You can actually fly to Mandalay from Yangon for about $75US, so the romance of the road is somewhat lessened. After bouncing around the Mon State south east of Yangon for the past week, I’ve come to value the brevity of flights.
I’ve learned a few other things here, which I’ll note briefly. I’m saving up most of my ideas and stories for when we return to Shanghai in early August. The three layers of proxies that I have to work through here are exhausting and I lose a lot of material when pages suddenly declare themselves to be invalid.
What I have learned (briefly)
1. After running around Shanghai in a tizzy before we left, trying to hunt down unmarked, uncreased, brand new American dollars in all denominations and failing (I got mostly $100 bills- Chinese banks and Chinese black market changers have very few smaller bills) I’ve discovered that the hotels we have stayed in in Myanmar have not only been not as fussy about the condition of the money as I’d been led to believe, but they’ve given change in dollars that was in better shape than what I’d given them. You must pay for hotels, trains, flights and most tourist sites in $US. Since you’re only allowed to bring in $2000US cash and there are no ATMs, no places that take travellers’ cheques and no realistic ability to use Visa , the idea that some (if not many) of your dollar bills might be not up to par was terrifying. On the Lonely Planet forums, one fellow said $600 of his $2000 was rejected. So far, only one $50 bill was rejected (by immigration at the airport) but it was later happily converted into new $10s by our guesthouse in Yangon.
2. The fact that we had a very limited chunk of funds that could be refused on a whim (my rejected $50 had a crease), combined with last summer’s debacle in Indonesia where we went horribly over budget due to every affordable hotel between Yogyakarta and Denpasar being booked solid in advance, made us quite nervous about money before we came here. This niggling fear lasted until last night when we did a quick inventory check and discovered that even though we’d been hiring cars and eating in not-so-cheap places and staying in mid range hotels with AC and fans and no bedbugs for nearly ten days out of out 25 total, I was down to $1700 from my original $2000. Yes. $300 in ten days. Ten comfortable days. I think we’ll be fine.
3. The lack of tourism (read: near isolation) has meant that Myanmar has been an absolutely calm and pleasant place to travel in.
People smile and say hello and you smile and say hello. No one stalks you or demands that you take their taxi. In the Bogyoke market in Yangon, no one launched into an unwanted sales pitch. No arms reached out to grab us. Our guest houses have contacted our next guesthouses and booked our accommodation for free; they’ve gone out and bought our bus tickets and train tickets for us. Yesterday Doug needed to get his scraggly scary beard trimmed (not shaved) and Miss Hla Hla (our guesthouse lady) sent one of her boys out with us to get it done properly at the barber down the street. It feels like we are being gently transfered from one nurturing safe hand to the next.
4. The food is marvelous. I’ll be doing a big post about that when I get back to Shanghai when I can upload my photos. Let’s just say we are considering moving here someday. It’s that good.