For starters, I’m not a fan of the Yangon, Myanmar naming and prefer the old style of Rangoon, Burma. Part of it has to do with my inadequate language skills and the other reason is history. Did you know the name Burma comes from Portuguese? While that may be, much of the remaining colonial feel is all British as our first night happy hour beer was around the corner from our hotel at the posh Strand hotel.
We set low expectations for Burma believing that accommodations would be subpar, technology (school) a haphazard risk, and full board tourist gouging. Doesn’t sound like much fun but Leticia has been determined to visit Burma so we go. We consolidated our backpacks by only taking 2 for the trip and leaving 2 in storage at the airport – brilliant idea and so nice to travel light!
Our flight was on Air Asia which our dear friend, Ed de Chant (retired United Airlines pilot), has been adamant about us not flying any Asian airlines due to poor pilot training. Sorry Ed but we had slim pickings to choose from in getting to Burma. However, we do warn everyone traveling in Asia to abide by Ed’s words of wisdom; the accidents are not a result of plane problems (Boeing or Airbus) but pilot error. Fly with more experienced pilots and airlines.
We arrive safely in Rangoon to an impressive airport – to give you a comparison, nicer and cleaner than Rio – and we easily arrange taxi as well as our bus ride to Bagan which is a good thing because tickets were nearly sold out!
Second impression is our hotel, Aung Tha Pyay, which I dare you to say 10 times fast! Not as bad as I would have imagined and moving in the right direction. For instance, there is a stocked bar in the refrigerator and a flat screen tv to watch Bollywood movies and football. And for the ladies, a Western toilet and hot water shower is always welcome. We requested a family room which we got for 3 people…they looked at us and yes, a family room in Asia is for 1 child, not 2! Doh! Less than 10 minutes later a new bed was added with sheets and everything. Consistent service throughout our stay speaks to the great job that management has done in training and this is a reflection of what you see around much of Rangoon.
The two highlights of our stay in Rangoon were pagoda Shwedagon and the food. The pagoda is very large and you walk up quite a few steps to reach it. It’s considered one of the oldest in the world (est. 2,600 years) and claims to have some of the Buddha’s hairs which drives many a follower to visit. The main golden dome dominates the skyline of the city and it’s very impressive. As you walk around it, there are a number of smaller temples and monuments including a prayer spot for each day of the week. Since I was born on a Sunday, I went to Sunday and performed the ritual of pouring water on the Buddha six times while making a wish; if the kids stay in school, I have no fear that my wish will come true! Shwedagon is my favorite temple of all the religious spots we have visited.
Dining in Rangoon left us both happily full and impressed with the quality of our meals and service. We covered both low to high end: 999 Noodles which is a 2nd generation dive establishment that serves great local Burmese food for a grand total of $11. We spent the same amount on 2 rounds of beers at the Strand Hotel which was just as rewarding for its historic significance. We escaped the city by visiting Rangoon Tea House which sits on the second floor of a busy street; however, you wouldn’t know it thanks to the jazz music and large open space that immediately calms you. They serve traditional tea faring food which includes Crab Rangoon, Bao and Samosas along with Burmese minced meat with spices on a piece of Naan. Ohhh, we ate to our hearts content and Leticia had the largest coconut water I’ve ever seen. We expected to have a low key dinner after the lunch fest but…that changed quickly at Gekko, a Japanese/Korean trendy spot near our hotel. Leti went in with the plans to order a Miso soup and share some edamame. But when the rest of us ordered Korean BBQ ribs and fried chicken along with some spicy string beans, well, everyone indulged! Dessert was a nice mix of creme brulee with passion fruit poured on top. Fortunately, the walk home was short and we rolled into bed.
The stories of Burma will continue and we shared some wonderful life experiences including ballooning over Bagan at sunrise but I’ll let the rest of the family share that with you. One final message is that the people of Burma are really kind. I had many experiences of simply talking to locals because they are curious about us and others where a local would help us simply because they wanted to.