Saturday, 1 March 2008

Day 283 - Yangon (Myanmar (Burma))

Heading out of Dhaka was a bit of a shock, it was really busy with blockages at traffic lights that I could just about squeeze through, yet when I had travelled the same route just 2 weeks ago it had been surprisingly clear. Still, I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare and it soon became apparent that I had even more time than I thought as I was greeted by another delayed flight, this time 2 1/2 hours. Sod it! If the delay itself wasn't bad enough, it would mean that I would miss my connecting flight from Bangkok to Yangon. At checkin it soon became obvious that most other people on the flight had the same problems, but credit to Thai Airways they looked after us pretty well, they didn't even bother to charge me excess baggage. We were provided with a complimentary meal before the flight in a nice lounge, so I sat at a laid table and used a knife and fork for the first time in weeks. A Bangladeshi in a suite sat opposite me and provided the entertainment as he desperately struggled to use the knife and fork, the knife being hidden somewhere in his lap most of the time. I then tried to change my remaining Taka into Dollars, but I was told the only bank was downstairs, then told I couldn't go to it. I managed to get somebody to take me down, but then discovered the only banks were in the arrivals area so I still couldn't get to it. In the departure area I asked the guys on the telephones booths if there was a bank and they said they would change the Taka for me, but at a very poor rate, still I had no chance of changing it elsewhere. I got 45 dollars instead of the 60 I would have expected, handed over in a very shifty manner. I counted the notes which were correct but two 10 dollar bills looked a bit dodgey to me, but as I have never seen a fake I don't really know what I am looking for.The flight was pretty uneventful and once off at Bangkok I was told that I had been put on a flight for 8:15 the following mornings, then with a few others we were whisked off to a hotel, the Miracle Hometel, sounds naff, but is far better than anything else I have stayed in on the whole trip. Once in my room it was like all my birthdays had come at once, I didn't know what I wanted to do first, lie in the big corner bath with a nice headrest in the massive bathroom, lie on the crisp white bed with my head on the feather pillow and watch the large flatscreen TV hanging on the wall, or head for the expensive looking restuarant. Wow, more missed connections for me please! First I had the bath with a nice hot cuppa, then I had dinner during which time more passengers from the flight arrived, then went back to the room to find the lock had broken. It was immensely frustrating to be locked out out of a free luxury room while 5 members of staff spent over an hour to get the door open, oh well, such is life.

The following morning my 5am alarm call for the 6am shuttle came at 4:30. At 5:45 they rang and asked me to check out, then I was told to have breakfast, something I don't have to be told twice, especially when a full cooked breakfast is on offer. I wasn't really hungry, but it would have been rude not to do my best as there were another 5 staff and only me to make the wonderful buffet worth their effort. 6:15 came when they asked me what time I wanted to leave, `6 o'clock` I replied, but it was still another 10 minutes before me and one other left. The new airport at Bangkok is massive and state of the art. Like Heathrow it acts as a hub so was really busy, but the queues at immigration were a nightmare to the extent I was getting concerned I would miss the flight, so once through I dashed past all the massive duty free area only to find another big queue for security checking. If I waited I really would miss the flight and on asking to be helped through to the front I was just told I had to ask the other passengers, a great help. I walked up to the front and asked one guy if I could go in front, he just looked at me as though he didn't understand a word, so I took that as a yes, so thankfully I made it. A short one hour flight and we had at last landed in Yangon where immigration was really swift, as was baggage reclaim, well most of it. I collected all my bags, by which time most other people had gone, then went to outsize baggage, but no bike. I asked around and somebody went off to find it but came back empty handed. Every time I fly with a bike I half expect something to go astray and now it had. I filled out the forms at the Thai desk run by a women who didn't seem concerned at all, but when you are cycling to Australia it's a bit of a bugger if you haven't got a bike! So after being assured it would turn up in 24hrs I had to get a taxi into town. I checked in at a lodge and asked them to change a 10 dollar bill for the taxi fare and they confirmed my suspicion about the 2 notes by rejecting them both but at least I now know what to look for, but talking to others later it seems that the Burmese reject anything that isn't quite perfect. Yangon is only a short flight from Dhaka, but the changes are instantly noticeable. It's even hotter here for a start, I can't believe that 2 weeks ago I was huddled with others around a fire, now I have a permanent sweat. They drive on the right here, a surprise to me and something they changed to in 1970 to break away from what the Brits had implemented, though most vehicle still seem to have the steering where on the right too. The people and the language are also very different. For 3 months I have been in Indian/Hindu type cultures and languages, now it seems to reflect China and Buddism, the people looking and sounding very different. Around 9pm I got a phone call. There was only one person who knew where I was so it had to be good news, my bike had arrived at the airport.

So today I got the 7am free shuttle bus to the airport, so much for a lie in on the first day that I haven't moved on in 2 weeks. Thankfully somebody at the airport recognised me from yesterday and showed me where to go for the paperwork, somewhere I would never have found on my own, then he took me to customs which was in the domestic terminal, what a dump and another place I would never have found, but there was my bike, oh joy! I headed back into the city and with every bit of good news comes bad news. Thai Airways no longer fly from Mandalay to Chang Mai, so I checked out a couple of travel agents. You can only fly from Chang Mai to Mandalay, not the other way, so that means I have to do another round trip, so I will be in Myanmar longer than I expected or wanted to be. I also found out which roads tourists can travel on and its somewhat restricted. I think life here is going to be interesting. The rest of the day had been spent washing and then doing a bit of sight seeing. I was amazed how black the water was, even on the 2nd and 3rd attempts, when I did the washing. With it being so hot and sticky here I am going to have to do my washing more often than once a month!

I would have liked to stop another day here, but I will head off tomorrow as I am bound to have to wait a day or two for a flight when I get back. It's so much easier when you can cross the borders by road.

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