Thursday, April 6, 2006

Yangon 28-12-2005

Hello all,Yes, there IS internet in Yangon although it is a little hard to locate, just because there is a shop filled with people on computers calling itself Mr Cyber (LOL! Mr Cyber! hehehe) doesn't mean it has net access, just something to bear in mind.
Sooo, Yangon... I think what I write here may be looked at because I was 'denied access' to yahoo until the man came and fiddled with the 'puter so I'm going to have to be a little discreet with what I say I think . Not that it WILL be checked necessarily but still, should be careful nonetheless.
We'll start with the airport shenanigans. I'll have to take back what I said last time about the number of immigration counters that aren't used, this time they were ALL in operation and so we got through relatively quickly... however this was more than made up for waiting for our (well, Dylan's) bag to come in off the plane. We spent almost an hour standing by the carousel waiting! And we weren't the only ones, I swear they were carrying each bag individually across from the plane to the terminal, or perhaps two at a time slung over their shoulders. At one time we got up to 4 whole bags on the carousel at once, amazing! I am at a loss to explain why it took so long but never mind, patience is the key.
While we waited I was chatted up by a young man dressed in a neat white shirt tucked into his longyi (Long-Ghee, an ankle length sarong worn by almost all the men we've seen) with his wallet tucked into the back. He told me about his guesthouse and as he was so nice and non-pushy about it we decided to go along with him (eventually, once our bag finally materialized!) to check it out. I made the mistake of asking him how many FEC's (Foreign exchange certificates, a strange method they had of obtaining hard currency) we needed to buy and instantly I saw a shadow pass over his face and he became guarded, ' Not need to buy any more, we can talk about it later' he said and I realised I'd accidentally hit a nerve and changed the subject to having an out of date guidebook. For the record, that man's name is pronounced something like Mon-yay and we are staying at his place, it's a little way out of town but nice anyway.
Speaking of money lets talk about it! From now on, when I say dollars I mean of the green US variety. We had an amount of US cash on hand, and another larger amount of US Amex travellers cheques. Realising that FECs were no longer in use (which is a good thing as it was a total crock) we asked at our guesthouse where we could change a travellers cheque... and the answer was that only ONE place in the whole entire capital would do so, and it's not a bank, it's a fancy-scmancy hotel out on the edge of town. What's more, they charge a whopping 10% to do so! So we asked about getting a cash advance on a credit card and the answer was the same, the same hotel - who charges 7.3% themselves, plus 1.something % from their bank plus whatever your own bank will charge (!!!!) But as we really had no choice we caught a taxi out to this ginormous hotel, got smiled at nicely, had our bags checked at the entrance and got our money, only losing 10% of our budget in the process. Needless to say we weren't all that impressed and I considered taking back my 10% in free cookies and sweets from the counter but I forgot at the finish. At least we had all the doors opened for us and a 'have a nice day' as we left which took a bit of the sting out of it.
FYI, travellers cheques were OK up until the FECs went out of use, and if you don't have a widely known currency or travellers cheques (IE US or maybe pounds) then basically you're stuffed on the money front. Oh, or Thai baht if you find the right person, the right person probably NOT being one of the men that appear by your side every so often asking if you want to change money (!)
I'll be honest, Yangon is a mixed bag. We've visited several of the pagodas, always having to pay an entrance fee and then make a few 'donations' along the way usually into the ask-ees hand rather than the donation box they have in front of them which I find highly suspicious. We've had multiple offers from people to be a guide, either for the day or around a paya (pagoda), they're are always friendly and polite and what I find most interesting is that when you say 'no thank-you' the answer is always along the lines of 'oh ok, never mind, nice to meet you, have a nice day' and they wander off, I think these people have no guile or pushiness whatsoever! One man was particularly funny, when I said no he growled at me like 'grrrrr YES' and I laughed and said no again and another 'GRRR YES!' and I said no! and he laughed and said OK. Maybe you had to be there..

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