I woke up at 4:30am on August 17th and couldn’t seem to get back to sleep. I guess jet lag had me on weird hours. Could have been worse though. I dilly dallied around until about 6:00am when I decided to get out of bed and get my day pack ready to go exploring.
At 7am I headed down to the lobby for breakfast. While I was waiting for my food, we heard a bit of commotion outside and I could see a row of young monks walking by in their pink and orange robes, each carrying their silver container. I ran outside to see what was going on (typical tourist).
The row of monks stopped about two doors down from the hotel and stood in a line while someone from a nearby truck did some announcements. I really wasn’t sure if I should be photographing them or not, so I didn’t. When they didn’t leave right away, I went back inside my hotel to ask at the front desk if it was ok to photograph them and they told me yes. So, I walked to the front of the line of young monks and moments later, they started walking again. I turned my go-pro toward them and recorded them while they walked by. (or not, apparently I didn’t have it set on video so I got Nothing! boo me).
I went back into the lobby to eat my breakfast which consisted of three pieces of toast, two large slices of delicious watermelon and two barely cooked eggs.
Then, I headed out on a mission to find the Sule Pagoda which was only a few blocks away.
Here’s a quick video of what the streets in Yangon are like at around 8am on a Saturday morning. This was after I had gone to photograph the Pagoda and I was on my way back to the hotel.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was super excited this afternoon to open up my mailbox and find that my passport had once again been returned safely through Canada Post – Xpresspost. This time, with my Myanmar Visa inside!
Yay! It’s really happening!
I now have both my Vietnam and Myanmar visas, so I’m legally allowed to travel to these countries. The Cambodia visa I will get at the border and Thailand doesn’t require one for stays of less than 15 days.
Don’t get me wrong. I still have a lot of things to do / buy / decide / get ready … but with my passport back in hand, I’m ready!
Here’s what the visa looks like (of course I blocked some of the information out).
So far in my travels of 12 different countries I’ve been very lucky to not have to apply in advance for any visas. In fact, being a Canadian citizen makes us very lucky as there are fewer visas that we need to enter many countries. I guess technically in the Dominican Republic I probably had a tourist visa as I was there for 7 weeks and I feel like I also had a tourist visa for the Galapagos Islands, but both were done right at the airport. You paid for them, and then went on my way.
Now I’m entering a new realm of travel …. South East Asia …
Burma – Visa needed in advance
Vietnam – Visa needed in advance
Cambodia – Visa needed – pay for it at the border when you enter the country
Thailand – No visa required for stays under 30 days if you fly in, or for up to 15 days if you travel overland from a neighbouring country (which is what I will be doing).
At about 11-12 weeks before my departure, I called the Burma Embassy to ask for the requirements / application and fees. The nice lady said she would send it out be email, which I promptly received.
I also called the Vietnam Embassy to get the requirements and they pointed me in the direction to print the application form.
It took me at least two weeks to get around to having my six passport photos taken and filling out the applications. Now, I can only send one application at a time because each one has to have my physical passport at the Embassy to place the visa inside. I must admit, I’m excited to see what they look like, but sending your passport away via mail is SCARY! Of course, it is sent by Xpress post or FedEx so that you can track it, but still … it’s a little scary. And, because they have your passport, you can’t do any out of country traveling while you are applying for visas. Not really an issue for me, but I can see it being an issue for someone who regularly travels to the US on business, or people who live in border towns and shop ‘over across’ on a regular basis. No passport = no other country than Canada for that period of time.
On June 20th, I made my way to Canada Post to get the required money order for payment of the Vietnam visa in the amount of $93. I had the paperwork filled out and the required passport photo, so I was all set. The directions clearly said to send it via courier and include a return pre-paid courier envelope (preferably FedEx).
So, off I went downtown to FedEx. I explained the situation to the staff member and he told me firmly that FedEx does not do any kind of prepaid return envelopes. That I could not in any way purchase something and pay for it in order for them to send me back by passport. I tried to explain that the visa application specified FedEx, but he stood his ground and told me I would have to do it by Canada Post.
I nearly lost it. But, I took a deep breath, walked out and returned to Canada Post. They were more than happy to help me both send the package and include a prepaid return envelope … both of which are trackable. Phew!
20 minutes late arriving to work that morning, but seeing as the trip is part work, I guess that will be forgiven.
Now the waiting game is on. They say 10 business days from the time they receive the application. So, here’s hoping that I will have my Vietnam visa in my hands by July 9th or 10th. I then quickly have to turn around and send off for my Burma / Myanmar visa that same week as it takes up to 15 business days. Yikes! That’s cutting right in to the beginning of August and I leave on August 14th.
I already have my money order for $30 purchased, although they could only fit TO: Embassy of Myanmar on it, not the required ‘Embassy of the Union of the Republic of Myanmar’. Hope that doesn’t cause any problems, but there’s simply not room for all of that on the Money order! Just a matter of finishing the application, getting a letter from my employer and heading back to good old Canada Post to send everything off.
This stuff is a little bit stressful! Sending your passport by mail … running around … paying the visa fees, the courier fees and the return courier fees as well. So much easier if you live in Ottawa and can just hand deliver everything to each Embassy. And, then, the worst part is the waiting … is everything filled in correctly? Are they going to approve the visa or will it be declined for not dotting an I or crossing a T somewhere along the way.
I sure hope it all works out in the end because I only have seven weeks to departure! Yikes!
Earlier this year on social media I spent some time talking about how much I wanted to do a cycling trip in Vietnam or Burma. I even joined the gym and started biking. Yay me! You know … until it wasn’t YAY me anymore and I fell off the work out train just like 75% of people who join in January.
Well, I’m still going once or twice a week … I guess that isn’t horrible. And, I’m trying really hard to get back in to it for the next 8 weeks before I head out on my first ever trip to Asia.
So, why Asia?
Initially it started with an interest in Vietnam. Funny enough, not the history which is what Vietnam is often noted for. I was interested in the amazing photo opportunities and I had heard that cycling through the countryside in Vietnam was breath taking. So, Vietnam went to the top of my wish list.
Then, through work at The Adventure Travel Company I began to take an interest in Burma. It’s a country that has only opened up it’s borders in the past few years to tourists and is just slowly gaining enough stability for people to want to travel there.
Near the end of March, I found out about a great opportunity to go Burma on an agent trip. It’s not free, but it is discounted and it sounded like an amazing adventure to a place that is little known and not well traveled. I put in my application and was immediately accepted and my place was held.
Then I took off to lead the Peru Through the Lens photo tour for two weeks and didn’t have time to think about my ‘next’ adventure because I was busy living an adventure. Tough problem to have don’t you think?
As soon as I returned from Peru, I confirmed my spot on the Agent trip to Burma with Tucan Travel and a few weeks later, booked my International flights. All the while, trying to figure out what else to do in Asia! There was NO WAY I was doing 24 hours of travel time in each direction just for a 9 day trip in Burma. Despite how fantastic those 9 days are going to be … I wanted to make the most out of my international air fare and excruciating travel time!
Since Vietnam was at the top of my list, I decided I would go there as well … and the hunt was on for the perfect trip that would fit within my dates.
I searched high and low … Tucan Travel, G Adventures, Intrepid, Travel Indochina … Nothing seemed to fit my dates and my desire for Vietnam. Through all of the searching, repeated trips including Cambodia came up and I started looking more closely at them because I wasn’t having much luck with just Vietnam. And then, I fell in love with the idea of visiting Angkor Wat. After a lot of searching through trips with different companies and trying to match them up with my dates, here is my itinerary for my super South East Asia trip this summer.
August 14 – Depart Halifax in the morning.
August 15 – Arrive Bangkok, Thailand close to midnight.
August 16 – Transfer from the International airport to the regional airport for my early morning flight to Yangon. Check into my hotel and sleep. Hopefully I’ll have enough energy to explore a little as well, but mostly, sleep.
August 17 – 25 – Blissful Burma – Tucan Travel – Agent Trip
August 17 – No planned activities – Explore at leisure.
August 18 – 19 – Shwedagon Pagoda / Overnight bus to Mandalay. Mingun / cruise up the river. Yadanabon market.
August 20 – 21 – Guided bike tour of the Temple ruins of Bagan. Optional hot air balloon ride at sunrise or sunset. (This is not optional for me … it is the part I am most excited about. I may even pay to do it at sunrise AND sunset!)
Aug 22 – Visit local villages and the Elephant Conservation Centre where I’ll get to wash and feed the elephants. EEEEEEEEKKKKKK! I’m super excited about this. There’s also opportunities to ride the elephants and trek into the jungle with them.
Aug 23 – Inle Lake visiting floating gardens and sampling local tea. Visit markets and a cheroot factory.
Aug 24 – We fly to Yangon and spend time exploring the markets, colonial buildings and the Yangon river. We also return to the Shwedagon Pagoda to see it illuminated at night.
Aug 25 – I will depart Yangon and fly to Bangkok. After several hours layover, I’ll be on my way to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.
Aug 26 – 27 – Currently I have no specific plans. I suspect I will spend some time in my hotel blogging and catching up with friends and family back home as I expect to be without internet and cell service for most of my stay in Burma. Other than that, I might try to do a Mekong Delta home stay, a city tour or cycling tour in the countryside.
Aug 28 – Sept 5 – G Adventures – Cambodia Experience (this is for myself. I will simply be traveling with a group, not leading it, not responsible for anyone, just seeing the sites for me!)
Aug 28 – No planned activities. Sight seeing in Saigon.
Aug 29 – Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Aug 30 & 31 – Phnom Pen, Cambodia
Sept 1 – 3 – Siem Reap / Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Sept 4 – Bangkok, Thailand
Sept 5 – Departure day
Sept 5 – Arrive home in Halifax late at night.
With my international flights on hold for 24 hours I knew that I had to make a decision quickly. $1568 from Halifax to Bangkok was a super deal for August and I couldn’t let it slip through my fingers. But, funny enough, even though I love travel and I’m super excited about this trip … booking those international flights was one of the hardest things I had to do. I’m not joking when I say that I nearly had a panic attack before putting my credit card number in to secure them. And, I shed more than a few tears after I left work that day.
Likely a build up of stress, anxiety and excitement … but I wasn’t able to separate any of those emotions, I was just one big ball of nervousness. Too late now though, $1568 was paid and like it or not, I am set to fly to Bangkok.
I’m a travel agent now … and a seasoned traveler. I’m sure you all think that travel is just old hat for me, but I bet you didn’t know that every time I think about a new trip I immediately remember that I’ve been in a plane crash. I immediately remember that I really don’t like flying, but it is the only way to see the world. After I take the plunge and get all of my plans organized then I forget about it again for awhile … the anxiety about flying doesn’t creep up on my until about two weeks before I leave … and then the two nights before, well, I’m a big whiny baby.
So … I have six weeks before I start completely freaking out … that’s reassuring, right?
About three weeks after I booked my international flights, I finally found time to start booking my domestic fights. After all, the main part of my trip is Burma / Myanmar and I only had a plane ticket as far as Bangkok.
Having never traveled to Asia before, it is all new to me, so I had to start at the beginning by looking up airlines to see what my options were.
I leave Halifax in the morning of August 14th and I will land in Bangkok on August 15 close to midnight. I then need to make my way to Yangon, Myanmar. Where to start?
I pulled up Air Asia’s website and began having a look around. Phew! Return flights from Bangkok to Yangon are only about $45 US each way. That’s cheap! Let’s book those. Oh wait. I land at airport code BKK … these flights are all from DMK. Is that my only option? Looks like it! The flights to Yangon fly from the regional airport, not the international one. Ah well … it’s already a crazy long two days of travel, why not add another taxi ride and check in at a new airport to the mix?! Seems as I have no choice.
I start plugging in information and double checking that all of my dates are right. Then I get to the payment screen where it offers me the option of insurance, for additional cost of course … I try to bypass it, but I can’t seem to. I get frustrated and then find some small print that allows me to ignore the insurance and I move on.
Don’t forget taxes! Add another $23 US each way.
Then I get to the screen with prices for baggage. Add another $15 for up to 20kg of checked luggage (each way). I’d love to travel with carry on only, but seeing as my camera takes up most of a backpack, I don’t think I can fit three weeks clothes in. I’ll certainly have a couple of pairs of underwear in there though after my lost luggage incident in Lima!
Finally, I’m on to the payment screen and my price that started out as $90 US is already sitting at $166 US (return). Geeze!
Go to the credit card screen.
More fees! This time it’s an additional $5.30 for a credit card processing fee.
All in all, my two $45 US tickets turned in to a grand total of $178.45 US.
And the moral of the story ……..
When you book your own flights online through a low -ost carrier, beware of all of the things that are not included because they add up!
At least when I went to book my flight from Bangkok to Saigon, I was aware of all the charges, so it didn’t surprise me. Still sucked to pay a final total of $97.71 US instead of $65.
And, it’s not just Air Asia that does this. When you think you are getting a really great deal through Ryan Air or one of the other European low-cost carriers … watch out! The fees will add up on you and are not always divulged in advance. Sometimes you get stuck paying for them when you check in!
I’ve known since before I left for Peru that I would be going to South East Asia in August, but I’ve kept it fairly quiet and haven’t said much because I’ve been too busy to finalize the plans. I mean really, until flights are in place, a trip doesn’t really seem real!
All of a sudden, I’m only 2 months away from departure. Yikes! I just realized that this second and it totally freaked me out!
About a month ago, one of the superstars that I work with at The Adventure Travel Company found me a super deal on flights. Everything that I was finding was pricing at $2200 .. yuck. Mind you, I did have to get from Halifax (where we have crappy flight choices) to Yangon, Myanmar … which has even crappier flight choices. We wiggled the dates around a bit and worked with Bangkok instead of all the way to Yangon and there we have it.
In the end, I secured flights from Halifax to Bangkok, Thailand for under $1600. People keep asking me how long the flight is and what route I’m taking. Well … it was one of many options for routing and although not the shortest, it really isn’t that bad.
On August 14th I fly Halifax to Washington to Japan to Bangkok (arrive late at night August 15th).
Travel time over 27 hours.
Then I have to transfer from the Bangkok International airport to the regional one. This should be an adventure at midnight in a new country after 24 hours of travel. I’m sure I’ll be top of my game! ha ha ha
I fly out from the regional airport on August 16th early in the morning and land in Yangon, Myanmar a couple of hours later. I’ll either be totally wiped and barely awake, or excited beyond belief to see this amazing less discovered country.
A few weeks back I wrote a blog posted called I don’t want your tainted point of view … And, I completely stand by that. I have done very little research into where I am going, other than enough to know about safety, health and accommodations. I’m not by any means ‘winging’ the trip. I’m traveling with an organized group for almost the entire time I am away. However, I am being very careful about what I read and take in from others who have travelled to these areas. I really want to see it through my own eyes first. That’s what I love most about traveling to new destinations.
I’ve contacted the embassies of Burma and Vietnam to get my visa application paperwork. Thailand doesn’t require a visa because I will only be there as a tourist for a few days. And, the Cambodian one I will get at the border when I enter the country.
I visited my family doctor and contacted Napier Travel Health to discuss if I need any new vaccines or medications for my travels.
I have booked all of my international flights (United), my domestic flights (Air Asia), my two group tours (Tucan & G Adventures) and three nights of hotel stays in Ho Chi Minh city when I will be on my own.
I’ll soon be posting blogs with information about each of those tasks as they are not as simple or as fast as you may think and I’ve discovered all kinds of interesting tid-bits along the way.
So, watch for posts coming shortly about the process for applying for visas, domestic flights and low cost carriers and my super exciting itineraries!
It’s my first time heading off to Asia and I’m super excited! A little scared too … my comfort zone is Latin America of which I still have much more to discover! But, no time like the present to get my adventures in. Young, child-less, not married and relatively healthy … I may never be all of those things at once again!
Here’s to my life being one big adventure. I hope you’ll tag along for the updates!
Ever since I started working at The Adventure Travel Company back in November, I’ve had my eye on Burma / Myanmar. I’ll be honest. I know very little about it … and, it may surprise you to know that I plan to keep it that way until I travel there.
Can you imagine traveling to a place you’ve never been, on the other side of the world and knowing nothing about it?
So many people out there won’t even step out of their ‘Caribbean’ vacation comfort zone or off the resort, let alone go to a country that still has some civil unrest and is little known to the world.
Some of you may ask ‘How do you know you want to go there if you know nothing about it?’
Well, isn’t that the question of the day!
Here’s what I know about Burma:
It has not always been open to tourists.
Tourism is permitted, but is regulated. Some people agree with these regulations. Some don’t.
It is in Asia, just west of Thailand and south of China.
Some areas still regularly have civil unrest (but then again so does much of the world!)
It is hot and humid.
I look at that list and think, wow … that sounds like a pretty poor list.
And then I think about the possibilities!
The reason I want to go is because it is such a new destination for tourism and it isn’t popular yet. Lots of people have been to China, Thailand, Vietnam … but who do you know that has been to Burma? (In 3 months, you can say you know me … and at that time I will be on my way to Burma)
I can’t wait to be part of the chaos of tourism where all the bugs aren’t worked out yet. I can’t wait to be one of the few (relatively speaking) travellers in the world who have experienced Burma. I can’t wait to be surrounded by locals and not looking at the land being overrun by tourists. I can’t wait to take my camera everywhere with me and capture hundreds of photos.
I am picking away at some research about Burma as there are things I need to know before I go.
I’ll be making my appointment with Napier Travel Health soon to find out what vaccines are required or that I need updated before I go. I don’t know for sure if I need to get my yellow fever vaccine or not, but with much more travel to do in the next few years, it is probably about time that I just get it. It’s good for 10 years, so I can have it again when I’m 45 and be covered for another 10 years.
I’ll be starting my visa applications soon as I need them for Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia. That’s a lot of paperwork! And, for at least two of those I think I have to send my passport away. Don’t want to leave that until last minute!
As of yet, I haven’t gotten down to the nitty gritty of learning any of the language or even finding out what currency is used there, but I know that ATMs are hard to come by, so I’ll have to take a chunk of cash with me and pay for everything I can before I go.
I also know there is an optional activity to do hot air ballooning for sunrise or sunset on one of our days. I don’t care if sunrise is at 4am, I’m going to be on one of those balloons! And I can’t wait to write the blog post about it! Then, if it isn’t raining, I plan to pay the money to do it again for sunset (if I like the sun rise one!)
I also found out today that I’m going to be there during monsoon season. So, looks like I’m going to be looking for some waterproof things before I go!
Other than that, I know that Burma has a war-torn history and is still sorting things out. I know that it has an amazingly beautiful, but crazy Paper Balloon Festival where groups of people get together to decorate beautiful paper balloons, then they attach lights and fireworks to the basket and send it up in the air, unmanned! The fireworks then shoot out (and down) toward the crowd. I won’t be there for this festival, but watched several videos about it over the weekend. Most of the videos show balloons crashing, but this video showed a beautiful balloon rising up up and away, the way it is meant to!
Here’s a quick overview of what my tour will be covering … take a look at some of the activities and locations on line if you wish … for me, I’d rather see it with my own eyes than have it tainted by someone else’s opinion before I get there. I’ll form my own opinion, for better or worse and I can’t wait to share it (for those who do like tainted views and choose to read mine when I return).
Day 1 – Yangon (capital)
Day 2 – Shwedagon Pagoda. Overnight bus to Mandalay.
Day 3 – Mingun – cruising up the river. Yadanabon market.
Day 4 & 5 – Bagan temples guided bike tour, sunrise or sunset hot air balloon ride over Bagan (super excited about all of this!)
Day 6 – Visit local villages & Elephant conservation centre where I’ll get to wash and feed the elephants. (crazy excited about this too!) Ride the elephants and trek into the jungle.
Day 7 – Inle Lake visiting floating gardens and sampling local tea. Visit a local market & local cheroot factory. (I don’t know what cheroot is yet!)
Day 8 – Travel back to Yangon – visit local markets, view colonial buildings, enjoy the Yangon river. Visit the Shwedagon Pagoda, illuminated at night.
Day 9 – Depart Yangon & off to Vietnam (I think!)