07. - 08.02.2014: New Delhi - Yangon

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About Myanmar:

Probably the most famous person from Myanmar is the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 out of the 21 years from 1989 until 2010 under house arrest. She was born just two years before the assassination in July 1947 of her father, Aung San, leader of the Burma Independence Army and the key architect of the country’s independence.

In 1988 she launched what she called ‘the second struggle for national independence’. The brutal reaction of the military brought the protests to an end a month later. In September of the same year, she joined with several former Generals and senior army officers to form the National League for Democracy.

In 1990 the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party that she continues to lead, won the general election by a landslide, yet was denied power by a military junta.

There have been several protests that have been violently suppressed by the military including the 'Saffron Revolution' in 2007 where a monk was beaten to death, 3000 were arrested and 31 were killed.

The road to democracy has been difficult and costly in human terms but in 2011 General Thein Sein was sworn into office as president heading up a quasi civilian government. A number of political prisoners have already been released.

There has been a great deal of change for tourists like us since then - we have seen this mainly because our Lonely Planet from 2011 is invariably wrong.

Myanmar is a wonderful country to visit, we were always warmly welcomed and did not face any problems. We hope that the road to democracy continues and await the election results in 2015.

Fri, 07.02.2014: Yangon, Myanmar, sunny, 34°C

We flew overnight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with Malaysian Airlines. The flight was only 5.5 hours and we couldn't sleep. So we watched films. There was also a very good travel documentary about Myanmar which we found very interesting as we hadn't had much time to read up on the country! We were really looking forward to getting there and were extremely happy to say goodbye to India!

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at 5am Indian time and had a 3 hour wait for the flight to Yangon. We hunted for a restaurant to eat but everything was very expensive. In the end we spent $17 for two teas, a muffin and a piece of mango cake!

The second flight to Yangon was delayed for an hour and once on board, did not have individual screens. It was less than three hours and we arrived in Yangon at 12 noon local time - one hour ahead of India.

We were already very tired and running on fumes. Somehow we managed to get through passport control, immigration and collected our luggage. We were very warmly welcomed by Kelvin, the tour manager for Starfish, and Daniel, our guide who were both wearing a 'Longhi' which is the traditional dress. It looks like an ankle length skirt but is actually a tube of cloth, folded and knotted at the front of the waist.

It was wonderful not to have to start looking for transport, finding our hotel, and trying to organise ourselves. We could just relax! Daniel took us to an airport café for a 'welcome drink'. We chose tea - surprise, surprise!

Our first remark was "My God, look how clean it is!!!!!" It came as a real shock - not because we had thought Myanmar would be dirty, but because we have been living with filth for so long!

There would be four on our tour and, shortly afterwards, Cynthia and Nigel from Bristol, England arrived. Our luggage was loaded into a large taxi. Another shock - no one blasts their horns every two seconds!! In fact it was really quiet despite fairly heavy traffic and everyone seemed to drive sensibly! Such a refreshing change!

The Bliss Hotel was very clean and our room was large with really white sheets, toilet paper and towels. We didn't have to ask for anything because it was already there! We even had toiletries on a tray, free drinking water, a kettle and glasses! Pure luxury!

Kelvin gave us an information folder which included a schedule for each day of the tour. We had printed out the general itinerary from the internet that said we would arrive in Yangon and have free time for the rest of the day. However, the new schedule said we would be going out on our first city tour. We had 1.5 hours to sort out our things in the room and then met in the lobby at 3-15pm.

Dan Moore, the founder of Starfish, had flown over from Bangkok just to meet us! He set up Starfish 10 years ago and now has 37 employees in Thailand where they offer 18 tours and Kelvin in Myanmar who has set up the three tours they offer here. He is a really interesting guy and told us that we are the first on this 'new' version of our tour which now includes Hsipaw.

We found out that the hotel night, when we arrive back in Yangon at the end of the trip, will also be included in the price. That meant we would only have to pay for one extra night here instead of two and we could leave one of our bags in Kelvin's office, to save us having to take everything with us.

We got into our taxi and went to Kandaw Gyi Park to see the royal barge in the lake. We walked along a board walk around part of the lake and then took the taxi to a pagoda where we could go inside to see a huge Buddha. It was in a separate room where women aren't allowed.

Our final stop was the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred of all Buddhist sites for the people of Myanmar who hope to visit at least once in their lifetime.

It has been rebuilt many times but the earliest parts are said to be 2500 years old. It is 326 feet high and 90 tonnes of gold were used on the main pagoda. It is surrounded by a large courtyard containing a mass of temples and Buddhas. The whole complex is overwhelming and despite spending 2 hours there, we couldn't do it justice - there was simply too much to see. We have an extra day when we return so we will come back then.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

Afterwards we went out for a 'welcome' meal and walked through a vibrant market in the Chinese quarter, selling sugar cane (for luck, as it's only one week since the Chinese New Year), and a number of fruits and vegetables we haven't seen before.

Our restaurant had a large glass case of assorted food on skewers that we could choose and put in our individual baskets and would be barbecued and served to us. We had to ask what everything was - pork, chicken, mutton, kidneys, octopus, shrimps, large Tilapia fish, green peppers, mushrooms, corn, kale and potatoes. Once barbecued it is served with chicken fried rice and a vegetable noodle soup that has a small quail's egg and a shrimp ball in it.

A very interesting experience and, of course, we were all busy chatting and getting to know each other. We already liked Myanmar very much after only the first day. Our only problem was that we were very tired from lack of sleep, aching a lot, had sore feet from all the bare foot walking (2 hours at the Shwedagon) and Kirsten also had diarrhoea again. We desperately needed sleep!

Sat, 08.02.2014: Yangon, sunny, 34°C

I got up at 7-45am and made us a cup of tea before going downstairs to the lobby. Almost immediately, I felt a bout of diarrhoea and sickness coming on ... and it was imminent! So I got back in the lift which was very slow and only just made it into our room before crashing to the floor. The last thing I remember is the sound of a gunshot!! That was the sound of my head hitting the floor!

Kirsten said she panicked and some hotel staff heard the commotion and fetched Daniel, our guide. Kelvin also came up and called a doctor to the hotel. I don't remember any of this but was told afterwards that my BP was 100/60 which is low even for me. I was taken for x-rays but my thick head was intact albeit with a 'Tom and Jerry' style bump!

I had thought it was diarrhoea and sickness but it turned out to be low blood pressure caused by the recent lack of sleep and all the flights and activities. In the meantime, Cynthia and Nigel continued with the schedule whilst Kirsten stayed with me and then she joined the rest of the tour at 4pm to go to Sule Pagoda - a golden pagoda located on a busy traffic island.

Afterwards they went down town to see some of the colonial buildings left by the British which are now somewhat run down and the large river with all the boat and ferry traffic.

They also went to some local markets and to take a look inside the Strand Hotel which is the grandest hotel here. They got back at 6-30pm and the others went out for a meal whilst Kirsten ordered us room service food.

It will be a very early start tomorrow as we will be taking an early flight to Mandalay. We set our alarm for 3-45am!!!

Dinner in Chinatown, Sule Pagoda, Sunset at Irrawaddy River, Strand Hotel