We had been enjoying Kuala Lumpur for the second time, becoming almost locals of Chinatown while we sorted our visa out for the next country in our travel plans, Myanmar.
On our last few nights in KL, we had a fantastic time with a really nice Scot’s lad we bumped into one night, Chris Duffy from Lanark, who was en route home from Perth, Australia. Chris is a Bluenose – we all have problems I suppose, not as bad as this granted – but regardless, one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. Chris had a 6am flight in the morning but kept extending his bedtime by an hour at a time as we were all having such good fun. So at 2am, he decided that he wouldn’t sleep that night and would just go straight to the airport. Chris seemed indignant that the early morning flight was not a problem. We were completely bamboozled when we walked up the road in the afternoon the next day to see Chris sitting out in the sunshine, sunshades on, relaxing and necking a beer with not a care in the world. Chris told us he put his head on the pillow for a quick snooze, and woke up at 3pm the following afternoon. He had booked another flight for the next day, so we had another night together, and Chris was sensible this time – only staying up until 1.30am. It was strange being in KL at times, for some reason I was always expecting to see Lyndon at the bar on the rooftop. I was obviously missing him.
Our flight was at 4pm, but we were up early to get some more US Dollars, as in Myanmar, there are no ATM’s or credit card facilities, so you just have to ensure you have enough money. We almost missed our flight as we were told that all flights had been delayed by 2 hours. We ordered some drinks and chilled, waiting on the call for the Yangon flight. It’s just one of those things where you feel the need to double check something, so I got up and asked a guy with an England top on if the Yangon flight had been called – when he pointed to the Yangon gate which was now empty, I rushed across, and was told I had one minute until the gate closed. I sprinted back to the bar, grabbed our gear and told Michelle to get her skates on. In the panic, I had to leave a full pint of lager behind. We tried our best to get to the gate, getting frantic as large groups of people blocked our path – thankfully, we made it just in the nick of time. We sat on the plane breathless. I still think about that wasted freshly poured pint of lager even now.
We landed in darkness about 2 hours later and were dropped off by taxi at the White House Hotel, dumped our bags and headed straight out into the city. You always need at least a day and a bit to get your bearings with any new place, especially a big sprawling city like Yangon, but it’s very difficult to do at night especially with very poor street lighting. We had a Thali curry at a small café before heading back to the rooftop bar at the hotel. We were only on our first beer when I noticed this huge amazing gold coloured Stupa dominating the skyline. It looked about the size of the Eiffel tower, completely lit up and shimmering in the blackness of the night. We were advised this was Shwedagon Paya and so this was immediately on our agenda for things to see.
Walking around next day, I could say that Yangon is not a pretty city in comparative terms, but there is a certain amount of charm, and all you need is a bit of imagination to visualise how this place would have looked in days gone past. Some of the streets remind me of London, if only for a lick of paint on those huge classical looking buildings. The place is a bit tatty, but what grab’s you immediately, are the warmth and friendly smiles from all the locals as you walk through the streets. You really feel very safe.
We stopped off for a break and some Chinese Tea on a street corner in the shade. We pulled out our little pocket sized magnetic chess set and played as we cooled down watching the world go by. We were frequently distracted by friendly locals curiously intrigued by the game and happily smiling with each successive move. The vibe was really starting to feel good, and we had overcome any reservations or concerns about this new unfamiliar setting within the space of 24 hours. When we got up to move on, and gestured to pay the bill, the “Tea Lady” was happily smiling and laughing and refused to take any money, telling us the tea was free. Obviously, there was no way Michelle and I would accept this situation. It became a bit like old friends fighting to buy the next round, and on realising this, the “Tea Lady” reluctantly pulled the smallest from a bunch of notes in my hand, put her hands together in a prayer like fashion and bowed, refusing to make anymore eye contact. We had just paid 10 pence for a pot of tea – refilled twice. It always helps when you’ve got film star looks, but that aside, we were instantly beginning to like the place.
We visited the Shwedagon Paya around 4pm so we would get the benefit of seeing it during the day, and watch it change into glorious shimmering floodlit gold as the sun went down. Michelle managed to befriend a happy smiling Buddhist monk as he explained all about the Stupa and pointing out significant points of interest. This landmark is over 2500 years old, 100m tall, and as well as being covered in gold, is encrusted with over 5000 diamonds.
Sakura Tower is a big skyscraper tower block with a rooftop bar and expansive views across the city – so that was on the agenda for the following day. The views were terrific, and at night we went down to the harbour for a meal and a few drinks at the Junior Duck restaurant, sitting on the roof terrace watching all the large ferry boats take all the locals back and forward over the Yangon river. As the sun went down, the sky changed various hews of red and orange.
We spent 3 days getting familiar with Yangon while devising our intenary for the next 28 days or so. Back at the hotel rooftop, we met Sofia and Carina, two absolutely lovely girls from Holland who were travelling with a really nice guy, Rudi from France. They had almost the same plan as us, we were all going to head by overnight bus to Bagan, although the girls would arrive a day behind us. The bus would leave at 4pm and arrive at 5am next morning. We were joined by Rudi and shared a taxi to the bus station. The bus would be snaking around mountain roads for the next 13 hours in the dark of night, but we managed to get an hour or so of daylight at the start of the journey to get a feel for the Myanmar landscape – rustic, rural, and extremely beautiful.