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Old Nov 22, 12, 2:24 am   #1
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Austin, TX -- AA PLT 2.8MM+ (life PLT); IHG PLT Ambassador; UA Gold
Posts: 4,715
A journey of a thousand (and then some) steps: Jeju and Myanmar (RGN fare)

When I first heard about the Myanmar fare sale in early May, I immediately jumped at the chance. I had visited Myanmar on a day trip about 8 years ago when my wife and I were visiting Thailand. At the time it was difficult to get a visa for Myanmar but it was possible to do a day trip across the border without requiring a visa. Myanmar has been opening up the past few years and tourist numbers have quadrupled. Airlines have been adding or increasing service to Yangon, ANA, Korean and Singapore all started flights this year. I wanted to visit before it became overrun with tourists like Angkor Wat. There is a well established gringo trail from Yangon to Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake. I definitely wanted to at least see the temples of Bagan. A few weeks before I left on my trip I heard that President Obama was planning on visiting Myanmar while I was there.

I booked the routing RGN-BKK-NRT-JFK-SCL in J on TG/JL/LA with a long layovers in Bangkok and JFK. When visiting Chile I wanted to go up to Bolivia and do the trip to the Salar de Uyuni. I would then use miles to get back to the USA. When I booked the RGN fare I was about to leave on a trip to Central Asia.. so booked something quickly without checking connecting flight schedules. After I returned from my Central Asia trip I discovered there wasn't a connecting SCL-LPB flight the day I arrived.. meaning I'd have to spend an extra day getting up to the Salar and I would already be short on vacation days. I then debated postponing that portion of the trip and changing the ticket to have a stopover in JFK.

Getting to Myanmar was also an issue. At first I planned to use my UA miles, 60k in biz one-way USA-RGN is a good deal. I ended up booking a perfect routing, AUS-IAH-DOH-RGN on UA/QR, however the reservation sat for a few weeks without getting ticketed. The QR segments eventually dropped out of my itinerary and were no longer available! Looking at plan B, there was a good one-way fare from the US to South Korea, including Jeju island which I wanted to visit. I ended up booking a AUS-SFO-ICN/GMP-CJU economy flight on United/Asiana, then using miles CJU-GMP/ICN-BKK-RGN in business class. Jeju island is a volcanic island off the southern coast of South Korea. It was host to some of the games during the World Cup. It's also been selected as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. It was recently added to the Traveler's Century Club listing of 'countries'.

Austin recently built a Formula 1 race track and I had bought tickets for the race in November.. unfortunately I hadn't verified the dates and I realized that the race was the same weekend that I was planning on leaving for Myanmar! So I had to find some way to sell my tickets before I left.

I used the embassy in DC to get my Myanmar visa which was very easy. I sent off $20 and a couple of passport photos, 10 days later I had a new visa sticker in my passport. The Myanmar visa has the passport picture on it, I've noticed many countries starting to do this.

I had heard that finding hotel rooms during high season is next to impossible, so I went ahead and made reservations for hotels in Yangon and Bagan a few months ago. A few weeks before the trip i emailed one of my hotels and had them arrange internal flights on Yangon Airways and Air Bagan to/from Bagan. I had also just heard about Balloons over Bagan, but they were already full for all of November a month before my trip! I kept listing my F1 ticket for sale on Craigslist and other places.. I got a few bites but mostly flakes. It came down to the day before I was supposed to leave and I still hadn't sold my ticket, so I would be looking to eat the $325 price... but luckily I was able to sell the ticket literally last minute (but had to take a $125 loss...)

Here are links to my previous blogs:

Peru/Galapagos 2005: Boobies and Nazca Lines (Peru/Galapagos trip)
Mongolia/Caucasus 2005: RTW via Mongolia, Moscow and Mtskheta

Andaman Islands (India) 2007: Andaman Islands report (9W MAA-IXZ-MAA)
Guianas (South America) 2007: The most dangerous city: a trip through the Guianas
North Korea 2007: The (almost) last American in Pyongyang - Air Koryo trip

Ethiopia 2008: Ethiopia Adventure for $274.. IAD-ADD-LLI-BJR-ADD-IAD on Ethiopian Airlines
Central America 2008: Central America overland: San Pedro Sula to Managua

St. Petersburg, Baltics and Belarus 2009: AA/BA/BT/OS: act-dfw-lhr-led/kgd-rix-msq-vie-fra-dfw-act: Pickpocketed in St. Pete!
Canadian Rockies 2009: Riding the Rocky Rails : Luxury trip through the Canadian Rockies

West Africa 2010: I thought shared taxis in West Africa were uncomfortable until I flew Air France
Guam/Palau/Micronesia 2010: The happy Isles of Oceania: island hopping the western Pacific

Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Bangladesh 2011: RTW trip on Royal Jordanian & Cathay Biz, Qatar Econ
Afghanistan, Pakistan 2011:
Mistake fare to Kabul: AA/GF/PK IAH-DFW-LHR-BAH-LHE//ISB-KBL-BAH-LHR-ORD-IAH in Y

Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea 2012:
Africa calls me, a trip to Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea

Central Asia Stans + Balkans 2012:
Central Asia Stans and Iran (or not...), Iraq and the Balkans


My flight itinerary was the following:
Code:
NOV15 AUS-SFO UA econ
NOV15 SFO-ICN UA econ
NOV16 GMP-CJU OZ econ
NOV17 CJU-GMP OZ econ
NOV17 ICN-BKK TG biz
NOV18 BKK-RGN TG biz
NOV19 RGN-NYU YH econ
NOV21 NYU-RGN W9 econ
NOV22 RGN-BKK TG biz
NOV22 BKK-NRT JL biz
NOV23 NRT-JFK JL biz
NOV23 JFK-AUS AA econ
*NOV23 JFK-SCL LA biz (trying to reschedule)
Nov 15, 2012
Flight: Austin (AUS) to San Francisco (SFO), United CRJ, econ
Flight: San Francisco (SFO) to Seoul, South Korea (ICN), United 747, econ
Nov 16, 2012
Flight: Seoul, South Korea (GMP) to Jeju, South Korea (CJU), Asiana, econ
Hotel: Yeha Guesthouse City Hall, 22000 KRW

I arranged a very early pickup from Supershuttle this morning at 4AM for my 6:30 flight. The F1 race was this weekend and I imagined that the airport would be very busy. The security line was longer than usual but luckily not too bad as it was still only 5AM. I had a bit of breakfast and headed to the United lounge before going down to the gate. I suddenly panicked when I realized I had forgotten my camera charger... and the camera battery I had was nearly spent. That meant I would have to find a replacement charger or buy a new camera outright for the trip, but there was nowhere to do so at AUS. I hoped there was an electronics place in SFO or Seoul.

Boarding time came and went and the plane wasn't even at the gate yet. Finally the plane is towed to the gate and we departed 30 minutes late but not too worried as I'd had a two-hour connect in SFO. The flight was fine although on a CRJ I feel a bit cramped. The flight is uneventful and we landed northbound in SFO. From there we had to wait a few minutes for a gate to become available, another 10 minute delay. The International gates were a bit of a walk from gate 71 but luckily there was a walkway and did not have to reclear security. Better luck, I found a Best Buy kiosk that had cameras! There was a Canon I was interested in, but the kiosk said none were available! Next I headed to the United Club for awhile as the departing flight was showing a 40-minute delay. I was more worried about that connection as I only had a 3h15m connection in Seoul and that involved switching airports from Incheon to Gimpo. United was unable to provide my Asiana boarding pass and Asiana's webcheckin didn't work either.

As i was walking down to the departure gate, I found another Best Buy kiosk and was able to buy the camera, ironically for the same price that I had paid for the F1 ticket. The delay kept getting longer and longer, the plane was at the gate but they had to clean and load the galleys. Finally we departed nearly 1.5 hrs late. The flight was on an old United 747 so no in-seat power or IFE. I spent the time sleeping and reading.. nearly finishing one of the two books that I had brought to last an entire week! I should have loaded some movies on my laptop for this situation.


United SFO-ICN meal


United SFO-ICN meal

We finally arrive at ICN an hour late at 5:15... at the farthest gate on the satellite terminal. It's a long walk to the terminal train which I just missed. Finally get to immigration at 5:30, so I have only 2 hrs now to make my connection at Gimpo. Immigration line is short but is moving very slowly and it is 5:45 by the time I am through. I had carried on my backpack so luckily did not have to wait on baggage. I ran through to the airport train where I found they do not accept credit cards. I wasted a few more minutes finding an ATM and getting change (the ATMs only spit out 10k won notes). I bought a one-way ticket at the kiosk for 4150 (3650+500 card deposit) only to find I had just missed the train. Luckily they run every 15 minutes for the 33 minute ride to Gimpo. So assume a minimum connection time of 1hr and preferably much more to make it between airports!

The train arrived, very clean and smooth ride for the 37kms to Gimpo airport. There are two train lines from Incheon, an express which goes nonstop to Seoul station, and the regular train which makes several stops along the way to Seoul station, including Gimpo airport. I finally arrived at Gimpo around 6:40 where I immediately manage to smash my finger badly when I tripped running up the escalator. From the station it is still a long walk on moving sidewalks to the domestic terminal. I rush to the checkin desk where they ended up putting me on a flight to Jeju departing 15 minutes later. Between Korean and Asiana there are flights to Jeju every 10-15 minutes throughout the day. There are also flights on Asiana from Incheon which would have made things much easier.. but Friday is the one day that they did not have that flight!

As it was I could have made the 7:35 flight as there was no line for security and I was through into the terminal by 7:50. Once through to the domestic terminal there was not much to do but wait. There were a few cafes where I grabbed a drink and calmed down after the mad rush. I didn't notice any OZ/*A lounges there but I didn't walk through the whole terminal. Boarding the flight was via bus. The 1hr flight was completely full even though there are frequent flights.

Asiana GMP-CJU

I had checked my bag for the Asiana flight and when we landed the bags were out on the belt super quickly. I was in a bit of a hurry to get to my hotel, it claimed the desk closed at 10PM and it was already after 9PM. I was really worried when I came out to the taxi line and there were 50+ people there waiting ahead of me! It took nearly 30 minutes to get a cab. It was drizzling and chilly. I arrived at the guesthouse at 9;55... only to find out that they close at 11PM. So a big relief there. The YEHA guesthouse was very nice and clean. Guests had to take their shoes off in the reception area. I'd reserved a dorm room but only the top bunk was available. I'm not such a spring chicken anymore and probably should have sprung for a single room. Getting up in the bunk was a bit of an effort.

YEHA guesthouse

It was too late to eat by this point, I wandered around the streets for awhile but all the restaurants were already closed. I ended up eating a big bowl of ramen from the guesthouse. The next morning I planned to do a tour of the island. Originally I hoped to rent a car and drive around, they require an International Drivers License which I had brought along. But I was pretty exhausted from the travel and started looking into getting a taxi to take me around for the day. Pretty expensive at 150,000 won ($130) but I didn't have much else choice. The guesthouse actually ran a daily bus tour that sounded interesting but would get back into town too late to make my flight the next evening.
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Last edited by hauteboy; Nov 26, 12 at 10:12 am..
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Old Nov 22, 12, 2:25 am   #2
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Austin, TX -- AA PLT 2.8MM+ (life PLT); IHG PLT Ambassador; UA Gold
Posts: 4,715
Nov 17, 2012
Flight: Jeju, South Korea (CJU) to Seoul, South Korea (GMP), Asiana, econ
Flight: Seoul, South Korea (ICN) to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK), Thai, business
f
Even though I was exhausted I still woke up at 7AM, trying to adjust for jetlag as I hadn't brought any melatonin this trip. I ate breakfast, bread and fried egg then asked about the taxi service. I should have arranged that the previous night as it took awhile to find an English-speaking taxi driver. He said he'd be there at 9AM which didn't leave too much time to get back to the airport to make my 5PM flight. Jeju is a good-sized island so it can take awhile to get from one end to another. The taxi driver showed up promptly at 9AM and we set off. I noticed he spoke Russian as well from his cab sign. I needed to go to the TM to get extra cash before we headed off towards the east towards the Manjanggul caves. The road was in good condition but there were many speed bumps and speed cameras which he pointed out.

I had been looking at a map of Jeju the previous night and I concluded that Jeju must have the most musems per capita... you name it there appears to be a museum dedicated to it. Jeju is a popular place for honeymooning Koreans. One of the attractions is called Loveland, which has several semi-pornographic statues and exhibits. That sounded fun to see and I hoped I'd have time to visit. Jeju is also the home of the 'stone grandfather' statues, phallic looking stone fertility statues.

I had made the mistake of not charging my new camera.. I assumed the battery was fully charged but already it was flashing! Oops.. no luck with cameras this trip. There was an interesting looking Buddhist temple along the way where we stopped for a few minutes. The weather this morning was looking grey and rainy as well but it was starting to clear as we drove eastwards. Finally arrived at the caves about 10:15. The cave is actually a 1km+ long lava tube and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Admission was pretty cheap at 2000won. I have visited lava tubes in Hawaii and a few other places so I am familiar with their formation and looks. This one though was the longest one I had visited. Steps lead down into the tunnel from a collapsed roof area, then dimly lit lighting leads you through the 2km roundtrip through the tube. Water constantly drips from overhead and there are stepping stones and walkways through the larger puddles. The caves were formed ~250000 years ago. The roundtrip took about 40 minutes. Afterwards I stopped at a drink shop where I found an outlet and was able to charge my battery for a few minutes.

Jeju phone booth

Lava tube

Lava pillar

From the caves we set off along the coastal road aound the northeastern part of the island. There is a smart grid electric generation station here with windmills and solar. There were also many fish farm tanks and seaweed drying along the road. Fields were bordered by fences made from piles of volcanic rock. There are several holiday hotels (closed for the season) and beaches along the coast here. The taxi driver kept pointing out nearly everything, seagull, walkers, windmills, etc. It got tiring after awhile and I just nodded. We were making our way around to Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak), an old volcanic tuff cone off the east coast. It is a very popular spot to climb to see the sunrise. Along the way we stopped at a pearl 'museum', the entire outside of the building was covered in abalone shells. Abalone are used to produce pearls and many of the divers traditionally are women.

Capsule hotel

We stopped for lunch in Seongsan village for seafood stew.. a huge pot of crab, clams, fish, etc in a spicy broth and cooked at the table. Too much food I was stuffed about 1/3 way through and it was expensive for two people. Still was pretty good. Meanwhile I was able to further charge my camera. About 1PM I finally started the long climb up to the peak. The parking lot was packed with tour buses and there was a Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks at the start of the trail. Along the fence was sunrise times for every day of the year and the sun's position in the sky. It was a good 20 minute slog uphill, there are several rest benches along the way. Most of the hikers were locals or from the mainland. At the top of the hill there are rows of seats for those lucky to make it to the top in time for sunrise. Downhill of course was much easier and we set off again about 1:45. Time was ticking away and only had 2hrs to make it back to the airport.

Seongsan Ilchulbong

View from Peak

The driver set off to the west, this time curving around the volcanic peak, Mt. Hallasan. The peak is a very popular trek in summer and there are several hiking trails taking 4 or more hours roundtrip. We passed through the agricultural region of Jeju. It is further south than most of Korea and can support two growing seasons. The fertile volcanic soil grows just about anything from tangerines, cabbage, radishes, carrots, etc. We took e more back roads and then finally turned north and started climbing up the west side of the mountain. The driver suddenly stopped at one point and hopped out of the car. He had spotted a pheasant alongside the road. I'd never seen a live one before. This one appeared to have an injured foot, so the driver took it and put it in the trunk. I assume he broke its neck and was planning on having it for dinner later as I never heard any noise from it later...

Jeju road

We turned up the Yeongsil road to the trail head.. by this point the clouds had started moving in and at 1280meters it was very chilly! There were signs along the road warning of snakes. During the summer the forest is very thick and several people get bitten by vipers. The mountain itself is 1790 meters and gets snow in the winter. It was already late in the day so the trail had a sign saying it was closed for the day. I had a few minutes here to snap a few photos and were then heading back north towards town. Along the way is a place called 'Mysterious road' where cars appear to roll uphill. It has become such a popular spot that the main road has now been diverted around it. It really is just a trick of topography and the road does indeed slope downhill at that point. Loveland is right next to this spot but we were really rushed for time by now as it was 3:50 and we had to make it to the airport by 4.

Mt. Hallasan Hikers

Mountain moorland

Mysterious road.. cars appear to roll uphill (towards camera)

We ended up being about 10 minutes late, but I was still able to checkin for my orignal flight and made it through security easily. I even had time to charge my camera some more and grab a mocha frappe at a cafe. Boarding the flight was via bus again. The flight was also full, mostly of Korean schoolgirls it seemed. The flight left pretty much on time for the 1hr flight back to Gimpo. The flight service was basic with only a small drink cup offered. Once I arrived at Gimpo it was the reverse of the previous evening... long walk to the train station, bought train ticket, waited for train and 0:33 to Incheon. At each train station there is a kiosk for getting the 500 deposit back if you insert the one-way ticket card. I refunded both trips here to get 1000 won back.

Train from Gimpo

I had redeemed an intra-Asia business class seat to get to Yangon so I was given an invitation to the Asiana lounge at the Thai checkin desk. I ate ate Burger King (horrors I know..) to get rid of some of my extra won, then went through security and got a Starbucks frappucino to spend the remaining won. I use that tactic frequently if I have remaining cash in a country... spend it all at the airport and use a credit card for any remaining balance. Unfortunately I forgot about the 1000 won in coins in my pocket!

The Thai flight left from the satellite terminal so I headed over there and up to the Asiana lounge on the 2nd floor. The lounge was OK with a few food items on offer. The plugs were in the floor but unfortunately wouldn't fit my adapter+laptop charger. I found the computer room and ended up using their computers and finding an available outlet to charge my laptop. A guy was in the room listening to Elmo videos with his kid. I'd heard the controversy surrounding the Elmo puppeteer on the news (he's since resigned from Sesame Street apparently).

Asiana lounge

The Thai flight to Bangkok was on a 777-200 with the lie-flat business class seats. It had been awhile since I'd flown business class so it was really nice to be able to lie down and stretch out. I slept most of the flight as I had a 6hr overnight connection in Bangkok and didn't plan on going out to a hotel. I have wide shoulders and don't usually fit even in business class seats when they are reclined so I have to sleep on my side. I started watching the new Total Recall during dinner but the contrast on the screen wasn't very good and it was hard to see.




Thai business class ICN-BKK
I arrived in BKK around 1:30 and made it to the Thai lounge by 1:45, just in time as they close at 2AM. I managed to stay in the lounge until 2:15 when they kicked me out.. saying I could return at 5:15.
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Last edited by hauteboy; Nov 22, 12 at 8:16 am..
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Old Nov 22, 12, 4:08 am   #3
 
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 122
Nice report, would love to see some pictures of Jeju.
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Old Nov 22, 12, 6:49 am   #4
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Austin, TX -- AA PLT 2.8MM+ (life PLT); IHG PLT Ambassador; UA Gold
Posts: 4,715
Nov 18, 2012
Flight: Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) to Yangon, Myanmar (RGN), Thai A330, business
Hotel: MayShan Hotel, $45/single

After the lounge closed I ended up wandering around the airport for awhile before parking at Starbucks for a few hours. I'd had some leftover Baht I hadn't been able to spend on a previous trip to Thailand and I did the same trick as in Korea. I'd hoped to use the CIP/Diners Club lounge but apparently I had lost/forgotten my Diners Club card, oops! Bad mistake. So I just sat around for a few hours uploading the photos from my Jeju trip. Finally the lounge reopened and I was able to head in and have a shower and rest for a few minutes in the resting room. It wasn't very quiet in there though as the cleaning ladies were banging around every few minutes.

My flight to Yangon departed at 8AM and the gate area was very crowded. Lots of tourists it seemed, most were older than me by a good number of years and I'm no spring chicken. Boarding was via bus again. This flight was on an A330 with regional business seats. The flight ended up departing a few minutes late for the quick 1h15 flight yet they still managed to serve a breakfast meal. Some kind of noodles with egg and ketchup.. but it was pretty yummy. The flight took us out over the Andaman sea and up into Yangon. From the plane the landscape looked very flat with fields and canals.



Thai business class BKK-RGN

We disembarked via jetbridge at the new international terminal. Since I was one of the first ones off the plane immigration proceeded pretty quickly and I went to the foreign exchange booth to change money, There are no ATMs in Myanmar and credit cards are pretty much useless.. meaning you need to bring all the cash you need with you. Another potential snag is they want crispy newly minted bills, no folds, creases, writing, smudges, etc. This can be a huge problem if you are in the country for awhile and they are really serious about this. I brought some Benjamins along that looked perfect but they must have been folded at one point. Most places will take US$ cash or you can use the local currency, kyat (pronounced chat). I exchanged at a 845:1$ rate at the desk.

There were taxi touts waiting outside, offering a ride to town for $10. My hotel was in the center of town near the Sule pagoda. The drive into town gave a good impression of Yangon, it looked very clean and less chaotic than other cities (then again it was 10AM on a Sunday). Share taxis were lopsided trucks with benches in the back which held any number of people on the seats, on the roof, hanging off the back standing on bumper! I arrived at the hotel which was full of backpacker type tourists. One of my $5 bills was also old and the taxi driver wouldn't take it so I ended up paying in kyat. My el room wasn't going to be ready for a few hrs so I dunped my bag and started walking around town. I had tha latest Lonely Planet edition for Myanmar and they had a walking path through town that wandered through the India and Chinatowns and up through some of the markets.

The first stop was Sule Paya, a 1000-year old pagoda sitting right in the middle of a traffic circle. Like with most Buddhist shrines, you must remove your shoes. Entrance fee was $2 and 1000 kyat 'donation' (wasn't necessary as I found out). The pagoda is a huge golden stupa topped with precious gems. Locals were there performing devotions to the Buddha shrines.


Sule Paya

From Sule, I headed west down the chaotic main street. Blocks in this part of Yangon are very long and narrow. The sidewalks are twisted and broken concrete slabs. There are dozens of street food vendors selling fried dough, noodles and curries. Most of the advertisements and signs I had seen so far were in English but many of the signs in this part of Yangon were in the Burmese alphabet. Myanmar/Burma had been a British colony for many years and was an independent kingdom for a thousand of years. During the Briitsh perioud, many Indians migrated to Burma. There is a mix of religions here, just in a few blocks I came across a Jewish synagogue, Muslim mosque, Presbyterian church and a Hindu temple. Not all of the relgions coexist peacefully however... recently there has been Buddhist-Muslim conflict in the western state of Rakhine.


Narrow Yangon streets



market

At the Bogyoke market there were several vendors selling freshly squeezed juices. The most common is sugarcane juice, freshly pressed in a grinder and served with lime juice. It's very delicious, sort of like a light lemonade. I opted for the avocado juice... mashed avocado mixed with condensed milk and ice water. I wasn't sure about the ice.. will it cause Delhi belly later? But it looked like it was chipped from an industrial produced block, which should be purified water. I took the risk and it was delicious, creamy sweet and eat with a spoon.. I will definitely have to try this at home.

By this point it was time to head back to the hotel and rest for awhile.. I hadn't had much sleep the night before! It was also pretty steamy... just walking around I was dripping sweat. When I travel I'll usually go out in the morning, come back to the hotel for a siesta then back out again in the afternoon/evening. I planned on going to High Tea at the Strand Hotel, the old school British hotel which has hosted guests such as Prince Edward, Rudyard Kipling and Mick Jagger. It fell into disrepair for a number of years but has been beautifully renovated and now costs upwards of $500 a night (though discounts are easily availalble). It was a few minutes walk to the Strand from my hotel, passing by old crumbling British colonial buildings. There was an old Chevrolet bus sitting outside the hotel (http://www.asiaelephantcoach.com/tra...in_style1.html). The high tea is $20 from 2:30 to 4pm and there are two choices; classic high tea or myanmar high tea. I opted for the classic style. Savory tier, sweet tier and scones with whipped cream and jam. I've had high tea at Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe, Empire Hotel in Brunei and Chateau Lake Louise and always enjoy it. I started talking with a couple of ladies from Seattle, they had been on tour for the past week and were about to head home.



Strand Hotel

I then caught a taxi to the Shwedagon pagoda (3000ks). The Shwedagon pagoda is the most sacred of Buddhist sites in Myanmar.. the central golden stupa is nearly 100 meters tall, is capped with diamonds, rubies and other precious jewels, and can be seen from nearly all parts of the city. The temple was built to house among other things hairs from the Buddha himself. There are 4 gates to the pagoda and you must take off your shoes/socks before entering. Entry fee for foreigners is $5/4500ks, you get a sticker that you must wear the whole time. The complex houses several shrines with reclining Buddhas. Many of the Buddha statues now have LED halos flashing in psychadelic patterns. I spent almost 3 hrs at the pagoda just wandering around watching locals (and lots of tourists..). The complex floor is marble tile but I'm not used to going barefoot so my feet were really in pain after awhile. Brigades of broom-wielding ladies continuously sweep the floor clean. I waited and watched as the sun set on the pagoda the lights started illuminating the stupa at night. The tourists started to disappear leaving just locals there praying and socializing. Many people were pouring water over some Buddha statues. After awhile I headed back to the hotel by taxi (2000ks).


Shwedagon pagoda at night

I was pretty hungry by this point, as all I'd had to eat today was the breakfast on the plane and high tea and now it was nearly 8pm. Yangon shuts down around 9 or 10 pm so I rushed off to a nearby restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet. The Danuphyu Daw Saw Yee restaurant serves local Burmese cuisine, mostly curries. It was about a 6 block walk from the hotel. No English menu but you go to the counter and point at what you want. I tried a fish curry, it had a slight kick to it but it wasn't too spicy. It went great washed down with a 640ml bottle of Myanmar beer! The meal was served with a plate of salad (cucumbers, some leafy green and what looked like a turnip or radish) and a bowl of soup. It looked a bit like collard greens but smelled like sewer water (and didn't taste much better..) so I mostly passed on it.


MayShan hotel room
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Last edited by hauteboy; Nov 22, 12 at 10:18 pm..
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Old Nov 22, 12, 7:44 am   #5
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Austin, TX -- AA PLT 2.8MM+ (life PLT); IHG PLT Ambassador; UA Gold
Posts: 4,715
Nov 19, 2012
Flight: Yangon, Myanmar to Bagan, Myanmar (NYU), Yangon Airways, ATR72, economy
Hotel: Aung Mingalar, $28/single

A very early wakeup this morning at 4AM to catch the 6AM flight to Bagan. The taxi left at 4:30 AM and we were at the airport before 5AM. The domestic airport is the old international terminal and is right next to the new international terminal. There were no lines and I checked in for my flight for Yangon Airways. They gave me a sticker to put on my shirt. I was glad I was early as the waiting area started getting fuller and fuller... soon the departures area is packed with tourists. There are at least 5-6 flights that all depart within a few minutes of each other. There was a cafe selling dimsum for cheap which I ate for breakfast. As boarding time approached, agents walked around the area holding a signboard stating the flight that was boarding. It was all quite chaotic. I managed to make it onto the right bus. The flight on Yangon Airways was on an ATR-72. I was happy my seat said 2A until I remembered that the ATR boards from the rear... we ended up actually departing a few minutes early. I didn't see any extra security or cargo planes for Obamas visit, as he was supposed to arrive in Yangon today, but maybe he was using a different (military) airport. As we were taxiing to the runway I saw the Qatar flight landing.


Chaos at RGN domestic terminal

Boarding sign

Yangon Airways ATR72

The flight lasted a bit over an hour and they served a box of pastries and soda during the flight. The flight was fine with no problems. I had a window seat on the left side, which gave a great view out over the plains near Bagan on approach. I could see temples afar in the distance. When we landed there were already a few other planes on the tarmac and were all unloading. We were bussed to the terminal, where the chaos began. The area was swarming with tourists and there wasn't a baggage belt, just a room where they dumped luggage. As planes continued to land and disgorge more tourists, it got pretty crazy. It seems that those tourists on package trips got priority with the baggage... the handlers kept going out to the carts and just picking some bags off and leaving others. It took nearly 20 minutes before the cart with my bag on it even showed up, then another 10-15 minutes while the handlers picked through the bags, with mine just sitting on the ground. I was tempted to just go outside and pick it up. There were a few other independent tourists there also waiting on their bags.


Inflight meal


Yangon Airways ATR72


Bagan Airport

Tourists must pay a $10 fee for the Bagan area, you must present the ticket at all temples but it is good for a week. Usually this fee is paid at the airport on arrival or at the boat dock when arriving from Mandalay. Walking outside I met a taxi driver who said 5000 ($6) to take me to my hotel. A bit pricey as it really wasn't that far. Along the way he asked if I needed a taxi for the day for $40. I figured having a car would allow me to be efficient and visit more temples. I agreed if it included the price from the airport (he agreed). He took me to the Aung Mingalar hotel which was actually in the town of Nyaung U (where the airport is) rather than New Bagan or Old Bagan. I had to take off my shoes to go into reception, put them on to go to the room, then take them off again to go in the room.. this would get tiring. The room was very dark, with wood paneling. This had obviously been added after the room was built as the paneling now covered half of the doorknob, very odd!

Aung Mingalar room

I dumped my bags and we headed off just across the street to the Shwezigon Paya. The anniversary of the pagoda was approaching and vendors were in the process of setting up stalls outside for the monthlong celebration. The way into the pagoda complex was a long gallery lined with trinket souvenir sellers... tourism has indeed taken over Bagan. The pagoda was definitely impressive, another golden stupa in the center although not as large as Shwedagon, it gleamed in the morning sun. When I came out of the pagoda, there was another guy there saying he was my taxi driver. I'd heard this before but did verify that it was the brother of the original guy. Instead of an airconditioned sedan though we were now in a minivan.

Shwezigon Pagoda, Bagan

Afterwards we headed off to one of the first temples. There are over 3000 remaining temples, stupas and Buddhist relgious sites in Bagan, mostly built nearly a thousand years ago during the Kingdom of Pagan. At its height there were over 10000 sites. The remaining ones are differening styles but all built from local sandstone. You have to remove your shoes when entering each temple... and most floors are just brick and rough concrete, ouch. My feet would definitely be sore by the end of the day. Most of the temples close to the road ended up having souvenir stalls all around, and the vendors were pretty persistent. I give you good price, come and look at my shop, etc... the same words I have heard at tourist sites everywhere. I immediately tune all that out and refuse to look at whatever it is they are selling.. although it did look like some of the stuff here was better quality than the usual tourist junk. Most of them were waving around George Orwell's book, 'Burmese Days'

In one temple one of the vendors was less pushy.. she showed me around the temple, let me climb up on the roof for a large look around. Some of the passageways were really narrow and difficult for me to fit through with my shoulders. Also my feet were killing me as I had to do all this barefoot. The view was stunning from up top though, with deep red sandstone temples visible everywhere around. The vendor had some pretty nice paintings so I did end up buying some from her. Originally she wanted 18000k each ($21), I asked for 25000k for two and she agreed. She then tried to take it back and asked for 2000 more!! Sorry I'd already paid The advantage of having the private taxi meant I was able to keep ahead of most of the tour buses, some temples were totally isolated and I was the only one there. I'd already forgotten which temple was which by this point. Wetki-in-Gubyaungi, Hhilominlo, Buledi, Sulamani, Dhammayangyi (largest temple), missed one or two in there. Most temples had a similar design, internal alcoves with Buddhas at the cardinal points.






It was lunchtime by now and I'd been sweating all morning. We stopped at a place called Golden Myanmar for lunch... buffet style Burmese. The food was excellent, fish and lamb curries with lots of tiny dishes (Bean sprouts, chili paste, etc). All for only 3000 ($3.50) it was a great deal. My driver Jo-jo said that everyone takes a siesta in the afternoons. It was quite toasty and I was pretty worn out so I went back to the hotel for a few hours.

Rinse and repeat that afternoon, visiting another 5-6 temples (Ananda, Bupaya, Manuha) before arriving at the Shwesandaw temple for sunset viewing. It was a complete zoo here with a dozen or more tourist buses, cars and horse carts. The horse carts are very expensive though, $70 for a day from what I heard! By comparison $40 for the car was a great deal. The Shwesandaw temple gives a great view out to the eastern temples.. at sunset these are lit up a deep red. Unfortunately it was cloudy today and not likely there would be an impressive sunset. There were 4 levels of very steep steps (15 inches high), luckily there were handrails to pull up. Most of the tourists here were French or German. I climbed up to the top and hung around awhile before climbing back down, which was trickier!

The internet wasn't working at my hotel that night so I went to a place next door that had italian food and (barely) functional wifi.


Myanmar TV showing Obama's visit
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Last edited by hauteboy; Nov 22, 12 at 4:55 pm..
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Old Nov 22, 12, 10:05 am   #6
 
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Another Great Report from hauteboy

How did you book your domestic flights ? How much did you pay for ?
How was your hotel in Yangon ? How did you book it ?


Waiting for the next part
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Old Nov 22, 12, 4:21 pm   #7
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mynameismud View Post
Another Great Report from hauteboy
How did you book your domestic flights ? How much did you pay for ?
How was your hotel in Yangon ? How did you book it ?
Waiting for the next part
Prices in Myanmar have doubled or tripled this year for hotels. I listed the prices for rooms in the daily heading. I paid $45/night for a single at the MayShan hotel in Yangon (for reference, Lonely Planet from 2011 says a single was $20!). Rooms were pretty basic, mine had no windows but had aircon, TV, free wifi (though painfully slow) and breakfast included. The bathroom was basic too, just a single room containing a sink, toilet and shower hose. It would be a 1* hotel anywhere else probably. Location was great though. I booked directly via email from their website but they are also on agoda.com. I had to book several months out as hotel availability is tight to booked solid now during high season.

The Aung Mingalar hotel in Bagan, I booked by sending a message via their facebook page. $28/night for a single. Very dark room with odd wood panels on the walls. Had aircon (but wasn't very effective), wifi (but didn't work) and breakfast included. It was clean and they provide towels. I've stayed in worse places. It's also bookable on booking.com

The RGN-NYU(Bagan)-RGN roundtrip was $240. I booked it through the MayShan hotel and paid cash when I arrived.
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Old Nov 22, 12, 4:36 pm   #8
 
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Awesome report so far, hauteboy. A real pleasure to read through, and the addition of the pictures is a very nice touch! Since you've been updating throughout the day, I trust your JL flight from BKK-NRT went OK? Saw your last post on the RGN thread that mentioned you couldn't check in...
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Old Nov 22, 12, 5:13 pm   #9
 
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Originally Posted by masshupoteto View Post
Awesome report so far, hauteboy. A real pleasure to read through, and the addition of the pictures is a very nice touch! Since you've been updating throughout the day, I trust your JL flight from BKK-NRT went OK? Saw your last post on the RGN thread that mentioned you couldn't check in...
Yes i am in NRT at the moment. Everything went OK but was worried for a while. I had a long layover in BKK (10+ hr) and couldn't checkin until 8pm...

Now the next challenge will be to see if I can change my ticket in JFK to add a stopover instead of going straight to SCL...
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Old Nov 22, 12, 7:41 pm   #10
 
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Yes i am in NRT at the moment. Everything went OK but was worried for a while. I had a long layover in BKK (10+ hr) and couldn't checkin until 8pm...

Now the next challenge will be to see if I can change my ticket in JFK to add a stopover instead of going straight to SCL...
YAY! Glad everything worked out, and glad that JL isn't causing any problems with the tickets. Good luck with the change at JFK!
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Old Nov 22, 12, 10:59 pm   #11
 
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Nov 20, 2012
Hotel: Aung Mingalar, $28/single

I was already templed out after yesterday and had asked the taxi driver about how much would it cost for a trip out to Mt. Popa. He said the same $40 a day, a good deal as it is a 3hr roundtrip drive. There is a Buddhist temple located on top of a volcanic plug on the mountain, reached by ascending 777 steps. The mountain is also the spiritual home of the 37 'nats', part of pre-Buddhist religion. We planned to set off at 9am.

For the first time this trip I got to sleep in as I wasn't rushing off somewhere at the crack of dawn. The breakfast at the hotel this morning was pretty basic.. a fried egg, some toast and congee. The butter pats were sitting in a bowl of water to keep them from melting. I still had a few minutes to kill so wandered up the road a bit to take some photos.

The road to Mt. Popa was in OK condition, no potholes but the surface was rough in places. There was very little traffic, and most of it was oxen carts. We passed through several villages, consisting of thatch and bamboo huts mostly. They make their living by processing palm trees and selling palm sugar candy and palm liquor. Peanuts are the major crop in the Bagan area. We stopped at one of these villages where a local was squeezing peanut oil in a mill. I tried one of the sugar candies, formed by boiling down the palm sap until it caramelizes. These ones were mixed with coconut. They were delicious, somewhat like a praline. I ended up buying a bag for 1000ks. I also tested the firewater/palm liquor. It was a little harsh. They ferment the sap in huge clay jars for a few days to make a toddy, then distill out the stronger stuff.

Making peanut oil

The area around Bagan is pretty dry and the soil is sandy. Driving along parts reminded me of Texas or South Carolina, minus the pine trees. We finally arrived at Popa village and the driver stopped at a viewpoint to get an overview of the temple on the hill. The lookount point was a short walk down a trail. I was followed down the trail by kids trying to sell rocks, saying 'shakey shakey'. Some kind of hollow rock with something inside it. I asked them why they weren't in school! They said it was a holiday (it wasn't). I don't have need of rocks but did buy some bananas from one of the girl vendors.

Mt. Popa itself is a 5000ft volcano, the temple sits on a volcanic plug on the southern flank. There is the Mt. Popa Mountain Resort located higher up the slops of the mountain and has great views out over the valley. The steps up to the temple began from the village located at the base. I bought a bottle of water first before heading up the stairs. The first part was lined with the ever present souvenir sellers. There were groups of monkeys scampering around the stairs. About 1/3 the way up you must take off your shoes/socks and ascend the rest of the way barefoot. I missed the sign on the way up and was yelled at by one of the workers that tirelessly try to keep the steps clean of monkey poo. At least the stairs were tile and somewhat easier to walk on. Groups of locals and a few tourists were ascending as well. I was msotly OK until I got to two nearly vertical metal ladders that were really painful on my feet.



I eventually made it up to the top of the 777 steps in about 30 minutes. There were more monkeys scampering around and I tossed one a banana. That caused a mini riot as the other monkeys started chasing after the first one. Some of them jumped on my back and tried getting into my bag. I literally had to get the monkey off my back. The view from the top was incredible, I could see all the way to the mountains surrounding Bagan. Going back down the stairs was actually harder than going up, especially the metal ladders. We drove to a nearby restaurant for lunch where I had Chinese fried noodles. All the food I'd had so far in Myanmar was very good.


Jojo my taxi driver

We were back in Bagan by 2pm where I just hung out at the hotel for awhile. My taxi driver said he would drive me to the airport the next morning for no extra charge. I am a member of a travel board, while browsing it I found out that another member would be in Myanmar at the same time, we then found out we'd both be in Bagan, and the sanme hotel, on the same day! We planned to meet up for dinner or a drink that evening. He had been traveling through Myanmar for a few more days than I had, and had come down the river on a boat from Manadalay that morning. We ended up going out to the Aroma 2 Indian restaurant, whose guarantee is 'No good, no pay!'. We spent a few hours swapping travel stories. The food was very good but at 9000ks ($11) it was my most expensive meal so far I'd had in Myanmar.
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Old Nov 23, 12, 2:23 am   #12
 
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Great TR Thanks a lot for the pics and descriptions. Looking forward to our visit in December if xp doesn't cancel our tickets
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Old Nov 24, 12, 7:22 am   #13
 
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Very amazing. I have a return ticket booked from RGN that I got during the May fare sale. I'm hoping I can make it but my plans will probably change because of work
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Old Nov 24, 12, 9:33 am   #14
 
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Very nice report! Thank you for sharing!
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Old Nov 24, 12, 7:06 pm   #15
 
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Thank you for the detail and putting these amazing temples on my to see list.
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