Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Back to Burma

We are headed back to Myanmar (Burma) in November provided we get all the paperwork straight so, to get myself in the right frame of mind, I'm going to start typing up my journal from our January 2008 visit. It's going to be a quick job so please excuse typos and mangling of tenses.

Day 1 - January 6, 2008 - Kunming, China to Mandalay, Myanmar

Got up at 8:00 AM. Packed and headed over to McDonald's for usual b-fast: Egg-Mcuffin, waffles. 2 hash browns, and two cups of the "gourmet" coffee. All for 25 RMB (about $3.50 US).

Mailed book to to Melanie in Shanghai. Checked out.

10:10 AM. A very short - 15 minute, 17 RMB - ride to the airport. Kunming is fairly compact.

No hassles checking in or de-immigrating, although we "lost" our water bottle. Not allowed if containing water. Hmm.

Walked around a bit at the gate. Mostly souvenirs for sale.

It was announced that our China Eastern flight - MU2029 - was late so we would be served our meal at the gate. And it was a meal. At the gate. We lined up for our utensils, plates, and a tray, and received a meal with lots of meat, fish balls, cauliflower, and rice, and ate it right at the gate in those gate chairs. But not the meat or fish balls.

However, the flight was only 5 minutes late and we received another meal on the plane during the 2-hour flight. Strange. But I'm always ready to eat.

The plane was small - about 20 rows of 4 - and half full. I had a window with a magnificent view of The Hump. The Himalayas were awesome.

The Mandalay Airport - code MDL - is about 45 kms from town. I'm always nervous when visiting a "one party" country for the first time, but we had no problems with immigration, checked bags, or customs. In fact, I tried to declare my $2100 US dollars as $2000 is the "undeclared" limit, but the woman behind the counter just laughed.

"Two thousand one hundred dollars. Don't worry.....RMB?....Don't worry....Camera. OK."

The whole experience was very laid back.

We met a woman, Unni, from Norway in the immigration line and shared a taxi, $6 each, to the Royal City Hotel. Unni had recently been to Romania and had way more than $2000 to declare. We pumped her for information on Turkey, Iran, and Syria. All highly recommended by Unni.

The ride was worth $6 says Sun-Ling. Lots of local color. Bullock carts piled high with hay. Overloaded buses. And as we reached the city we saw a funeral procession, two blocks long with 50 vehicles, for a famous Buddhist monk. First, older monks in sedans. Then younger monks in pickup trucks. Then several decorated floats, one with lots of flowers that carried the body. Then many buses full of the remaining mourners.

After an hour's ride we arrived at the Royal City Hotel: No. 130, 27th Street, Between 76th and 77th Street. A modest but very clean 7-story, narrow, hotel. We get a back corner room, #203, at $19 per night with breakfast included. Awesome.

The weather was sunny and dusty at 26 C.

The Royal City Hotel does not change money, but pointed us to the Unity Hotel, Central Hotel, and Seven Diamond Travel Agency, all across the railroad tracks in the central downtown district, about a 5 block walk.

We changed money at Seven Diamond Travel at 1250 kyat per dollar. Kyat is pronounced "jet" or "chat" depending on your tongue shaping abilities. Haha. We changed $100 and now have125, 1000-kyat bills. Yikes! That's a pile.

Walked back to the RCH. Bought a 1L H2O @ 300 Kyat (about 25 cents) on the way back. The route took us by the Mandalay Place Moat. John said knowingly, as he had read the Lonely Planet Myanmar, "That moat was rebuilt several years ago with slave labor." Sun-Ling quickly replied "All moats are built with slave labor." Good point...... The original moat was most likely built with forced labor also. But not to make light of the folks who were recently forced to work on the moat.

Also checked out ACME Internet Cafe - 1000K per hour.

About 4:30 we walked up to the roof top terrace. We could have ridden the elevator but there was no electricity. More on that later. Wow! Great views to Mandalay Palace and Mandalay Hill, and a mixture of Hindu Temples, Churches, Mosques, Clock towers, and Buddhist stupas, and modern buildings that make up the skyline. Wow!

Spent an hour watching the city as the sun went down. An odd kite or two, a little fire across the street, a small religious procession with triangle and gong, the neighborhood kids, some electricians up in a utility pole, and a multitude of clocks that struck 5PM more or less at the same time.

There are mosques but no call to prayers. Hmm. Later we find out that there are no broadcast call to prayers in any town we visit on this trip.

Then out for dinner at Marie-Min Vegetarian restaurant, recommended by LP and just down the street. We have 2 chapati, aubergine dip, tofu and watercress, potato curry, samosas, 1 L H2O - all for 7400 Kyat, about $5 - on the 2nd floor balcony.

The restaurant has an antique shop on the 1st floor with an additional 2 floors across the street. Lots of boxes, puppets, and Buddhist figures. The eggshell lacquer box - $22 - caught Sun-Ling's eye but no deal.

Then on to ACME Internet Cafe where we spent 1500K to surf the Internet for 45 minutes each. Even though we had read that it was nearly impossible to get to websites outside Myanmar, I was able to reach Facebook, Gmail, and Flickr. Sun-Ling got to Hotmail and Yahoo mail - all through Firefox with a proxy of some sort. It was very slow but I did get several gmails out and one short blog post to meckleyearth.

Back to the hotel. A quick trip to the rooftop. The electricity in Mandalay appears to be sporadic. We heard many generators. The city is NOT lit up at night.

SLHOTD: Funeral procession
JHOTD: Clearing Immigration and Customs.

The Hump
The Hump - Kunming to Mandalay

Royal City Hotel - Room #203
Royal City Hotel - Mandalay, Myanmar Burma

Mandalay Palace Moat
Mandalay Palace Moat - Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

Electricians up a pole
Power Company Guys - Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

Watching the fire across the street
View - Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

Mandalay at night Mandalay At Night

The Procession

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