Our plane landed in Yangon International Airport at exactly 8 AM. Since we needed to head on to Bagan that same night, my friend and I rested a bit and exploited the airport’s modern amenities. We freshened up and changed clothes before going out into the city.
We planned (and even promised with our pinkie fingers) that this will be a true backpackers’ trip. We will try out everything local, from food stuff to public transportation. And daring to do anything that may come across as eccentric, once-in-a-lifetime or cheap. Yes, we were that serious.
|Me and Chie at Yangon airport upon our arrival|
Arriving in Burma, or Myanmar as it is called now, I felt giddy and nervous as I knew little about the country. But as I always do before going to a new place, I read and soaked up everything I can learn
about its history.
Burma may be considered as the youngest member among the ASEAN countries since it was just recently that they have opened to the rest of the world. A few years back, applying for a tourist VISA would be still be required. Thankfully, that has been lifted. So I found myself seeing vast plains of temples and rural life as authentic as it can get.
But our longing to finally lay eyes on Myanmar almost did not happen. Excited, we found ourselves eagerly falling in line at Air Asia’s check-in counter. We prepared our passports and tickets, hoisted our heavy bag packs accordingly and smiled at the friendly staff.
He smiled at us and politely asked where we will going after visiting Myanmar. I told him we are going to Bangkok from Mandalay. We will just stay in Myanmar for five days (unfortunately). He said that he could not check us in as an online visa was required for guests visiting Myanmar. I explained to him that for Filipinos, VISA has been lifted since last year and we need no visa of any kind.
He excused himself and went off to talk to his supervisor. While he was gone, my friend got a bit concerned as my heart began to thump nervously too. I was 100% sure that what he was talking was 100% non-sense as I come from a world of constantly-updated travelers. I was beginning to get impatient explaining to him that we were exempted when a lady colleague of his approached us and even acknowledged that it used to be that way but the rules have already changed.
I could have uttered expletives then but chose not to. My friend, ever a fast thinker that she is, was already formulating plan B if we were not allowed to embark.
I wanted to shove my passport in her face but of course that was just in my imagination. The guy who originally assisted us advised to use the self-in kiosk and to proceed directly to the boarding gate.
We breezed through the immigration and waited for our boarding for an hour. I constantly assured my friend that visa was not needed but of course I could not blame her to not be nervous. If there were last minute changes in their rules, our whole trip will be in chaos. We did not have extra money to re-book or make another purchase. We just had enough to cover our two-week expenses.
The more than two-hour plane ride was silent. I tried to get excited as soon as I sat in my seat but of course the main concern was if we will be able to pass through the airport immigration.
It was drizzling when we landed in Yangon airport. Their lobby was modern and clean and we immediately saw the ‘Visa on Arrival’ sign. It was mocking us, challenging our fate.
But I was right. No visa for us. We were exempted. We can already breathe.
Our first stop. Yangon.
When I saw my friend Jherson’s photos of the streets of Yangon, I knew I had to see it with my very own eyes. I am an old architecture lover and seeing these structures would definitely sate the history lover in me.Myanmar, from what I have learned, has been under British rule and gained independence a few years after World War II. With such a young independent history, it was no wonder that Yangon greeted us with this.
And with this.
And this too.
I have not fully explored the older streets as we lacked time. We need to secure our bus tickets for Bagan that same night. We had a quick tour of the surrounding places around Sule Pagoda. We were famished. We did not have breakfast. We looked for a place where we can eat and found a little nook. Their soup was the most delicious we have tasted in the whole of our trip. It became Chie’s favorite. And mine too.
With only half a day left, we decided to trim the places we will visit. We unanimously chose Shwe Dagon pagoda followed by the pretty Karaweik Palace which was situated by the lake.
Entrance to this shrine costs USD 8 or MMK 8000 (Myanmar’s currency is MMK pronounce as Chats). We caught a glimpse of its golden stuppa on our way to Sule Pagoda from the airport.
We had a full hour to explore the confines of the Pagoda. Locals and tourists alike were congregating in every corner. Local women singing songs of praise.
The complex was huge. But you can just sit down in one corner and people-watch. But of course the main attraction was the pagoda itself. It was magnificent to look at.
A full day in Yangon would suffice granting you know what you want to visit and your itinerary is all planned out. Yangon is a colorful town. I really liked staring at its old buildings. I swear.