For anyone considering heading out to visit Gav and Schubie, buckle up. You’ll know you’re not on a regular route when all the beach bunnies on the flight to Bangkok head off for connecting flights to Ko di Caprio and you join the line for Yangon with an all-local cast of cut-throats. However, Yangon airport was efficient and the Micky Mouse visas we got on-line seemed to impress the immigration officer, who was luckily distracted by someone having a melt down at the next desk and let us through.
Your first impression of Yangon is likely to be the heat. We were fully-expecting the heat (mainly
from Lindsey’s moaning). So no surprise that we spent the first few minutes outside the airport
saying, ‘Yes, this is quite hot.’, and other understatements. The next thing you’re likely to notice is the ‘entertaining’ traffic. They LOVE an extra-long red light in Yangon and the first one you encounter will drive you crazy. Plus all taxis appear to have been fitted with barely-functioning-air-conditioning as standard, trapping you in a constant dilemma of ‘would it be better or worse with the windows open?’ Luckily, getting around is cheap, taking the edge off the traffic experience, but when you are not actually in a taxi you are still busy trying not to get hit by one, so it is immersive to say the least.
People say there’s not a lot to do in Yangon (which is no problem given the amazing sights in Bagan and beyond), but we found the streets in the downtown ‘colonial’ area to be fascinating and we tried to systematically walk as many of them as we could, which was fine as long as we could find an air-conditioned bar to cool off in at regular intervals.
Food in Myanmar was generally a highlight. Gav and Linz gave us a quick crash course in menu options which was great. Give me a tea leaf salad and Myanmar fish curry any day! A few places were clearly a bit too ‘local local’ for us westerners, (we gave mystery innards fondue a miss), but on the entire trip only once was a meal a bit challenging (and this is picky Paula we are talking about!).
The locals were super friendly almost without exception. One night we turned up at a restaurant with maybe 8 small tables. The owner said he had a party of 17 about to arrive and couldn’t fit us in, but he showed us to a vacated table as he said this. As Gav explained, ‘the Burmese hate to say ‘no’’. It is possible to get by in most places in Myanmar with very basic English, so the language was not too much of a problem.
I won’t repeat the highlights of our tour to Bagan and Inle Lake, but these were great destinations. Before the end of our trip we also went to the beach at Ngapali, a 45min flight from Yangon. Here they had street dogs on the runway, which was a new one on me.
On one level Ngapali is a standard beach resort, but it is somewhat underdeveloped which for some will be a key selling point. There were almost no cars, but all manner of make-shift transport could get you around, such as two-person motorcycle sidecars. Eating out in Ngapali was comical; you ordered your meal and a bike or moped would immediately leave out of the back of the restaurant and come back with bags minutes later. Hey presto, food would start to appear. I’m pretty sure this even happened when we ate lunch at the hotel.
Myanmar, and Yangon in particular, is an unselfconscious place. Despite the heat, noise and dust, we had some affection for Yangon before we left and we are excited for Gav and Linz living there and having the opportunity to explore the region. I dreamt of what we had seen in Myanmar for several days after we got back, including one dream where we had to escape from a Tiger. I am already working on the screenplay with a working title: The Life of Si.