South East Asia – Chapter 9 – Welcome!

I arrived safe and sound at the Myanmar International airport shortly after 5pm on August 16th. Originally scheduled to arrive at 8am, but a few hours later really wasn’t all that bad after all that mess!

Airport Welcome sign.
Airport Welcome sign.

It is a small, but clean and easy to navigate airport. There are no wrong turns to take. You follow the signs to passport control, straight through to get your baggage on the other side and then go through the green or red security depending if you have anything to declare.

My luggage had already nearly made it the full way around the conveyor belt when I got there, even though it was only a few minutes of waiting in the passport clearance line.

I quickly went and changed money at an exchange booth. We had been advised to bring new, crisp, US currency without tears, marks or bends. We had also been advised that changing money at the airport would be our best option. It can be done on the street, but the rate will not be as good.

I exchanged $400 US to last me my entire 10 days in Myanmar. When they handed me back 380 000 Kyat I think my jaw dropped. It’s a huge stack of cash. Hard to be inconspicuous with this hanging around!

Burmese Money
Burmese Money

Once I was through security (which took about 1 minute), I started looking through the handful of people with signs in hand with people’s names. It took me no time at all to find my sign and a petite young Burmese woman with a warm smile holding it.

She welcomed me to Myanmar and told me her name is Ickery (spelling?). She was warm and friendly from the moment I saw her across the room. She took me out to the front of the airport where we waited for our transfer driver. I was extremely surprised to see that the car was in excellent condition, new-ish and perfectly clean. I had definitely expected to be driving in older vehicles that were questionable and in need of repair, but surprisingly not!

After loading my luggage in the back, we were off!

Ickery explained that it would be about an hour drive because of traffic at 6pm at night. Along the way she pointed out many of the main sights of Yangon. Her English was far beyond what I expected. She was well spoken, easy to understand and excited to tell me about her country.

We passed by Inya Lake, the Shwedagon Pagoda (AMAZING), The University of Myanmar and other things I can’t recall because I was busy taking it all in.

I learned how to say a couple of words in Burmese (spelled phonetically, not correctly!):
Hello = mingunlaBaa
Thank you = teezooBee

I also learned that there are four types of license plates to watch for:
Red = taxi
White = embassy or diplomat
Blue = tourist
Black = personal

We arrived at the Aung Tha Pyay Hotel at about 6:30pm. It was dusk out. Ickery helped me check in, made sure I had the hotel’s business card in case I got lost and needed a taxi and then I went to my room to check in.

Aung Tha Pyay Hotel Yangon
Aung Tha Pyay Hotel Yangon

Ickery explained to me that the city is very safe, even for walking at night. She suggested I go to a restaurant called Monsoon (about 6 or 8 blocks away) for supper, but I decided to stay closer to the hotel at another spot she recommended that is a little local beer bar.

Beer Bar Yangon
Beer Bar Yangon

After spending an hour or so settling in to my room, I headed two doors down to the beer bar. It was nearly full, mostly with local men. It smelled of beer, was filled with loud voices and laughter and there seemed to be about 20 staff running around in this tiny little place.

I sat down and a lovely waitress came over to bring me a bilingual menu (thank goodness for that!). She spoke very little English, but we managed! It appeared that some of the other staff spoke a little more English than she did.

Bilingual Menu at Beer Bar in Yangon
Bilingual Menu at Beer Bar in Yangon
Chicken & Fresh Pineapple
Chicken & Fresh Pineapple

I was at the beer bar for about an hour in total. While I was there, one other tourist couple came in, but everyone else was local men. As I sat and observed everything around me, I was amazed how happy everyone was, how much laughter there was … mind you, I was at a bar at the end of the work day.

It was interesting to see that young children (5-10 years old) were running around helping out at the bar. They may not have been doing the most important jobs, but they were working.

It is common place for men to chew something (not sure what yet) that is red and then spit it out. By each table was a spit bucket. That’s kind of gross to me, but I guess I’ll have to get over it. Not all of the men were doing it but a couple of them were hawking up whatever it was and spitting with force into the bucket.

Everywhere I looked, people had lovely smiles and horrible teeth!

I was also really interested to try and learn the traits of Burmese people versus other Asians. Most of the ones who were sitting at the bar last night looked almost Indian. Many of the people on the streets though have been a cross between various Asian cultures. It is a really interesting mixture.

My meal cost me 2900 kyat which is about the equivalent of $3 US. I left the girl the remainder of my 5000 kyat. I’m not sure what the policy on tipping is here, but she seemed genuinely thankful.

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