After getting off the plane, the first thing that surprised me was…the jetway! I knew lots had changed in Yangon since my last trip in 2005, but was surprised to see a modern airport with jetways and all. A short walk down the corridor to the arrivals hall led us to a modern facility with huge lines – another flight had obviously arrived just before ours. When I last visited, the entire airport was basically two large room: departures and arrivals, and it looked like one big warehouse. The airport, it turns out, was just going to be the first of many surprises.
I’d gotten my visa at the embassy in Washington DC a couple weeks prior, and had absolutely no trouble with it at immigration. No questions on why I was only staying 14 hours, and I was out in the arrivals hall maybe 10-15 minutes after arriving. Decided I didn’t want to deal with the taxi situation and negotiating, so used one of the vendors in the arrivals hall who quoted me 8,000 kyat or $10 for the ride to the hotel. More than reasonable, and the car turned out to be rather new as well. When I’d last been in Yangon 7 years ago, finding any cars from the last 20 years was nearly impossible and the ones you did find were usually missing windows, or some other miscellaneous non-essential part. Again, major progress.
I’d decided since I was only staying one night to stay at the Traders hotel. It was a bit more expensive than I’d hoped to pay, but I knew this late in the trip I’d want something more comfortable and don’t regret my choice. Quick check-in, paid up front in crisp new US dollars cash, and I was off again for a short taxi ride to vist the Shwedagon Pagoda. I spent about an hour there walking around and just taking it in, but unfortunately all of my pictures turned out pretty blurry. So, instead, I’ll just post one from my prior trip since I wasn’t writing this blog then.
Taxi back to the hotel, and went in search of convenient food options. There was a buffet restaurant which was absolutely packed with tourists (never would have seen that before) and also a pub on the second floor. Both had the same a la carte menu, so opted for the a la carte in the pub since it was also happy hour and had two for one drinks. This included giant 750ml bottles of Myanmar beer for $2 (yes, that means $1 each) and the happy hour also included bottled water, etc. Total bill for two large beers, a club sandwich, and two bottles of water? $16. Can’t complain about that, and the sandwich was actually relatively tasty as well.
Decided to call it an early night after this, since I had to be up pretty early the next morning to begin my very long trek home. Quick review on the hotel beyond the food above: the staff were all helpful and friendly, though still getting used to dealing with tourists in the way that most western tourists would expect. This is part of the charm of Myanmar though, and was never a problem. The room was clean and comfortable, with a minibar, a comfortable bed, and a relatively basic but complete and clean bathroom. Overall solid three star quality room and certainly one of the nicer options in the city.
Posted in the bathroom, however, were some rather amusing tips should you want to go running:
So, remember: don’t run if you feel giddy kids!
Now…unless you read Flyertalk or other travel blogs, you’re probably wondering – why in the world did I get a visa to go somewhere as out of the way as Myanmar and only spend 14 hours?! Well, around six or so months ago, the Myanmar government decided to allow the currency to freely float, and overnight the market exchange rate plummeted by roughly 100 times. Thus, plane tickets originating in Myanmar that were priced in Kyat became roughly 1% the price in US$. So, a one-way business class ticket that was $8000 plus taxes/fees before, was suddenly $80 plus taxes/fees. Even with add-ons and such, I’d managed to get Myanmar all the way back to Washington DC for approximately $800 in business class. At the time, there were only about five airlines pricing tickets in Kyat, and it took them several days to realize what had happened. By that point, thousands of tickets had been sold.
I’m not going to discuss the ethics of this here, other than to say these airlines had a choice to price in dollars (like most airlines did) and chose local currency. My view is that most large corporations have a large finance complex that is supposed to manage things like foreign exchange risk, and in this case they failed to do it. Companies don’t give me another chance when I miss a sale, so I don’t feel I need to remind them that they forgot to hedge appropriately – again, my opinion only.
As for why I only stayed 18 hours, that’s another matter. When this fare was available, I tried to book as many as possible and ended up with three trips. Unfortunately, my first two where I’d expected a much longer stay so I could see more places, ended up having to be canceled due to other commitments, leaving me with only this one…and by the time I knew that, it was too difficult to re-arrange my schedule to have more time there. Unfortunate, but I’m sure I’ll be back soon!