Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memories of Myanmar!

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon
Entering the Pagoda
I still remember reading old Bengali novels where protagonists traveled to Rangoon. Since then I had developed an intriguing fascination for Burma, now Myanmar. But then Myanmar slipped into a state of political turmoil and I never got an opportunity to visit the country.

However things have started changing. The country is opening up. A revolution is waiting at its doorstep. Spot on time I had a chance to visit Yangon (Rangoon) during the last week to implement a project with the British Council, Myanmar.

At the first glance, it is no different from any other neighbouring Asian developing countries like Thailand, Indonesia or the Philippines. However, as you go deeper, things begin to look special. There is poverty yet you will not find beggars on the streets. People are hard-working yet warm, a rare combination. A handful of skyscrapers have cropped up here and there but small houses dominate the skyline. Red and yellow gulmohar trees line up along the winding streets.

The city is not yet “mall-nourished”. You could still find road-side vendors, small shops and local brands. It has its share of touristy spots. The Bogyoka Market for example is meant for the tourists. Therefore a little pricey. The small shopping joints scattered over the city are cheaper and ideal for buying local products. Being a shopaholic, I had to buy a small box with Burmese tapestry and two wooden statues.
Inside the Pagoda

Surprisingly enough, two-wheelers and tri-shaws are not allowed inside the city centre of Yangon. Every second car is a taxi. I was amazed to see the diverse range of taxis in the city, starting from air-conditioned limousines to frog-like japanese small cars to an almost ramshackle piece of an iron box with a functional engine and rolling tyres.

There is only one word to describe the local food - “awesome”. I loved it primarily because it has a lot of East Indian influence. Being a ‘Bong’ (from Calcutta) I was completely swayed by the taste of the fish and chicken curry and palm sugar pan cakes with coconut garnishing. “Indian and Burmese mangoes are the best in the world,” shared a local. I like both. However since I haven’t tasted mangoes from many other countries, I could not second this comment.

Local restaurants are cheap and tasty. You can have Burmese traditional food, Chinese noodles and soups, and Indian cuisine. I fell in love with the avocado juice from a roadside food stall. Shockingly, the durians don’t smell as pungent as I find them here in Singapore - but that didn’t inspire me to try one though.

On the last day of the workshop, I managed to steal some time to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. Its golden glittering top is probably the first thing you will see as your aircraft lands at Yangon. It looks like a golden mine from the top. It is also a nice kiss of memory as you take off. Inside, the Pagoda is so peaceful. You can spend hours sitting in a corner watching the moving reflections of the sun. Unfortunately I could not visit the Pagoda in the night. Friends told me it looks beautiful with the lights. So if you are planning a tour to Yangon, don’t miss it.

There are no ATM machines in Myanmar. Money changers are available in the city. Local currency is Kyats. However big places accept USD. People including hotels prefer cash payment. Make sure your notes are not creased, worn or marked.

Good news is, from 1st June onward, Myanmar will grant Visa On Arrival for the following 26 countries at Yangon International Airport - Brunei , Cambodia , Indonesia , Laos , Malaysia , the Philippines , Singapore , Thailand , Vietnam , Australia , China , Denmark , France , Germany , India , Italy , Japan , Korea , New Zealand , Norway , Spain , Sweden , Switzerland ,Taiwan , United Kingdom , United States of America.

So pack your bags and get set go! Destination Myanmar!

Bon voyage!!!


roberto said...

It is good to read what you say it is a direct testimony. Good to account for Myanmar visit as a tourist, Last year I was in Indonesia, and we are planning a trip for next year, perhaps Myanmar is among the places to visit. Thank you.
I will consult the Lonely Planet guide, again :)

Debasmita said...

I am sure you will like Myanmar.