Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Myanmar / Thailand Trip Recap (2)

Day 2 - Yangon

We started off our day with traditional Burmese breakfast - mohinga and "le-pet-yeh ball-sing" (that's noodles in fish soup and milk tea, easy on sugar in Burmese for you).  After you finish your bowl, you can even ask for more "hin" or soup for free to wash it all down.

Mohinga, a traditional Burmese breakfast
After breakfast, we went to the bank to exchange money.  Since Myanmar is still a cash-basis society and foreign exchange is not convenient outside the city, we know we have to carry a lot of cash with us.  In the past, you would have to exchange your money in the black market to get the best rates.  Now the gap is nominal.  At the time I changed my money, USD1 equates to 812 kyats at the bank versus 820 kyats on the streets.  Since it's usually a rich day for me if I have USD100 in my wallet, I feel like a champ carrying these hundred thousands of kyats around town.  All the notes were wrapped in a small piece of brown paper stamped with the bank chop with an elastic band.

Tip: the business hours for the banks here begins around 9am, the staff take a 2-hour lunch everyday and pretty much everyone is gone by 3pm.  And of course, the banks are closed during the weekends.  Therefore, make sure you get there early!  There will be a line.

The different denomination of the kyat
I feel like a millionaire!
Beautiful flowers on the sidewalk
We took a public bus (with no doors and no A/C - don't think I can live it but certainly an experience as a tourist) to a travel agency in town to confirm our trip within Myanmar.  (My cousin did most of the work already - drafting the itinerary, selecting the agencies, comparing the prices, etc.)  It's so much easier to arrange everything through an agency than to do everything on your own.  You could argue it's cheaper to bypass the agent but I am still a casual traveler and not a hardcore backpacker so I would save myself the trouble.  For reference, my 8-day trip covering Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle costs ~USD800.  (Note:  I went during non-peak season so your price could double if you go during the peak season.)  The price includes 4 domestic flights, 7 nights of hotel, all transportation and fees at the tourist attractions.  You can include food for an extra USD145 but I sincerely doubt I would spend USD145 on food when my breakfast that morning only cost ~1000 kyats. 

Tip:  Make sure you ask your travel agent what currency they take or exchange rate they use prior to your trip.  Most of them have access to emails.

Tip:  There are only 3 seasons in Myanmar - hot, rainy, and cool.  Hot season is from March to May, rainy season is from June to October and cool season is from November to February.  Cool months are the peak season and everything cost nearly 2x as much then.  However, if you want to enjoy a nice balloon ride in Bagan or check out the sunflower fields in Mandalay / Inle, that's the time to go.  On the other hand, if you are a hardcore foodie that can withstand the heat, go in April / May.  This is when your can devour all the tropical fruits you can dream of.  Avoid the rainy season at all costs.

The travel agent we used this time
We went to the Bogyoke Aung San Market after lunch at a local restaurant.  I was a little disappointed since the market was so raved on Trip Advisor but turned out to be just average.  Maybe I was expecting too much.  

Bogyoke Aung San Market

The market is famous for its jewelry, jade in particular
Our server at the market
some traditional desserts - coconut juice based

my new favorite juice
a smart indian woman selling traditional snacks
she offered us a sample and we bought a full bag :)
mango fever!

After a quick afternoon snack and more to go, we left the market and went to Kandawgyi Lake.  The lake is breath-taking and quickly became one of my favorite places.  In fact, this is where I took one of my favorite pictures of the entire trip!

Kandawgyi Lake
Beautiful Sunset - one of my favorites from the trip!
Inside the boat is a restaurant that offer traditional dances and a buffet - for 20,000 kyats per pax
we didn't go since our relatives says it's overrated... oh well...

When we returned for the night, our hostess surprised us with a large plate of tropical fruits from her hometown, which is well-known for producing fruits.  (Her family owns a plantation and just happened to be sending her some and she was very generous to share the love.)  They were so good!  Plus, I learned a new trick for eating Rambutan from her.  Instead of getting my fingernails all dirty from peeling the shell, just get a knife and run it around the fruit in a circle, the succulent flesh will comes out with a pop!  (How come I never thought of it before!!)

Rambutan - taste like a tangy lychee but bigger
After you peeled off the hairy shell
Durian - the king of fruits - it's an acquired taste... I can eat it but I am just not a fan.
Better save it for those who truly love the fruit, right?


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