagan but unfortunately, which we actually kind of expected, they were full on our dates. Suffice it to say that if ever we find ourselves in Yangon again, we will definitely stay with them.

July 13, 2014

Crash Course Yangon

Yangon surprised us.

Because Myanmar was closed off to foreigners for too long, we kind of expected Yangon to be a quiet small town but the pulse, colors and sounds of a bustling big city is a contradiction, albeit, pleasantly of the Yangon we had in my mind.


Sure, we were a bit apprehensive about setting foot in a military ruled country because of all the common negative perception about their government and just minutes out of their extremely clean and modern airport while at a back seat of a cab idling at a traffic light, we were side by side a van with a huge POLICE sign imprinted on its side in bold stark white letters. Only the hands of the prisoners grasping the bars can be seen.

But other than that sighting, we’ve never seen any form of military presence and the Burmese people seems to be generally at peace, happy and very friendly. We never once questioned our safety nor did we feel threatened in any way and at any time. We felt VERY SAFE even while strolling at night in a country that is embroiled in political turmoil for the longest time.




The city center for its proximity to the popular sights is where we stayed. Accommodations in Yangon, well Myanmar in general, is still limited and rates are a little bit higher compared to other neighboring Southeast Asian countries because of the recent influx of tourism and lack of infrastructures. 

We always do some form of research before our every travel but somehow it escaped our notice that the city center is also known as the Little India.




Like many Southeast Asian countries, it is crowded with a mishmash of settlers, but judging from what the district is called, there’s a profusion of Indians concentrated in the area. Lucky for us that means glorious authentic Indian food!


Little India is lined with narrow streets that hosts dilapidated colonial mix-use (residential and commercial) buildings and makeshift stores that sell anything and everything from the ubiquitous cheap China made plastics to street food to betel nut sellers with stained red teeth.


We saw some parts of Yangon that is grimy, crowded, polluted but somehow, we saw it as character.

In its crumbling walls, we glimpsed the history of its grandness. In its crowdedness, we saw the art.





Yangon has us charmed.

And grateful that Myanmar is now open to us Filipinos, visa free since January of 2014.

NOTES:

Yangon International Airport – IATA code: RGN located at Mingaladon about 15 kilometers from north of downtown Yangon.

There is a taxi booth at the airport with fixed price. We paid 10,000 kyat from the airport to the city center.

Philippine time is an hour and half (1hr and 30mins) advance.

Currency: Kyat (pronounced as chats).
Note that they only accept clean and crisp dollar bills with no crease and from year 2006 or
newer.

Rates at the airport are surprisingly good.

You can also use US dollars for paying hotel bills, entrance fees to tourist attractions and long
distance bus tickets.

Electrical outlets - 2 round pins or 3 flat pins

The only mode of transportation we used to get around is cabs because buses and trucks with their Burmese script routes intimidated us. These are old surplus vehicles that are either left or right hand drive and may or may not have air-conditioning. There is no meter so negotiate before getting in. $1 or 1,000 kyat is the minimum.


Dress modestly with shoulders and knees covered when visiting the temples. Footwear, even socks are not permitted in places of worship. If you turn up at a temple inappropriately dressed, you can rent or borrow a longyi (a sort of sarong) for a few kyats as deposit.


June 30, 2014

Flea Market Shopping, Apliu Street, Hong Kong

We do have at least one specific place we wanted to go to in Hong Kong (aside from H&M) and it’s filled with second-hand if not totally bogged-down electronic devices, old books, cd’s, dvd’s, vinyl records, clothing, house wares, kitchen appliances, antique and pseudo antique watches, jewelries, and old coins.



Apliu Street is tucked away in the much urbanized district of Sham Shui Po.  Once we got off the train, it wasn't really that difficult to find since almost every local we saw seemed to be heading in one direction and that led us straight into the bargain bin of Hong Kong.



Although we were not in the market for anything used, we explored every nook and cranny of the flea market in Apliu Street until a Yamatar camera for only P300 caught my fancy.


Aside from previously loved goods; there were also some shops that sell brand new items such as camera accessories, wireless remotes that control almost everything imaginable, a whole lot of batteries, alarm clocks, LED lights, flashlights and whatnots for a cheap. We got an automatic lens cap for the Lumix LX3 for P150 that sells in the Philippines for P900 – P1,500 at that time.



We also stumbled upon San T'ai Tzu Temple on our way back to the metro.


And when you’re famished from all the shopping, HK style BBQ stalls dotted the streets as well as snacks on skewers. If you’re brave enough, you can wash your food down with cobra infused liquor. We were even offered a free taste but we we’re too sissy to try it. If you’re adventurous enough, tell us about it. Or not.



How to get there: take the MTR to Sham Shui Po Station and take Exit C1.

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