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(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips

Flights to Myanmar and Yangon

A variety of airlines serve Yangon International Airport, which opened a large, spanking new terminal early 2007. The most frequent flights are out of Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Singapore business collaborates with Myanmar in maintaining Myanmar Airways International (MAI, www.maiair.com), a part government, part private-owned operation that runs services into Yangon from Bangkok daily, Singapore three times a week and Kuala Lumpur four times a week.

(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips
(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips

MAI flies smaller Boeing 737s and two MD-82s, which are long narrow workhorses with a 3-2 seating configuration in economy and eight big leather business class seats clearly taken from somebody else’s airline.

MAI is a cheerful experience with expatriate pilots and overseas trained cabin staff who work with great courtesy and concentration. Food on board is generous and tasty if not exactly a sensation and the rich lubrication of the pork fillet with fried noodles was a useful preparation for Myanmar cuisine. Alternatively Air Bagan (www.airbagan.com) has a variety of aircraft – including an Airbus A-310 and a Fokker 100 jet – and flies an intricate domestic network, as well as to Singapore, Bangkok, Cambodia’s Siem Reap and Kunming in China.

The international airport sits in fields about 30 minutes out of the centre. Business Class passengers get their own bus for the 30-second drive to the terminal. You require a visa, which can be surprisingly fast to get from a Myanmar consulate. They are even available online (www.myanmarvisa.com). The consulate will also give you a form to be kept with it and presented to the immigration officer along with the landing form. These are neatly folded, put away somewhere, and you are let in very quickly for a maximum of 28 days.

Changing Money and Devilish Exchange Rates

There seems to be no requirement now to purchase US$200 of Foreign Exchange Certificates at the airport. This cumbersome interloper, after the old Chinese model, seems to be disappearing. We are now down to the two real currencies, the local kyat (pronounced “chat”) and the US dollar.

(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips
(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips

The kyat is divided into 100 pyas. On paper (and outside of Myanmar) the official exchange rate is approximately US$1 = 6.42 kyat, but farcically, this rate is not actually available in the country. Most places, including five-star hotels, will offer a much more reasonable “unofficial” rate, currently approximately US$1 = 1,250 kyat. You will often get a better rate for changing large US dollar bills, but these must be spotless. Even banks are reluctant to take notes with any mark or tear. Most substantial establishments like hotels and transport agencies take US dollars and more modest operations do too but you are likely to get change in kyat. You need a judicious mixture of both currencies in your wallet. Your hotel will help with this. Apart from in the major hotels, credit cards in Myanmar come from Mars.

Getting around Yangon

If you do not have a pick-up arrangement with your hotel, a taxi from the airport for the 30-minute drive into town should cost between US$5 and US$8 depending on negotiation and the presence of air-con. Although there is nowhere in Yangon you would want to go that is more than 15 minutes from anywhere else, you might look at the town in three segments. To the south is the grid-work layout of the old centre by the river. A little to the north, is a “midtown” around the Kandawgyi Lake and the Shwedagon Pagoda, the above all, must-see masterpiece of Yangon. A little further to the north is the semi-suburban recreational area around the larger Inya Lake.

(Myanmar) – Yangon (Rangoon) - Inle Lake
(Myanmar) – Yangon (Rangoon) - Inle Lake

A fairly standard rate for a short taxi trip is US$1. From The Shwedagon down to the river it would be US$2 and from the river up to the Inya Lake possibly US$3. Car hire with driver (not a hotel limo) should be between US$35 to US$40 for a 10-hour day. The more days you hire for, the more negotiable this becomes. A knowledgeable driver, possibly recommended by a hotel, could be worth his weight in kyat.

Yangon shopping tips

Yangon specialises in precious stones, pearls, silver, handicrafts and lacquer ware. There are some fine specialist shops that hotel concierges will guide you to. The Strand has a printed recommendation list. To just plunge in, go to the BogyokeAung San Market or Scott Market of yore. It is a huge closed market surrounded by a cloister of small, mostly trendy shops selling fashion accessories. In the market proper, stalls sell stones, jewellery, handicrafts, ropes of pearls and antiques, some for real and some not quite. The place is wide, clean, cool and unhurried. One offbeat stall belongs to Zaw Win Ni (Samuel) who used to be a dentist in Hongkong and let his passion for Burmese animist spirit figures get the better of him. He is now in business there with these engaging items. He can explain them with great fluency at Evergreen, Stall No.103 in the Central Arcade (tel: 256-411).

(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips
(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips

Nightlife in Yangon

It exists, even for foreigners, be sure of that. Mostly you’ll find it in hotels from about 6pm to 11pm. Paddy’s Bar, an Irish pub with music and a lively crowd, is in the basement of the Sedona Hotel (tel: 666-900). The Kandawgyi Palace Hotel has its Disco Pub (tel: 2492455) and The Grand Plaza Park Royal has the Music Club, a place of some revelation. They say it is popular with diplomats. It is a big square bar with a Filipino band. There are an inordinate number of beautifully turned-out local women wandering around in urgent need of a drink. Don’t take the wife.

(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips
(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips

Open all day to midnight, the 50th Street Bar and Grill, behind an impressive colonial facade on 50th Street, is a big, well laid-out pub with its wall scrubbed down to the brick, a mixed Western and local clientele and live music at the weekends. It is a very easy place to hang out and snack. Mr Guitar on Sayar San Road is similarly popular with locals and foreigners, open from 7pm to midnight and features unplugged music, mega screens, installations by its artist-owner and an outside courtyard. In both you might get a decent conversation. A Mr Guitar 2 opened up a year or so back on ShweGon Dine Road – it is more of a restaurant (serving Thai hot pot and Chinese food) than a bar. Taking a different tack altogether is BME 2, an independent outfit watched over by the biggest Burmese lads in suits you’ve ever seen. It stands in a large lot next to the Summit Parkview Hotel at 350 Ahlone Road. There is a bar, attentive waiters, a big disco dance floor and of all things in Myanmar, a local girl rock band. And, again, a grazing herd of tightly clad young women without a drink.

(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips
(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips

Mandalay, Bagan and beyond

“Yangon is a gateway,” says George Ehrlich-Adam, general manager of travel agency Exotissimo. From it, he says, the standard travel pattern is a flight to Mandalay (the train can take up to 18 hours and so will a car), a boat to Bagan and a flight to Inya Lake. Visitors spend between five and 10 days doing this. To do justice to Bagan, you need a minimum of two days. To relax in a hotel on stilts on the lake and go back in time a bit, you need at least another two or three days. “So, if you’ve only got four to five days, you should drop Mandalay,” says Ehrlich-Adam. The city itself is worth half a day at best. The main historical point of interest is the deserted ancient capital around it.

A good travel agent in Yangon can arrange an itinerary for you within hours. If you are outside Myanmar, it takes a little longer but they can also arrange, through faxes, a visa on arrival. Top-end hotels in Mandalay are the Mandalay Hill Resort Hotel at the foot of Mandalay Hill and the fully serviced Sedona Hotel. In Bagan, you could stay at the beautifully landscaped Bagan Hotel or the Thiripitsaya Sakura, which has rooms and bungalows.

Myanmar Travel Agencies

Diethelm Travel. 1 Inya Road, Yangon. Tel: [95-1] 527-110, fax: 527-136, (e-mail: leisure@diethelm.com.mm or www.myanmar-tourism.com/diethelm.htm).
Tour Mandalay.Room 02-03, 2nd floor, Pearl Condominium, 1 Pearl Centre Kabu Aye Pagoda Road, Yangon. Tel. [95-1] 540-27, fax: 545-220, (e-mail: res@tourmandalay.com.mm).
Columbus Travel and Tours. 586 Strand Road, Yangon. Tel: [95-1] 221-881, (e-mail: tours@columbus.com.mm).
Exotissimo Travel. 0303 Sakura Tower, 339 BogyokeAung San Street, Yangon.
Tel: [95-1] 255-266, fax: 255-428, (e-mail: george@exotissimo.com or www.exotissimo.com).

Yangon Hotel Guide

(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips
(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips

DusitInya Lake. Tel: [95-1] 662-866, fax: 665-537, (e-mail: inyalake@dusit.com or www.dusit.com). From US$46.
Kandawgyi Palace Hotel. Tel: [95-1] 249-255, fax: 280-412, (e-mail:
fom@kandawgyipalacehotel.com.mm or www.kandawgyipalace.com). From US$80.
Grand Plaza Park Royal. Tel: [95-1] 250-388, fax: 252-478, (e-mail: enquiry@parkroyalhotels.com.mm or http://yangon.parkroyalhotels.com). From US$100.
Hotel Nikko Royal Lake. Tel: [95-1] 544-500, fax: 544-400, (e-mail: nikko@nikkoyangon.com.mm or www.nikkoyangon.net). From US$100.
MyaYiekNyo Royal Hotel and City Club. Tel: [95-1] 548-310/17, fax: 548-318/19, (e-mail: zayco@mptmail.net.mm or www.myayeiknyo.com). Double rooms from US$45.
Savoy Hotel. Tel: [95-1] 526-289, fax: 524-891, (e-mail: res-savoy@myanmar.com.mm or www.savoy-myanmar.com). From US$85.
Sedona Hotel. Tel: [95-1] 666-900, fax: 666-911, (e-mail: rsv@sedona.com.mm or www.sedonahotels.com.sg). From US$90.
The Governor’s Residence, Yangon. Tel: [95-1] 229-860, fax: 228-260, (e-mail: yangon@orient-express.com or www.governorsresidence.com). Rates from US$140, including breakfast and transfers.
The Strand. Tel: [95-1] 243-377, fax: 243-393, (e-mail: info@thestrand.com.mm or www.ghmhotels.com). From US$450.
Traders Hotel. Tel: [95-1] 242-828, fax: 242-800, (e-mail: thyn@shangri-la.com or www.shangri-la.com). From US$80.
Sedona Hotel Yangon. Tel: [95-1] 666-900, fax: 666-911, (e-mail: rsv@sedona.com.mm or www.sedonahotels.com.sg). From US$95.

(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips
(Myanmar) – Hanging on in Yangon (Rangoon) – Travel Tips

Mandalay Hotels

Mandalay Hill Resort Hotel. Tel: [95-2] 35638, fax: 35639, (e-mail: mdyhill@mptmail.net.mm or www.mandalayhillresorthotel.com). Rates from US$100.
Sedona Hotel Mandalay. Tel: [95-2] 236-488, fax: 236-499, (e-mail: bc.shm@sedona.com.mm or www.sedonahotels.com.sg).

Bagan Hotels

Rates from US$45, with junior suites from US$55 off-peak. Internet available at the business centre only.
Thiripyitsaya Sakura Hotel. Tel: [95-61] 600-48, fax: 600-33, (e-mail: thiri@myanmar.com.mm or www.bagan-thiripyitsaya-sakura-hotel.com). Rates from US$50 to US$100 for doubles, depending on the season.

(Smart Travel Asia)

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