Arrived at Yangon International Airport after 2 hour 35 minutes flight from Kuala Lumpur by MAS.
We were apprehensive that we might face some problem at the immigration as we were using online visa. However, to our surprise , immigration was fast and smooth. Immediately we looked for money changer to get some Myanmar Kyat at the airport. However many money changer did not accept MYR! But this is not surprising as our MYR has depreciated so much that many money changer are reluctant to accept our currency! Finally we found one CB Bank (Yun Xin said the name sounds rude! Haha…) which was willing to change for us at 297 Kyat(Ks or MMK) for 1 MYR.
Then we took a cab to our hotel at Midtown Yangon(10,000 Ks). When we boarded the taxi, I got a surprise as the car was moving at the right side of the road! I thought the driver had gone into the wrong lane! Then later I realized that the traffic system in Yangon is a bit different from ours. The car is right-hand drive but they are driving at the right side of the road. It is so inconvenient to overtake cars as the driver has to move the head to the left side to see whether there is any on-coming vehicle. Surprisingly traffic in Yangon is very congested as there are not many traffic lights to control the traffic.
Checked-in at Merchant Art Boutique Hotel at Midtown Yangon. Immediately we walked to Shwedagon Pagoda as this hotel is situated near to the Pagoda. We took about 13 minutes to reach the Pagoda by cutting through a Monastery which is quite a tough walk as it is going up a steep slope! We didn’t go into the Pagoda as it was still early and the floor could be quite hot as you need to remove your shoes when entering into the premises.
We had our first authentic Myanmar food at a food store nearby. Honestly I didn’t quite like it.
Then we walked to the People’s Square and Park before going back to the hotel via the main road as walking is the best way to see the place and the lives of the people there.
At around 4.30 pm, we walked again to the Pagoda. Entrance fee is 8000 Ks per pax.
Actually Shwedagon Pagoda has 4 gates: East, South, West and North gates. We entered through the North gate. Via any entrance also you need to walk up about 110 steps before reaching the Pagoda. Along the steps up to the Pagoda, there are traders selling all sorts of merchandise ranging from souvenirs to handicrafts, toys, joss-sticks and incense.
If you happen to find anything you wish to buy, just buy it as some of the items sold here cannot be found at any other places in Yangon. I saw a toy which I wanted to buy. Thinking that this place is a tourist attraction, the price must be higher than other places in Yangon. However, I tried to find in Bogyoke Aung San Market and China Town, but could not find the same item! The Pagoda is really grand and magnificent. It is the holiest Buddhist shrine in Myanmar. Going to Yangon without visiting Shwedagon Pagoda is just like haven’t been to Myanmar as the Shwedagon Pagoda is situated in the Midtown of Yangon! It is a 99 m tall gold plated stupa topped with diamond, built more than 2,500 years ago! It sits upon the holy Singuttara Hill. Day in day out, a lot of Buddhist devotees will pay pilgrimage to the Pagoda. Occasionally there will be some ceremony or rites going on at the Pagoda. We explored for about 2 hours at the Shwedagon Pagoda before taking a cab (2500 Ks) back to the hotel as it was dark already. We had dinner at the Friendship Restaurant nearby. Alas, the waiters and waitresses here cannot converse in English. We ordered steam fish and stirred fried gingko & vegetables. However, due to miscommunication, the steam fish never arrived. We waited for half an hour and still no sign of fish, then we asked them, they thought we asked for bill. ????
After breakfast, the driver and tour guide from Proniti Travel Yangon came to fetch us to Bago. We had pre-booked the tour via internet for USD257 per pax for a 2D1N tour to Bago to see the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda over the Golden Rock. This tour package includes 1 night stay at the Mountain Top Hotel, transport to Bago and up the Kyaiktiyo Hill as well as entrance fee to the Golden Rock. On the way we stopped at a few places like the Mon Village to see how cigar is packed, Htauk Kyant morning market, Shwe Thar Hlaung reclining Pagoda and also Kyaik Pun Four Face Pagoda.
We had lunch at the Speed Express Restaurant on the way to Bago.
Of course one of the dishes we ordered was tea-leaf salad, a popular traditional dish. It tasted good.
Finally we arrived at the base camp of the mountain at around 3.25 pm. To go up to the mountain, there is no other alternative but to take the truck. The truck can accommodate 42 passengers; of course it is packed like sardine! Fee is 2000 Ks. You can hardly move your body! Uphill journey is just like riding on a roller coaster with some 3600 turns along the way! Anyway, it’s a good experience. After 45 minute ride, we finally reached the truck station at the mountain. There are potters to help those who cannot walk up or need assistance to ferry their luggage to the hotel. Of course we walked to our hotel and checked into Mountain Top Hotel.
At around 5.15 pm, we hiked up to the mountain top to catch the sunset. Entrance fee to the Golden Rock is USD 6. We were not disappointed as we were able to catch the beautiful sunset glory! At the mountain top, you could take a panoramic view of the valley, enjoying the cool breeze at the mountain top. For men, you can purchase a piece of gold leaf for a price of 3000 Ks and stick to the surface of the rock. For women, you can purchase a bell at a price of 2000 Ks and hang at the fence around the Golden Rock to seek for prosperity and blessing. FYI, the Golden Rock was built in 574 BC. It is situated at an elevation of 1,100 m above sea level on top of the Kyaiktiyo Hill. However, the maintenance of the place especially the cleanliness is not so satisfactory. You need to remove your shoes while visiting the Golden Rock, but the floor is quite sticky. At the end of the tour, you will find the sole of your feet all black! So next time if you plan to visit this place, do remember to bring some wet tissues to clean your feet!
At night we had dinner at A1 restaurant just opposite the hotel. Anyway, there is not much choice of restaurants up the hill.
We were awakened early around 5.00 am in the morning by the blasting music coming from one of the shops opposite the hotel. Apparently there was a wedding ceremony going on at the shop that morning. I got to know it through our guide. It’s their tradition to hold wedding ceremony at the shop. Anyway, it didn’t bother us as we had also planned to wake up early to catch the sunrise at the hotel. Coincidently, our hotel room window is facing the east, so you can catch the sunrise at the hotel room; no need to go out to the hill side.
After breakfast, we checked out and went to the truck station. This time we were lucky as an Austrian couple chartered the whole truck for a fee of USD 100. Through arrangement of our guide and their guide, they were kind enough to allow us to take a lift from them. So this time we had the whole truck to ourselves!
Then we proceeded to Shwe Daw Paw Pagoda before visiting a potty workshop where they produce ceramic pots by traditional method. The next itinerary was a visit to Shwe Pyi Resort where there is a small park with some wood-crafts for sale and a lake where people can hire boats to ride on the lake. There is also an aircraft turned restaurant which is not open to public yet. It is still under renovation. Finally we reached Yangon and our last itinerary was a visit to Kan Daw Gyi Park at Downtown where you can get a far-away view of the Shwedagon Pagoda.
At around 5.00 pm, we checked into Hotel Grand United at 21st Street, China Town. After a short rest, we walked about 45 minute to Shwe Pu Zun, a famous local dessert outlet to try their faluda. This outlet is situated at Anawratha Road. This Myanmar dessert is made from sago, ice-cream, bread and milk. It’s quite delicious but a bit sweet; 1300 Ks per glass. Actually you can also get from other food outlets like Ice Berry at Junction Centre, a shopping mall at China Town. Dinner was KFC at Junction Centre. After that, we walked again to 19th Street, China Town. This street is the most vibrant and happening part of China Town, with a lot of European patronizing the various restaurants and bars.
After breakfast at the roof-top of the hotel, we walked again to the Central Train Station to experience the Yangon Circular Train. The train left at 9.25 am. It took us through the rural areas of Myanmar with large plots of paddy field and villages. Apparently, this train provides transportation for the rural folks. In the train, you can find peddlers selling all kinds of goods ranging from fruits, quail eggs, boiled corns to hot Myanmar tea. Do not expect to see beautiful scenery as you would find in Western countries or New Zealand. The train ticket is 200 Ks for a 2 hour 45 min ride through 38 train stops with a total distance of 45 km. There is a famous market at Dajingong Station. You may stop here to have a close look of the local produce ranging from fruits to vegetables at the market. But you need to purchase another ticket to go back to Yangon. We didn’t go down as the weather was very hot that day. So we went through all the train stations and were back at Yangon at around 12.05 pm.
Then we walked to Bogyoke Aung San Market to explore. This market boasts of having more than 1,100 shops selling souvenirs, clothing, paintings , jewelries especially made of jade as well as handicrafts. I find that most of the shops are selling jewelries and handicrafts. So we didn’t stay long, just bought some local woven cotton T-shirts for Kimberly. Leather goods lovers will be greatly disappointed as you can’t find any shop here selling leather goods! We walked back to the hotel again.
At around 5.00 pm, we walked to Sule Pagoda. FYI, Myanmar is a country which is famous for pagodas. Sule Pagoda is situated at a round-about Downtown. It is next to the City Hall and Maha Bandoola Garden. Here you find a lot of youngsters gather at the garden to relax. We didn’t enter Sule Pagoda as it is very much smaller compared to Shwedagon Pagoda. Entrance fee is USD 3. Anyway there were not many visitors there. Well it’s time for dinner. Had enough Myanmar food, so we decided to try Indian cuisine. So we walked to Nilar Beryani House which is famous for its biryani rice. Ok, we were not disappointed on the food served. In fact, it tasted better than our beryani rice back home in Johor Bahru! After dinner, we walked back to China Town to visit the night market before going back to our hotel.
It’s time to say good-bye to Yangon. After breakfast, we took a cab to the airport to catch our flight back to Kuala Lumpur ending our trip to Yangon.
We reached Kuala Lumpur at around 3.00 pm. However, our flight back to Johor Bahru was at 9.30 pm. So we had around 6 hours at the airport. We decided to go to Mitsui Premium Outlet at Sepang. So we went to gate 2 at the airport to board the free shuttle bus to the outlet. It took us around 10 minutes to reach the Premium Outlet. This outlet is an enclosed shopping mall. However, there are not many branded outlets there. We hung around for about two hours and took the free shuttle again back to the airport to catch our flight back to JB.
In a nut-shell, I would say it is a good experience to visit Myanmar as it is still not developed yet. In a few year time, everything will be different as there are a lot of construction and development going on right now.