Visiting Yangon in 2013

We arrived to Yangon International Airport where our pre-arrival visas where exchanged to a sticker in our passport. There was a little queue so the process from arrival to getting in to the arrival area took about 35 minutes. Remembering stories about the old days in Eastern Europe we thought it was fairly quick.
While we were standing in line for the last check of our papers we had a surprise. Just on the exit from the emigration control was a Burmese man standing with a cardboard sign with my name on it.

Marked stall in chinatown selling vegetables
Marked stall in chinatown selling dried fish

The man was in fact waiting for us, he willingly escorted us through arrivals, suggested where to change our $ to Kyaz, explained how to get to our hotel, carry our suitcases. As we were weary from traveling and knowing that we wanted a cap, we accepted to have the man arrange a taxi. He called to a 7-12 years old Toyota, helped with placing the luggage in the boot and entered the passenger seat.

On the trip to our hotel, near the City Hall and Sule Pagoda, he explained that the ministry of tourism just recently had appointed him to be a tourist guide and that the ministry had given him our arrival information in order for him to sell guiding services to us. Further he told that the driver was one of his uncles, we accepted to pay $15 for the tour to the city – later we succeeded to get the same trip for $10-12.

The guide offered us to guide us around Yangon the next day. If we rented his uncles taxi for $75 he would do it for free, it was a Sunday, his day off, and he needed references on his ability to guide. We took the offer and agreed to meet at 7:30 AM, initially Mr. Bobo suggested 6:30 AM but as we didn’t know when the hotel served breakfast and as we like our sleep we got the ‘late’ appointment.

The Burmese society seems to be made up by early risers. Whenever you are going to travel domesticly – by bus, train, plane or boat – it seems to be the rule that you have to leave your hotel before dawn. In Yangon the benefit is that you avoid traffic congestion on the way to the station/airport/jetty and temperatures are quiet comfortable.

In 2013 the advise regarding accommodation in Yangon was to use the authorized hotels, but since several smaller hotels and guest-houses has emerged. If you want contact with Burmese it is easier when you are living in the guest-houses. And that accommodation can be found for less in the guest-houses does not make them any less attractive. The guest-houses we have visited have offered approximately the same experience as the hotels, maybe the breakfast has not been as rich as in the hotels, but you can get a start of the day. On the guest-houses we have been offered to have the breakfast in a box when we are leaving early.

The Burmese have not focused on learning English since the British left in 1948, so do not expect all you meet to be able to communicate in English. Burmese in their twenties seem to have taken interest in English and some are good speakers. There is apparently not many well qualified English teachers in the schools so they take to other means. Several times when we have talked with Burmese people they have told us that they have learned English from watching movies.

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