Hello, greetings from Yangon, which is HOT. I had contradicting news about the existence of Internet cafes, but luckily, there are quite a few in Yangon and despite what Lonely Planet says, even hotmail is available. Not from every terminal, but from some.
I flew with Qatar Airways, that I only used so far once, when flying to Nepal and that flight was my best ever. It was again a very pleasant journey, with personal screen for each passenger, various games to play, 3 types of main courses to choose from and the best of all, only half-full planes, so I could have a whole row for myself and sleep. The only problem is that we all had to get out for a 2 hour transit halfway through the journey, in Doha, but that's all the bad side.
I was a bit excited not having a visa (no embassy in Hungary), but I arranged a "visa on arrival" on the Internet. It sounded a bit unbelievable, but it came true, that a lady called Mie Mie was waiting for me at the airport and game me all the stamps I needed. She also arranged for a cab driver to town for 6 USD. The cab was an old vehicle, but the driver was friendly and he even stopped with me to change money at a black market dealer - in a small dark room with a ventilator and six cats, but I got very good rates.
My hotel is OK, although the room is very smelly because of an insect repellent. I can survive. I only had time for a short walk and a light dinner on my first evening. It is not easy to walk around at night as the streets are not lit, and the roads and pavements are in terrible condition. There is litter everywhere, and the houses are rundown as well. The people, however, pay attention to their clothes, they dress nicely and very clean. The men wear long skirts with nice white shirts that I find quite pretty on their narrow hips despite the cheap plastic flip-flops they all wear.
I slept 14 hours and could get up around noon on Sunday. Even then I was not full with energy, could only walk a few blocks down to a church, then rested for about an hour on its steps. Then I slowly walked to the other side of the street to a Chinese restaurant to sit and watch the streetlife some more. I moved later on to the Strand Hotel, which was built in 1901 and was once the nicest hotel in the continent. Even now, the royalties and celebrities still stay here while in Yangon. I had a chocolate cake for 12 USD, my most expensive cake ever, but well worth it. The grand teak doors, the dim light through the curtains, the chandeliers and the quietly moving waiters with the tea pots made a perfect colonial atmosphere. I just wished the loud German tourist-group was not there to ruin it all.
In the evening the group arrived and they look quite all right. We are 12, half male, half female, all singles. Luckily, a boy and a girl are friends, so they share a room, so the company had to pair up five ladies. There are two elder ones, and two in the 20s, so it came natural that I get the single room. For free, yep! A Canadian, an Irish, a Swiss, three British, five Aussies and myself - a good mix.
We had sightseeing in the capital today, visiting the main temples, most importantly the Shwedagon Paya, with its 16 tons of gold. Quite a sight. I just could not get enough pictures there... .
On my last evening I distributed a big stack of National Geographic on the street to young people speaking or learning English. This is a very useful present in a country where everybody is keen to learn English and love to read, but English literature is scarce. But do not bring political magazines, that is prohibited as well (Times, etc). It was great to bring those magazines as not only I made many youngsters happy, but my bag is now one third lighter...plenty of space for souvenirs!
We travel to Kyaiktiyo from the capital - 6 hours by bus, then 1 hour on a truck with 41 people (no, not camion, a truck!), then 1 hour steep uphill walk. The site is famous about a rock balancing on the hill and seemingly falling off any minute, but it is there for centuries, held by a hair of Buddha (according to the legend). We could not see it as it was just being re-gilded with gold. We stayed in a little hostel up in the hill, then next morning the same journey down. If we thought the previous day that 41 is too many in a truck, we realized, we were wrong as now we were 50. Packed as sardines..
We then moved on to Bago, to visit some pagodas, and then by train to Mandalay. I chatted with our cute little tour-guide, who is 24 and has no girlfriend. He says it is because he has darker than usual skin and in Asia, the whiter the skin the better. I could not believe this as I think he is Mr Burma, so cute and smart and lovable. He is from a rich family, his granddad married a woman in Australia so can support the family. So he can get foreign news, which is not easy as a computer is 1000 USD and a satellite dish is 500 in a country with average wage of 50 USD. So if you have money, you can see and read BBC or whatever. Our tourguide - similarly to all others - does not like to talk about politics. They all love the Lady, as they call Aung San Suu Kyi, but do not discuss it any further.
Many countries and people boycott Burma because of the military regime in power, but I think it makes no sense not to visit. With some attention, it is possible to spend money in a way that 80% goes to the locals and only some necessary (visa fee, tax) to the government. Plus the locals love that we are here - tourism is one of the very few private business available for many.
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