Burma Part 2

Oct 9th, 2008, 10:46 PM
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Burma Part 2

(Apologies if this seems dreary and boring...but Rangoon and the Savoy Hotel were our R&R stop, so we did very little).

Prior to boarding the Pandaw, we has arrived in Rangoon and were met and taken to the Chatrium Hotel (formerly the Nikko). The hotel has seen better days (so have most hotels in Rangoon) but at $45 a night I wasn’t about to complain. Besides, the rooms where clean, the pool was great, and the food was excellent.

We unwound by the pool for the first day, and the second day we went into the city to have a quick look at Scots Market – which we found somewhat disappointing.

It started to rain as soon as we arrived, and had no umbrella.

I found it hilarious, as we dodged the rain on our way to Traders Hotel, that here we were – probably among the richest people on the street and couldn’t buy an umbrella. All the Burmese were carrying them, but try as we might, no-one would accept $US!

The second day we met the two other Australians (referred to earlier) – Mike Loxton and Sue Franklin - who were also joining the Pandaw cruise the next day, so toured the Shwedagon with them. You can read up about this amazing temple and save me describing it. Suffice to say that I obtain numerous photographs, despite several torrential downpours.

Following the Pandaw cruise we again returned to Rangoon and the Chatrium – the hotel used by the Pandaw.. We all travelled by mini bus into the city and went to Scots Market so the Pandaw passengers who were leaving the next day could enjoy their last bout of buying. That night we all had a farewell dinner at the Chinese Restaurant where we had had such a great meal prior to the cruise.

The next day we – and Mike and Sue - left and moved to the Savoy Hotel – a boutique style establishment. The Savoy was originally the residence and consulting rooms for an American doctor in the 1920’s, but was modernised and opened as a hotel in 1996 – yet the additions and refurbishment has been done so well that the total image is of a hotel as old as 75+ years.

We ventured into Rangoon again to shop, and that night – after an afternoon spent lazing around the pool - ate at the hotel’s Rossini Restaurant (Italian) with Mike and Sue.

The next day we did a walk that followed that in the Lonely Planet Guide. We appeared to be the only Europeans in Rangoon, and we wandered through wide streets and narrow lanes, all lined by crumbling, mouldy buildings.

At one point we were stopped by police and turned back, so we detoured around the area that was apparently prohibited and found ourselves at The Strand Hotel where we met Mike and Sue, who informed us that there had been a bomb explosion. It was the day before the first anniversary of the Yellow Crisis (uprising of the monks), so I guess we weren’t too surprised.

We had a drink in the bar and then headed back following the Lonely Planet guide through Little India and back to the starting point. Julie was stopped from taking innocent photos of a police station and a policeman watched as she deleted the photos she had taken!

We stopped at Traders Hotel and shared a high tea between the two of us for $8. It was excellent value for money, and far too much for one person to comfortably eat anyway.

We got back to the hotel about mid afternoon and lazed by the pool until tea time, when the four of us caught a cab to a restaurant called Manis – a delightful establishment with a splendid view to the Shwedagon from the first floor balcony.

The meal matched the view, and cost $52 for the four of us with about $24 of that comprising a bottle of wine (Mike loves his wine). We also discovered that while we appreciated the view, local business has dropped off because the Burmese refuse to drink while they are in sight of Shwedagon. Apparently several large trees that obscured it from view had blown down during the cyclone.

When we got back to the hotel we said our goodbyes to Mike and Sue, who were leaving the next morning.

The next morning I noted that Mike and Sue had pushed under our door the business card for the driver of a maroon 1959 Mercedes, a chap by the name of Tin Soe. I rang Tin, discovered his rate was $5US an hour, and told him to collect us in 15 minutes.

He duly arrived and stood polishing his vehicle as we walked towards him. He was obviously very proud of it. We told him where we wanted to go: MK Gems (a great place for reasonably priced rubies), the Gem Museum and the Glass Factory.

Lucky we had Tin with us. We would have never have found the Glass Factory, which was still in a state of ruin following Cyclone Nargis. Masses of broken glass everywhere, and the factory was wrecked. The price of gas had also risen, so the owners couldn’t work anyway. But they took it all in an extremely matter of fact and philosophical way. One of the owners had had a heart attack during the cyclone, but survived. After Nargis passed, they had no water but located an abandoned water well nearby and used that. They also had a late 1930’s model Vauxhall Wyvern (see my photography site).

From there we went to the Gem Museum – a real con if ever I saw one – and wasted $5 each on the entrance fee.

Then it was on to have a squiz at the so called “white” elephants – and photography was not allowed. The poor elephants looked miserable, and they were more pink than white. They were tethered and all they had to do all day was eat a form of hay.

Tin returned us to the hotel mid afternoon again, and (running true to form) we again read by the pool.

That night we went to Le Plantier Restaurant. It cost about $100 including wine and tip, but the food was fabulous and equal to anything we could have had in Australia for double the price! We also learned that 50 percent of Rangoon’s trees had come down during Cyclone Nargis, hence the lit parasols on the lawn below the balcony because they tender to fill in several gaps left by fallen trees.

Tin collected us the next day and we went to check out Scots Market again, as Julie had decided on some antiques from a shop on the first floor, and after purchasing them we tried to get Tin to take us to the waterfront. But he was not keen, and I suspect that due to the Yellow Crisis it was off limits to people.

Instead we went to The Governor’s Residence for mocktails. Lovely place to stay, but well off the beaten track. And it only had one couple staying there.

From there we were invited to Tin’s home to meet his family. When we pulled in and parked, Tin excitedly led us up some stairs…followed by more stairs..and more stairs…

Tin lived on the top floor - level 7 - of a double fronted apartment block. He had poles holding the ceiling up (legacy of the cyclone) and explained how he and his family had been without power for 12 hours. Even in daylight I wished I had a torch so I could see my way up the stairs, so God knows what it must have been like without lighting on the top floor for almost 12 hours.

When we returned to the hotel we were in time to catch the last 15 minutes of the AFL Grand Final between Hawthorn and Geelong.

The following day – our final one in Rangoon – we caught a taxi to the Strand for High Tea, and roamed the streets afterwards. The Strand was gorgeous, but there was virtually no-one staying there, so how it makes money is anyone’s guess. There was only one other couple having High Tea apart from ourselves. But High Tea was worth the money, and we sat back soaking up the atmosphere.

After wandering up and down streets, taking more photos, and buying some knick knacks for friends back home, we returned to the Savoy and watched the Singapore Grand Prix Under Lights.

We thoroughly enjoyed our Rangoon stay, although most afternoons we simply lazed by the pool. The Burmese are delightful, warm and polite people, in addition to being gentle and hospitable. There is virtually no hassling while shopping (apart from rare incidents at Scots Market), and we felt safer there that we have felt in most countries, including Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.

True – the city is rundown, moulding and crumbling. But it adds character and color. You won’t find many modern-day bargains there. I found one camera shop, but the cameras where more expensive than in Australia.

The meals are amazingly good and amazingly cheap. So are the drinks.

But the Burmese need tourists. They genuinely want them. So if you are thinking about Burma, do it. Simply go. You’ll meet some of the world’s nicest people – excluding the loathsome Generals.
Mitch04 is offline  
Oct 10th, 2008, 01:09 AM
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Thanks for Part 2 Mitch - I've been looking out for it. Sounds like Rangoon is a good place to hang out for a bit.

Given the choice which hotel would you stay in again - still the Savoy?
MaryW is offline  
Oct 10th, 2008, 09:22 AM
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MaryW, only an idiot would stay anywhere other than the Strand in Yangon. But...

Mitch, I'm sorry that you didn't drag out the drama more... Dogster could've got a novel the size of 'War and Piece' out of that adventure. lol. I remain totally jealous.

Now, by the sound of it, you might've found my two favorite shops in Scott Market? Upstairs, round the corner, next to each other? Yes? Tell me what you bought - and do you have some nice Burmese lacquerware from Bagan?

And what injuries did the crew sustain in the drama? It seems like they acted in the true Pandaw spirit. Which doesn't surprise me - after their cyclone effort.

Dogster wants more detail.

And what were you doing going to all those naff tourist places anyway? The Gem Museum... ?

And, lol, yup, those policemen REALLY don't like you taking their picture, do they? I tried to take a picture of a dog sitting by the 'Can I help you? sign.

'No!' they shouted.

'It's a picture of a dog.'


Ahhh, Myanmarrrrrrr.

dogster is offline  
Oct 10th, 2008, 10:26 PM
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I'd always stay at the Savoy. It's great. The Strand might be grand, but it's like a dreary old morgue and there's no swimming pool. There didn't appear to be anyone no-one staying when we were there (and we visited twice). It might be pleasant for Dogster (I have never seen his legs, so he would hardly miss a pool) but I thought that it was hellishly overpriced, despite the ambience.

The Chatrium was also pretty good and has lovely gardens, and at $45 a night including a masive buffet breakfast it's a steal. Traders Hotel is in the heart of things, but the pool is miserably small and offers no shade whatsoever.

The Governor's Residence is argually the pick of them - apart from it's remote location.

Dogster....Michael was our "doctor" (after 20 years as a RAN medico he has seen it all before, and was actualkly one of the guys in Australia who assisted co-ordinate medical effort for the tsunami), and he looked after the crew, bandaging their cuts and abrasions, and removing glass from their feet, and checking for broken bones.

Several were dispatched direct to the hospital when we arrived in Mandalay.

We were indeed fortunate that no-one was seriously injured. The coffee tables in the saloon are inlaid with marble (as you know) and are somewhat substantial and hefty. When they slid across the floor numerous times, I was fearing the worst. But you know how tough Pandaw pasengers are!

Once we were on the mud island sinking to our ankles, and the crew broke out the the grog (about 30 minuts after abandoning ship), it was "party time" and most of nus simply swigged from the bottles that were being passed around.

The forked lightening was also a real worry as it buzzed around us.

One woman suffered a black eye, and several, including my wife, had very severe bruising (3 weeks later my wife's thigh is still showing signs of bruising).

I lost my glasses...but they turned up next morning with severe scratches to one lens.

There is a sandal hiding on the mud island that belongs to a Sydney-sider. If you find it on your next cruise, bring it back and mail it to me...I'll forward it on to him. He'll be ever so grateful *lol*.

I could have drawn the saga out, but it was really a freak incident. Besides, as a former journalist and media agency bloke, I have always written "short". That may have been some time ago, but old habits die hard. So I settled for brevity.

Gods knows where the Pandaw IV's tarpaulin is. Prolly found by a lucky local who is using it to roof his hut...and the bugger is prolly sitting in the rattan armchairs and sofas that the high winds blew from the top deck.

Most of the stools in the saloon lost a leg or two also, as were a number of the dining room tables and chairs.

I daresay that several miles upstream there is now the most comfortable village on the Irrawaddy, and really furnished well.
Mitch04 is offline  
Oct 10th, 2008, 10:51 PM
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And did you find my shops upstairs in Scott's market?

dogster is offline  
Oct 10th, 2008, 11:21 PM
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Yeah, we did...not lacquer work is not really our thing. We purchased some antiques (I use the word dubiously) - wooden figurenes, a beaded belt, bracelets and other stuff! The two shopes were excellent, thanks.
Mitch04 is offline  
Oct 11th, 2008, 07:21 AM
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Glad you recovered so well from the excitement on the river!

Thanks for the report - there's so little about Myanmar here. I agree that visitors are needed - I had serious doubts about going, but then a friend virtually adopted her driver, so I went with them. It was clear that the money coming in from selling off timber and minerals to China wasn't trickling down. I was a little amused about the 12 hours without power - my driver said that in Yangon they could be without power for days, and not because of the weather.

I had remembered the Gem Museum as being interesting, so I checked my notes and see that I wrote "two floors shops, one floor exhibit" so I must have thought they were good exhibits. I also wrote "new respect for miners". Did you find that places were taking credit cards? When I was there I think there was just one hotel that took them (not the guesthouse I stayed in!).
thursdaysd is offline  
Oct 11th, 2008, 06:06 PM
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The only places that took credit cards (that we experienced) where Pandaw Cruises, the Chatrium Hotel, and the Savoy Hotel. I daresay that other major hotels do also, and most of the upmarket gem shops will also. But we didn't try in the street or at Scot Market because we figured the answer would ne a firm "NO!".

In some streets the shops weren't even acceoting US$ - hence our inability to buy an umbrella.

We did have a funny instance at The Strand Hotel, where we paid for our high tea with US$. The waitress return, saying softly: "Cashier will not accept this note because it is torn..."

Sure it was torn where it had been folded in the middle, but the tear was less than one millimetre!

Those Burmese are very discerning *ROTFL*

I note your comment about the 12 hours loss of power....but there is a huge difference between losing power for 12 hours on a normal day and in daylight - or even at night.

It's a tad more frightening in a hurricane when you live on the top floor of a dodgy narrow high rise, and the roof is being ripped away by the wind - especially when the wind also rips out 50 percent of Rangoon's trees.
Mitch04 is offline  
Oct 13th, 2008, 06:41 PM
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Tempusfugit is offline  
Oct 13th, 2008, 07:04 PM
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nice report....reminds me of our 5 days there....

having a local driver made all the difference in the world....he knew how to get around everything....too bad you missed the waterfront....it reminded me of 1850...
rhkkmk is offline  
Oct 13th, 2008, 07:34 PM
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I appreciate your report. I have struggles for years (frankly, more than a decade) about whether to visit. One of these days...
Kathie is offline  
Oct 14th, 2008, 09:55 AM
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Thanks for bringing back good memories. I too enjoyed the Savoy. Our Pandaw cruise from Bagan to Mandalay featured 2 full days of heavy rain, so you were lucky.. Visiting the villages where the Pandaw stopped (and riding in the back of an ox cart to get to them) was a wonderful but very soggy experience.
Kathie I do hope you'll decide in favor of a visit in the near future. It was one of my favorite trips and I feel the more Western eyes on the ground, the more the world with know what's going on there.
Robbietravels is offline  

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