Myanmar New Year Trip Report

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Jan 4th, 2007, 01:37 AM
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Myanmar New Year Trip Report

My family and I had had a fantastic time in Myanmar for the New Year holiday and I would like to thank all that had posted trip reports about Myanmar and to those that help answered some of our questions on this board. I’m not use to writing a trip report so I hope you’ll find the information useful.

Bangkok to Yangon by Air Asia - no delay: We landed at the new terminal of Yangon International airport and had to carry our luggage about 300 – 400 meters to the old airport for our domestic flight to He Ho. Here we experienced the dreaded porters who tried to take advantage of all the tourists by offering useless services and demanding a tip. Apart from the porters the airline staff, especially those that handle the luggage all demanded tips for what I deem as part of their duty.

Yangon to He Ho (Inle Lake) by Air Mandalay – 1 & ½ hour delay: Yangon domestic airport was a dump and over 500 passengers had crammed into a small, old and dirty departure room. Since no information was offered by the ground staff as to new departure time no body dare to leave. The flight itself was good and took only 1 hour and 20 minutes in a twin turbo prop.

He Ho to Inle Princess Resort: We were met by a rep of the resort who directed us to our waiting taxi. The drive, on possibly one of the worst road on the earth, lasted about 1 hour but at least the scenery along the way was beautiful. At the pier in Nyaung Shwe we were met by the resort boat which took us through some beautiful canals with clean clear water before arriving at the Inle Princess Resort.

Inle Princess Resort: Upon arrival we were greeted with cold towels and some fruit juices and were escorted to our Mountain View Chalet. We did try to get a better room but “luckily” none were available. The “Mountain View” chalets only differ from the “Lake View” chalets by being angled away from the fronting canal - this resort was not directly on the lake but was situated on a rather wide canal. A few of the lake view chalets had an outdoor shower and bath but that would have been a bad choice in winter since it was so cold! Our chalet was basic but well equipped with all the needed amenities. At night the mosquito net were draped around our bed where fresh flower petals were placed and hot water bottles were put in between the sheets. The manager and the owner seek us out to personally greet us and they were both very nice.

We spent the afternoon exploring around the resort and made use of the complimentary mountain bikes and canoes to visit a nearby village that was only meters away from the back entrance of the Inle Princess. The village reminded us, my wife and I, of Thailand many, many years ago and we had a wonderful time reminiscing of bygone days. Our teenage daughter got to experience what it was like in the past and we got to explain and show her how things use to be. The people were very friendly and had very sincere smiles on their faces – so much different from the hassle of our airport experiences. We were welcome in their houses, workshops and backyards and the villagers seem to enjoy us as much as we enjoyed them.

We return to the resort and had a drink at the main lodge where we watched a beautiful sunset. The temperature dived after sunset from a very pleasant 20C to about 6C before dawn. We had dinner at the resort since it was very dark and cold outside and we did not feel like venturing out on the lake in such condition. The food was acceptable but not great and this was the trend for our entire trip – acceptable but not great food! I had brought along some of my favorite wine and champagne and we open our first bottle here. The resort didn’t mind us drinking our own wine and was nice enough not to charge us a corkerage fee. A bottle of Penfold Grange Hermitage perfectly complimented our Shan and Chinese food that we had ordered and afterward we retire to our chalet for the evening.

From midnight onward we were very cold in our room as the thin walls of the chalets did nothing to keep the cold out. We saw a few mosquitoes after sunset but they all disappeared within a few hours after the temperature drop. There was one portable electric heater but that was not enough to keep the room sufficiently warm. By dawn we had to move the heater into the bathroom so that we could do our stuff in there! I got up at around 5.30 am mostly because I was so cold and wanted to move about. It was a very cold foggy morning with limited visibility but the hot coffee and breakfast at the resort was very welcoming. Most of the other guests were from Europe and we all noticed that they were all very cold as well!

Our tour for the day started at 8.00 am where our long tail boat and captain were waiting for us at the pier (arranged by the Resort for $25 per day). We were offered blankets to help keep warm on the boat ride around the lake. The scenery was beautiful especially with the fog and it gave a very surreal feeling to it seeing the fisherman and their boats emerging from the fog as we cruise along the lake to the morning market. As an avid amateur photographer I greatly enjoy taking a lot of photos whilst my wife recorded the moment on our new high definition camcorder. We went from one end of the lake to the other and it took us almost an hour. As we approach the northern shore of the lake the sun started to finally show itself and gradually warm us up. We pass by a village on stilt, didn’t write down the name, and saw many children paddling their boats about. They were all smiling and waving as we pass them giving me a great photo op.

Upon entering the vicinity of the market we had to pass by a flotilla of souvenir selling canoes before we could finally reach the embankment. The market was great and it again reminded us of the old days in Thailand. The people were happy and contented and all sorts of merchandises and food were being sold or exchange. We wandered around and bought some souvenirs as well as trying some of the local food which were quite tasty. We spent about an hour and a half there before we move on to our next destination. I should point out that the various destinations were planned ahead of time by the resort coordinator and the boat captain.

The next three stops for our boats were typical tourist trap kind of places: a cheroot making factory, a silk weaving factory and a silver making factory. We stop by each one and only spent about 5 minutes at each place and the added side benefit was to use the relatively clean and modern toilets at these places. To be fair none of the people at these “factories/shops” try to be overly aggressive in trying to sell their craft but we would rather have skip them all. Lunch was at the Orchid restaurant where our resort had recommended us to go to for the giant river prawns but they didn’t have any! We ended up with a free lunch compliment of the owner of the Inle Princess Resort.

The afternoon touring with our boat started with a trip to the Inn-Dein stupas. This is a must visit site if you staying around Inle! We maneuvered through a relatively narrow creek for about ½ hour before reaching our destination. The scenery along the way was great and you’ll get to see farmers going about their daily routines as well as a few buffalos drinking or bathing in the creek. The Inn-Dein stupas was at the top of a hill and the walk there was quite interesting crossing a few more creeks and a river as well as a covered walkway lined with several souvenir stalls. Walking amongst the ancient stupas as well as the view from the top of the hill was spectacular and I highly recommend it.

After that the captain took us around the various floating farms around the lake and the final stop was at the “Jumping Cat Temple”. Truly a waste of time unless you find it exciting to watch a few cats jump through a hoop. We return to the Inle Princess in time to watch another spectacular sunset. Dinner was again at the resort. The next day after breakfast we left the resort a little early to explore some very old temples along the way back to He Ho airport for our flight to Mandalay.

* I was able to use my Thai registered GSM phone around Inle!
** Best exchange rate that we got was 1,260 Kyat to the dollar.
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Jan 4th, 2007, 03:27 AM
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Great start, Hanuman - how long was the immigration process at the airport?
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Jan 4th, 2007, 04:09 AM
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Thanks for the report. Can't wait for more.

I had heard Inle lake got cold, but hadn't realised it got that cold.

Looking forward to seeing your pictures!

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Jan 4th, 2007, 04:47 AM
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Craig, we were one of the first group off the plane and it didn't take us longer than 5 minutes. The immigration officials as well as the custom inspector were very friendly and we didn't have any problem.

Femi, glad you like my report! I'm "developing" my digital from RAW into JPEG in preparation of sharing them on the net. Any advice on which website has the best picture hosting?

I will try and do the rest of my report tonight as I'm having an operation tomorrow and I'm not sure how long I will be in recovery!
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Jan 4th, 2007, 05:03 AM
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He Ho to Mandalay by Air Bagan – ½ hour EARLY!: Air Bagan was our favorite domestic airline in Myanmar. Brand new Fokker 100 jet liner very, very quite and comfortable seats. There is even a business class but for a 20 minutes flight economy will do nicely.

Mandalay airport seems out of place in comparison to the other airports around Myanmar. I believe it was built and donated to the country by the Japanese government and it is as modern as any airport around the world. If a larger jet like a 747 or A380 were to land in Myanmar this is the only airport that can accommodate those planes. The taxi ride into town took over 1 hour through a “less bumpy” road.

Rupar Mandalar Resort: Beautiful small boutique type of a hotel with only 17 rooms and suites. The pool and tennis courts were very large for such a small hotel and later I found out, through the Thai GM that the owners converted their house into this resort. We had an extremely large family suite and found it very comfortable. Both here and in Bagan the cable TV were from Thailand’s UBC TV which my wife appreciated since she could watch her favorite Thai program. We did not eat at this hotel but did order room service and had the weirdest dining experience for our entire trip! After a rather disappointing dinner at one of the river side restaurant (Irrawaddy Scene Restaurant) I was still hungry when we got back to the hotel. I ordered what I considered as a “can’t go wrong” dish – a cheese burger. 10 minutes after ordering the room service the burger was delivered to our room – great! I took a bite and was shock to find that it didn’t contain any beef patty. I call room service as well as the night manager and I was told that what I got was correct a cheese burger – cheese with burger buns! I gave them a 15 minutes lecture on what a cheese burger should be, hamburger with cheese, and they took it back only to return with the same dish but this time with a of slices of ham added! I gave up and canceled the order.

Mandalay Touring: Rather disappointed with Mandalay as I found it to be uninteresting with choking fumes from the unregulated motorcycles and prehistoric cars. The temperature was warmer then at Inle around 25C during the day and 17C at night. We visited Mandalay Palace where we paid the $10 per person multi destination (can be use at most tourist sites around Mandalay) fee. The palace had been extensively fixed or renovated by the government and it doesn’t look authentic or old - in fact it looked rather cheap! After the palace we went up Mandalay hill and again it was full with tourist and apart from the panoramic view of the city there was nothing special about it.

As we were leaving early in the afternoon on the next day we had a few hours to kill so we decided to visit Mingun. The traditional travel method was to catch the government run ferry but on the advice of the Thai GM at the Rupar Mandalar we hire a taxi for $5 an hour and drove directly to Mingun. The journey took only 1 hour from our hotel, which is 5 minutes away from the Palace or the Sedona Hotel. We arrived 1 hour before the ferry did and had the place to ourselves. We paid our respect to the Buddhist shrine inside the unfinished temple, by the way we are Buddhist, and took some pictures. Just down the road from Mingun was another temple which housed the largest bell in the world. We did not find either place interesting but if you have time to kill it’s the only game in town worth seeing!

* Our cell phone did not work here. I found out from the Thai GM at the Rupar Mandalar that the cell phone network in Myanmar will periodically turn on the system that allow international roaming when there are visiting diplomats from Thailand or other Asean countries visiting that particular area!

** The Taxi ride into town cost us $20 per way.

*** Lots of big mosquitoes at night!
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Jan 4th, 2007, 06:25 AM
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Mandalay to Nyaung U (Bagan) by Air Bagan – ¼ hour EARLY!: Another early flight by Air Bagan. Again we flew on a Fokker 100 jet liner and there were no more than 20 passengers on this 20 minutes flight.

Nyaung U airport was rather small, similar in size to He Ho airport and there were plenty of taxis about – I think they know when each flight land and would hang out around the airport for potential business.

Aureum Palace Resort: Truly spectacular! It was only 5 minutes away from the airport and you get a feeling that the resort is a part of the ruins of Old Bagan! The sandstone villas and lobby complex perfectly blended in with the surrounding temples which were very close to the resort. The view from the lobby across their large pool onto the plains of Old Bagan was amazing. We had a 2 storey “Lotus” villa and it work out perfectly as our daughter would sleep in the converted downstairs living room, with her own private bathroom while my wife and I had the upstairs master bed room. The master bathroom was very nice and big with a large Jacuzzi bath, large shower room and toilet room and strong water pressure. We had two large balconies and one of them was like a floating outdoor living area which we made use of every day. The view from the second floor was spectacular and we watch the sunset over the temples every evening. All the electronics (TVs etc) were brand new and again we were able to watch UBC TV. Right next to the resort is a rather strange structure – a very tall circular tower that looks as if it had a restaurant at the top as well as observation rooms. The food at the Aureum was pretty good and again they did not mind us drinking our own wine and champagne with no extra charges at their restaurant. We spent the rest of the day exploring the resort and did not go out until the next day.

Balloon over Bagan: While we were at Inle I called the local office of Balloon over Bagan at the Old Bagan hotel and manage to secure 2 spaces for the early morning balloon flight on the 31st December. We were told to be ready at our lobby by 5.55 am and right on the minute the B.O.B. bus arrived to pick us up. A very old WWII bus but it still ran well. We stop by another hotel to pick up a couple of Japanese men and arrived at the launching ground at around 6.20 am. Our balloon pilot, Ian from Bristol met us as we were getting off our bus and showed us the waiting area where coffee, tea and some pastries were served. Three un-inflated balloons lay on the open field and about 50 crew member were preparing them for our flight. Within 5 minutes two other BOB buses showed up with the rest of the passengers – 28 of us! The 3 English balloon pilots gave a quick speech and safety instructions as the crew “lit” up the burner and the balloons slowly filled up with hot air. Great sights in the early morning hours as the red flames from the burners were clearly visible.

We were split into 3 groups, the two smaller balloons carried the pilot plus 8 passengers each and my wife and I (daughter volunteered to sleep in) were put on the large balloon with 12 passengers. Amongst our group were the two Japanese men that our bus picked up as well as 3 people from the Road To Mandalay cruise ship. One of them happened to be the manager for the whole operation of the Eastern and Oriental hotel and we soon became friends and they invited us for lunch on the RTM which we respectfully declined as we had planned our days already.

The balloon slowly filled up and the crew held the balloons down while we all climbed in. Soon each balloon began to slowly float up and to begin with the three balloons were purposely at different altitude to determine the wind strength and direction. The sun was just coming up when we lifted off but it was quite hazy (smoke!) especially around ground level. Soon we were passing by the various temples of old Bagan and when we did get close to the famous bigger temples Ian (our pilot) would skillfully lower our balloon so that we were just inches away from the top of the temples! Children would chase after the balloons when they can and the pilot would yell out “Mingala-ba” (hello) to all that noticed us. The flight lasted slightly over an hour and due to the wind direction that morning we covered the entire Old Bagan as well as New Bagan and landed on a sandbank in the middle of the Irrawaddy River! That was so cool as there were no people on this sandbank. Ian radio ahead that were going to do this landing and within 10 minutes the crew arrived on a hastily chartered boat and laid out the champagne glasses. We had a few glasses of champagne (the real stuff from France) and our group became very friendly, exchanging business cards and email addresses. The balloon ride was well worth it but you have to be lucky with the weather to experience the kind of ride that we had. The day before they had to cancel one flight due to strong wind and the next day I watch from the balcony of our room at the Aureum while the balloon was helplessly motionless because of a lack of wind and all the pilot could do was go up and down in elevation! The thee pilots will be there until March so Craig you will get to fly with them! Tell Ian the Thai tourist who went to Millfield School said hello!

We got back to our hotel at around 9.45 am where our daughter was waiting for us to have breakfast. After breakfast we had arranged for a horse drawn cart for touring ($15 as somebody suggested in another post here at Fodors). We were armed with our copy of the the Lonely Planet Myanmar guide book and the driver spoke no English and yet we were able to communicate with him quite well. He was very experienced at doing this and took us to all the best temples for a ground level look. We visit the old deserted temples as well as the new still in use temples like the magnificent Ananda Phaya temple. We paid our respect and greatly enjoyed our tour on the horse drawn cart.

That evening we attended the mandatory New Year’s Eve dinner at our hotel. I didn’t like that too much as I thought it was poorly organize and for a $60 per person event a buffet dinner was not appropriate. After the dinner we were asked to move to the resort’s disco which we declined and went back to our room instead where I open a bottle of Dom to help as bring in the New Year. Most of the news channel switched from the Sadam hanging to the bombings in Thailand which bothered us greatly.

The next morning we had ½ a day to spend in Bagan before we had to fly to Yangon on the last leg of our journey. We rented another taxi for $20 for 3 hours worth of service and this time we chose to go lacquer ware shopping. We visited a few shops but did not find any interesting piece until we found this rather hidden shop/factory where we found some very nice pieces. My wife bought a few pieces and we were able to use our credit card for the first time in Myanmar and we were not charge any extra transaction fee.

We arrived at Nyaung U airport 1 hour before our flight departed only to the find the Yangon Airways (our airline for this route) check-in desks deserted. Bad sign and soon a Canadian man told me that he heard from the one of the porter that the plane is 2 hours delay! We waited for an hour and a half before the Yangon Airways official showed up and got our boarding passes before we ventured outside the airport to find some where to eat. Only my family and a couple from France were brave enough to eat at a roadside stall but it was better than no lunch and we didn’t have any stomach trouble.

* Our cell phone did not work here.

** Taxi ride from the airport to our hotel cost us $5 per way.

*** Very dry and dusty area of Myanmar – no mosquitoes around.
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Jan 4th, 2007, 06:42 AM
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Thank you so much for this detailed report, Hanuman. I leave San Francisco on January 29, arriving in Yangon the 31st. Your information about the cold at Inle lake is especially helpful: I will be prepared with extra layers. Also, your information describing the mosquito population helps me tremendously: I'll be taking even more repellent now! Looking forward to the photos too.
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Jan 4th, 2007, 06:52 AM
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Hanuman - I think our TA reserved all of our flights on Yangon - hopefully things will be ok.

We do have reservations at the Aureum in Bagan - a "Jasmine Villa" - did you see one of them - do all of the units face the sunset? What are the dining choices at the Aureum? From the web site it looks like there is more than one restaurant. The balloon ride sounds awesome - hope we are as lucky as you were - we'll be sure and mention you to the pilots. We have told our TA that we want to ditch our guide for a while in order to do the horse-drawn cart one morning.
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Jan 4th, 2007, 07:20 AM
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Craig, I believe the Jasmine villas are one storey units. I did not see the inside of the villa but I would opt for a Lotus villa if possible. I'm pretty sure that from all the villas you will be able to see the sunset but it's nicer the higher up you are. There is only one restaurant at the hotel and they serve all kind of food there.

We found that we didn't need a guide and saw a lot guides being "ditched" by several group of people as they wanted some privacy after a few days with them.
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Jan 4th, 2007, 07:21 AM
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Nyaung U to Yangon by Yangon Airways – 2 & ½ hour delayed!: We flew on a ATR 70 prop plane similar to the Air Mandalay plane that we took for the Yangon – He Ho sector. The flight was full and we made a stop at Napali. Looks like a rather nice seaside resort from our plane’s window.

Yangon: Arrival at the old airport was another horrendous experience. The luggage delivery system is a mess and it took us a while before we had to tip a luggage handler to collect our luggage for us! Again several porters and such besieged us but we were quite prepare for them this time and refuse all of their services and in some cases yelling at them to stay away.

The Strand Hotel: We found a rather good rate on the hotel’s web site with condition of staying 2 nights. The hotel offered us a Volvo limousine pickup service for $40 but we decline and use a taxi for 6,000 kyats(about $5). The hotel quite old but looks in pretty good shape. The services offered by our butlers were exceptional but in general the service was not on par with a typical 5 star hotel. We had a deluxe suite and it was quite spacious but the bathroom was rather old with some crack tiles. We noticed straight away that the tap water was kind of darkish in colour and as my wife ran a bath we could see that the water was not that clean. The guest receptionist at the hotel reassured as that it was normal and safe but we opted to use the mineral water to brush our teeth with. The bed was very nice similar to the beds at the Beverly Wilshire! We had dinner at the Strand Grill and the food was ok with some good tasting dishes along with some rather dissapointinng one. After dinner we took a taxi to walk around the China town of Yangon and it was quite a fun experience for us.

The included breakfast was served a la carte at the Strand Grill and I enjoyed a couple of cappuccinos to start the day of with. We took at taxi to the magnificent Shwezigon Pagoda in central Yagon. Make sure that you go to the North entrance where they have a couple of elevators to take you up. We spent a couple of hours here paying homage and taking more pictures again. After that we went shopping at the Bogyoke Aung San market (Scot Market). We found some good bargain for the local fabrics and bought quite a few yards from several stalls. My wife found it best to negotiate for the price in Kyats and then offer to pay in dollar where we further negotiate the exchange rate. Had lunch at the Chinese restaurant at the Traders hotel and found the hotel rather old and tired looking. Lunch took forever but at least they accepted credit card(with a 4% surcharge). Right next to the Traders is the Central hotel where we stop by after lunch for a great foot massage that lasted more than an hour. The price was only 4,000 Kyats! The same massage at the strand was offered at $50!

Our last night we had dinner at Le Planteur Restaurant, claimed by many books and magazines as the best French restaurant in Myanmar. The restaurant sent a car to pick us up and it was a 1947 Austin that looks great for it’s age. It was only after the engine was started that we regretted not taking a taxi as we were overtook by every kind of vehicle including the very old WWII buses! The car made such a loud noise that it gave my wife a headache. Dining was al fresco and the food was very good for the price. We all had the $50 prix fix dinner and bought along our last bottles of champagne and wine (a Dom and an Opus1) where this time the restaurant charge us a corkerage fee of $15 per bottle. Dinner took a very long time over 3 hours but the place was full. It was sad to see the main restaurant at the Strand empty every night for the 2 nights that we were there.

Our flight back home was at 8.30 am on Air Asia and on the advise of our Butler we left the Strand at 6.00 am (breakfast were served in our suite). At Yangon airport the international check-in area was at the old airport and not the new terminal – strange! The departure area, once passed the passport control, was much better than the domestic counterpart and found some good prices for the duty free liquor - $100 for a 1996 Dom, $24 for a Penfold 407s etc. Our plane took off on time and we arrived back in Bangkok with very fond memories of Inle and Bagan.

* Our cell phone did work here.

** Most of the taxis in Yagon are in pretty bad condition some with exhaust fume leaking into the car!

If you want to go to Myanmar I would recommend that you spend most of my time around Inle, Bagan and possibly Napali Beach while avoiding the major cities like Mandalay. Yagon is good for a day or two especially for visiting the magnificent Shwezigon Pagoda.

The people we met outside of the big city were all friendly, sincere and nice. We only encountered the army twice, once at He Ho airport where some soldiers were being flown to somewhere and a road convoy around Inle. We hope to return to Myanmar in the future and I highly recommend everybody who visits Thailand to consider dropping by Myanmar.
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Jan 4th, 2007, 07:28 AM
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For Whitepelican, FYI didn't see any mosquitoes in Yangon. I hope you all will have a great trip to Myanmar!
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Jan 4th, 2007, 04:13 PM
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Thanks for the report Hanuman.

Myanmar was the only country in which I have had flights repeatedly leave *early*! Though from your report, things could just as easily be the opposite.

I used Kodak Gallery to display my pictures, and it seems like most people on Fodors do, but my latest obsession is www.flickr.com

Although I haven't yet tried it, I do believe you can post your pics on flickr and then e-mail the link to others.

I also agree with your assessment of which areas have the most to offer tourists.
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Jan 4th, 2007, 06:57 PM
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Hanuman, thanks so much for your report!

I hope your surgery and recovery and fast and painless!
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Jan 6th, 2007, 07:15 AM
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Femi,

I've tried flickr.com by the connection speed is really slow for some reason.

Kathie,

Thank you for caring! Was just released from the hospital this afternoon and it was painful!! Had a Sinus operation and my face looks like some one punch me a 1,000 time.

I've download some photo into another web site that Bob uses so here's the link and I hope you'll enjoy them.

http://hanumanfodors.shutterfly.com/
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Jan 6th, 2007, 09:04 AM
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Hanuman, glad your surgery was a success and that you are back on Fodors posting again. Your photos are fantastic - I can't wait to go (less than 6 weeks from now).
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Jan 6th, 2007, 11:49 AM
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Haunman - I'm glad your surgery is over and now its healing time.

I enjoyed your perspective of Myanmar. It is a country I expect to go back to this year. I see you also experienced early planes as well as late planes!
I had forgotten that - thats why I like trip reports! I personally thought HeHo was the worst (read that dirtiest) airport I had ever experienced and I was there for hours - but I'd still go back.

Where did you get the 1260 exchange rate? I never did that well.
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Jan 6th, 2007, 06:02 PM
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Wintersp, we got the 1,260 kyat rate the second time we exchanged dollars. It was at a little shop in Nyaung Shwe and the owner of the shop could speak Thai, more precisely the Northern dialect of Thai. She recommend us to an exchanger and after that we just demanded 1,260 kyat to a dollar every where else we went to.

Craig, thank you I feel better today and I hope to fully recover within a week. Hope you will have a fantastic time in Myanmar.
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Jan 6th, 2007, 08:04 PM
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Interesting report Hanuman- brought back some fond memories of our trip to Myanmar. Your photos are also great-Inle looks very different from when we were there in July.
Craig-you must be getting excited..not long now?
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Jan 6th, 2007, 09:34 PM
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a fantastic story and wonderful pictures...thanks so much for sharing them...

hope we can meet up when next in bkk and again thanks for the loy krathang invite...

bob
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Jan 6th, 2007, 10:10 PM
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Hanuman:

Glad you are on the mend. Thanks for the delightful report and beautiful pictures. You have a lovely family!

Aloha!
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