Myanmar/Burma: money shot

These are the most common bills (divide by 1000 for approx dollar value)  – note the Burmese numerals in addition to Roman numerals. I’d say the Burmese numerals were more common on anything not oriented to tourists.
There are no coins, no vending machines.


Tip: pay attention when using ATM’s or you might miss what the error message is. In the airport, the ATM had communication errors once, but worked upon retry. The maximum withdrawal seemed to be K300,000/$300.

Tip: international ATM’s are slowly spreading, inc inside Shwedagon Paya (pagoda) and Nyaung  She (Inle Lake).

Myanmar/Burma: power

In my hotel were fancy surge protectors for each of the A/C, TV and fridge. On the street were lots of relatively quiet generators.

I experienced power outages in Inle Lake, but not in Yangon.
No power, in no Wi-Fi, no internet.

Tip: have a flashlight! Handy on poorly lit streets too, given the absence or disrepair of sidewalks, not to mention holes and raised things to trip on.


Myanmar/Burma: insurance on train ticket

So on my sleeper train ticket, the K12,750/$12.75 price included K3.86 for insurance.
That’s $0.00386, ie less than half of one cent.
I have to wonder two things:
a) just how much would that actually pay out?
b) should I lose confidence in the train safety if they don’t have much themselves?


Singapore Airlines: German Monty Python

Singapore Airlines has quite the entertainment system, with a good interface, including 289 movies and 459 TV shows, grouped into categories (eg for movies: new releases, European, Chinese, world, kids, arthouse, favourites, documentary, design film fest and stage performances inc 2x Cirque du Soleil – I hadn’t heard of Quidam), inc this month a Robin Williams tribute, and Monty Python.

I had no idea that in 1971 Monty Python wrote and performed a (mostly) exclusive episode for German TV, inc a German version of the classic Lumberjack Song (see below, video to follow, though subtitles weren’t totally accurate). I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes.
Side note: John Cleese and Michael Palin spoke German well in the show.

If you’re a fan, you know the words so you can mostly get a free German lesson here, though some words are different by necessity (I left out the chorus)…

Ich bin ein Holzfäller
Und fühl mich stark
Ich schlaf des Nachts
Und hack am Tag

Ich fäelle Baume
Ich ess’ mein lunch (Brot – in the chorus)
Ich gehe auf das WC
Am Mittwoch geh’ ich shopping
Kauf’ Käkse zum Kaffee

Ich fäelle Baume
Ich hüpf’ und spring’
Steck’ Blumen in die Vas’
Ich schlüpf’ in Frauenkleider
Und dümmle mich in Bars

Ich fäelle Baume
Trag’ Stöckelschuh
Verstrumpf und Büsenhalter
War gern ein kleines Mädchen
So wie mein Onkel Walter

Myanmar/Burma: Yangon airport departure

I budgeted an hour to the airport, but it was almost 70 minutes leaving my downtown hotel at 8:00 this morning.
It was K8,000/$8 as that businessman had told me in the plane on arrival, but this was the only time I paid that little.

Singapore Airlines recommends 90min prior arrival, I made it at 70 at the checkin counter, after passing through a baggage X-ray and metal detector just to get into the checkin hall.

Immigration was quick and painless upstairs, and after changing my last kyat for SGD, now I’m in the little multi-airline lounge.

They have Wi-Fi, a guy running an espresso machine (cup a cappuccino!), a self-serve fridge with water/soda/beer, and a little buffet of snacks. Including Pringles (2 flavours no less).

Myanmar/Burma: a day on the lake

K20,000/$20 for the boat (seats 5) for the day (without Inn Dein it would be cheaper, but that add on is worth it).  The boats seem to follow a similar route, with the workshops and restaurants varying by driver.

Left at 7:00, when the sun was behind the mountains, my thermometer showed 16C and I could see my breath.

Actually there was mist and smoke and clouds for the first hour, where other boats appeared suddenly out of nowhere in an otherworldly scene, and the sun wouldn’t really comes out for another hour (this doesn’t happen every day).

The boats have 5 chairs set single file, each with a cushion and a life jacket as the seat back cushion. I also received a blanket to use, which I used despite wearing long pants, socks, a T-shirt, light sweater, jungle shirt, hat and buff around my neck. The lake water is cold, and so is the air above it.

It takes a good 20 minutes down the river from town to even reach the open lake, which has a very wide “shoreline” of floating vegetation.

In a nutshell I saw:
1. Slow drive past local fishermen, famous for their leg rowing technique, who hammed it up for me with poses holding their large conical firm nets

2. Ywama (pronounced je-wama) – which no longer has a floating market for which it was famous (it was too crowded, so no it’s on land). It also has teal houses, which reminded me of the old west.
Today happened to be its turn for the rotating 5 day market, so it was busier than usual.
There were tribeswomen there with elongated necks (with the metal rings).

3. Inn Dein – 15 minutes up a river from Ywama, it has interesting ruined stupas on the edge of town, and a pagoda up the hill (easy walk up a covered trinket-stand lined walkway) which has some views and over a 1000 stupas. Yes a thousand. I could UK need them to be sure they weren’t exaggerating :-)

4. Silversmith shop. Brief English tour, not a must see.

5. Phaung Daw Oo Paya – island pagoda that is the holiest site on Shan state.
It has 5 little buddha statues that are now golden blobs as people keep adding a teeny bit of gold leaf (conveniently for sale) one person at a time.

6. Nan Pan – a winding drive through a fishing village on stilts. Not too many people around, the fishermen being out on the water, the kids in school, the women?

7. Lunch stop… In my case at Royal Palace, one of many restos on stilts, with slightly inflated tourist prices.
I enjoyed a nicely seasoned grilled whole fish Shan style (turned out to be tilapia) K4,500 + rice K500 + mixed fruit shake K1,500, and then I needed a can of Myanmar beer K1,500 – total K8,000/$8.

8. In Phaw Khone – weaving and loom workshop. Little explanatory tour was informative, the looms are interesting (klackity klack) but new to me was lotus plant fibre, more expensive than silk (a little coarser though).

9. Blacksmith workshop – mildly interesting, this one seemed to specialize in swords (no explanations)

I skipped the tobacco workshop…

10. Floating Gardens – there must be several square km of gardens set on dirt atop floating vegetation. The drive through is interesting, though colorful it was not – mostly green. Green tomatoes (the most common one, rows upon rows of staked tomatoes), green beans, green squash…

11. Nga Hpe Kyaung – island monastery with a huge wooden hall and old Buddha images from various forms of Buddhism), though it no longer has jumping cats (the monk who trained them to jump through hoops passed away last year).

By mid afternoon I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt (zip pants to the rescue!)

Returned a little before 16:00

Will repost next week with more photos!

Myanmar/Burma: train part 2 – over the mountains

This smaller milk run train from Thazi to Shwenyaung, over the mountains from 800′ above sea level to almost 4,000′. It took 10 hours, and arrived only 15 minutes late.

Live chickens – check (not by my seat though – I think it was in lower class).

Once out of the plains, the beautiful scenery changed from jungle to alpine forest (yes, pine trees!) before descending into the large valley.

Most stops in little villages were very brief but a few were 5-10 minutes long, giving time for a little stretch of one’s legs on the platform. The conductor kept an eye out for us 3 westerners to make sure we were back on the train, as did a local man who sat in my section of the train, with whom I shared some enjoyment of oddities.

Two hill towns in particular were no wider than one house next to the train platform before the hills dropped downwards, and the train had to backtrack a few hundred meters before continuing the journey as the station was on a short dead end side track.

At each station, a cadre of hawkers sold food and drinks, for much cheaper than in Yangon. For K100/$0.10 each at various stops I was able to purchase the following:
– small bag of yucca chips (plain or spicy)
– 2 avocados
– freshly made snack

This train only had 3 passenger cars and one cargo car: 2 of the cars were “upper class” which were padded Bechtel seating, 2 persons per side, with each pair of benches facing each other. “Lower class” was similar but unleaded and with people and more stuff in the aisles.

The rattling was much less severe, likely due to the slower speeds.

– get a forward facing seat
– get a seat on the left side of train is better (going east as described above)