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It's real gold, baby

View 2012/13 Myanmar, Malaysia & Philippines on alexchan's travel map.

large_5550_13580650331918.jpgWaking up to the Sule Pagoda just outside my hotel.
Exploring and Airline Ticketing

After breakfast, I took a walk around the Sule Pagoda neighbourhood. There were a few churches, mosques and a synagogue tucked between the many old concrete multi-storey blocks.

More men wear pants now than during my previous visit, when the longyi (sarong). It is still common for women and children (and some men) to put thinaka (ground wood powder) on their faces (apparently cool and good for the skin).

Soon it was time for me to go to the Air Mandalay office to collect my domestic air tickets which I had ordered through the internet (webform online booking).

I didn’t want to leave it too late in case the office was crowded or if there were hiccups. I taxied over and turned out to be the only customer.large_5550_13580650346208.jpgHindu temple in the neighbourhood.Everything was very efficient and there were no surprises. Tickets were written by hand on good old-fashioned paper ticket-stock and the inventory (seats) were held in Excel!

Back in my Sule Pagoda neighbourhood, I explored a bit more. It is very Indian and Indian-Muslim where I am. Wandering a bit further down as far as 21st street, it turned a bit more Chinese. I made it to the markets and found that it was closed (apparently a Chinese festival).

A chicken briyani and banana lassi seemed timely as it was nearly midday.

Taking it easy with my first Pagodas

After a rest, I took a taxi out to the Chaukhtatgyi Reclining Buddha. This is a relatively new statue by historical terms; perhaps less than 50 years old.large_5550_135806503461.jpgMorning markets in Yangon.But it is impressive due to the number of gems that are encrusted into it.

Then I walked across the road up to the Ngahtatgyi Sitting Buddha set against an intricately carved wooden backdrop. I’m going to take it easy … I remember being absolutely templed-out and Buddha’ed out last time.

From there I took a taxi to the Shwedagon Pagoda. The driver dropped me off at the Northern entrance and I made my way in somehow escaping the USD5 ticket charge. It’s not like there was a ticket desk which I walked past pretending I was local. And besides, I had these above-knee shorts on which I thought would have warranted a loaner longyi, to preserve decency at a sacred site.

Perhaps this wasn’t the usual entrance for tourists but more for local pilgrims. I only realised when walking around that foreigners all had a green sticker on them to indicate payment.large_5550_13580650346926.jpgMorning markets in Yangon.

Shwedagon is Myanmar’s most famous pagoda; words can’t describe its grandeur. The gold on it looks like it has been riveted on tile-by-tile; as opposed to gold-leaf on the lesser stupas and mere gold paint on some of the garnishes. The current form (322 feet high) dates from around 1769 whereas the core may be about 2500 years old.

Being winter, it was very pleasant to stroll around (clockwise, as one should at any Buddhist site). In fact I did it five times, watching the subtle changes in the light until night fell.

This is such a contrast to my previous visit when it was stinking hot and the marble floor was very unkind to the soles. As my afternoon’s fluid intake started to fill my bladder, the cool night air and cold marble floor wasn’t so welcome any more. There wasn’t a toilet insight and I didn’t like the thought of going into one bare-footed (a requirement in the pagoda area).

I taxied back to the hotel to relieve myself before having a Myanmar dinner of pork curry, oily fish floss, vegetables, salad and soup. Together with rice, this came to USD5 which I thought was quite pricey compared to Malaysia or Singapore (especially when one compares the income gap).

Tourist pricing again, perhaps? Or maybe people in Malaysia and Singapore are far too lucky when it comes to eating out.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Beginning of an adventure in Myanmar

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large_5550_13580646001652.jpgSule Pagoda just outside my hotel.
Due to natural light in my room being obscured partially by an external wall (and thick curtains), I didn’t wake up till around 9am.

I hadn’t slept well last few nights; I seemed to wake up a fair bit feeling sweaty. I put the disturbed sleep down to the pseudoephedrine which is clearing up my sinuses well.

I grabbed some coffee-milk plus rolls from the convenience store downstairs and slowly got ready for an 11am checkout. Time passed fairly quickly before my checkin opened for my flight to Yangon [Yangon-travel-guide-1320501].

Onboard, I sat next to a Myanmar man. As we made our final approach into Yangon, we flew past a couple of golden pagodas. He put his hands into prayer position as we passed each one.large_5550_13580646003245.jpgDinner on kindy-chairs.As I found out later, drivers do the same when they drive pass pagodas.

Everything went smoothly upon arrival at Yangon. While waiting at the visa-on-arrival queue, the officer beckoned me forward as he had recognised me from the photo on the documents he had in front of him, awaiting my arrival. I give him top marks!

After passport control, the travel agent who organised my visa was there to collect his fee and help me into a taxi (at less than the placarded rate). I had used this agent as I couldn’t make it to an embassy to apply for a real stick-on visa in my passport.

As I stepped out of the terminal building, I was pleasantly surprised by the cool dry air. On the way into Yangon central, the city seems a lot more modern and high-rise than I remember some 15 years ago.large_5550_13580646015387.jpgMy first meal in Myanmar, a quick simple dinner.

After checking into the Mayshan Hotel next to the Sule Pagoda, I went for a walk and to find some dinner. The side walk eateries and stalls seem so lit up (relatively) compared to my first visit. I didn’t find much food that appealed to my first day nerves, but eventually settled on a simple shop (with kindy-height stools) which served me some noodles topped with pork with sides of pickles and soup.

That set me back MMK700 (USD0.80) which I thought was quite pricey as that would buy something slightly better in a more developed country like Malaysia. Then two large gorgeous apples cost me MMK500 (USD0.60). I wonder if there’s an element of “first day tourist” pricing.

In general, Myanmar isn’t a value destination like say Vietnam or Thailand. There isn’t quite the same supply and demand … not many businesses competing for the tourist dollar. That goes for accommodation, food … the works.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Stood up in KL

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I broke with tradition today. After two dimsum breakfasts in Ipoh [Ipoh-travel-guide-1088867], I opted for Hakka noodles washed down by the famous Ipoh white coffee.

All two coffees I had in Ipoh were excellent and cheap. It’s not hard to be good when you roast the beans in butter (or margarine) and add sugar, then make it superstrong and add sweetened condensed milk. That's how the Vietnamese do it as well.

So, goodbye Ipoh. Overall, the Ipoh sidetrip was a good way to ease back into travelling life while feeling off-colour. I quite like the place; even though it is one of Malaysia's largest cities, the old centre is very laid back. There was enough to do, none of which were “high pressure” “must dos”. And also it got me back into the hang of waiting for and using public transport in the heat.

My travel down to KLIA-LCCT was uneventful today with Plusliner, even though we left about 8 minutes earlier without much warning. I could have been easily left behind. We arrived in less than three hours just as check-in at Tune Hotel opened.

Kim was meant to arrive about the same time to start our adventure to Myanmar and Sabah. But he didn't make it due to work commitments (he had expected to have quit flying by now and we booked his tickets during an AirAsia zero-fare sale). At the hotel check-in, I was once again reminded that I'm being stood up when I was handed two pre-booked towels for just myself :-(

After dropping my bags, I took the bus and monorail to KL specifically the Bukit Bintang area. I have this routine for KL which include a blind-man massage then dinner at a mall (usually Pavilion) followed by ais kacang (icey dessert).

Then back to the airport hotel for the night. Including travel time, that outing killed 7 hours.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Unfinished beauty

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large_5550_13577237728122.jpgKellie's Castle.
Today I wanted to go to Kellie’s Castle, an incomplete castle built by a Scottish businessman around 1915. I did that after another dimsum breakfast as my first one didn't disappoint in terms of the quality and quantity of fillings.

The castle is about 30 minutes by car from Ipoh [Ipoh-travel-guide-1088867] but took me 2 hours by public transport involving three buses: one to get to the bus station, secondly to Batu Gajah and thirdly to the castle itself.

It involved a fair bit of waiting in the sun but it was worth it … after all, what else could I do around Ipoh apart from eat? Kellie's Castle was impressive even in its incomplete state. It felt somewhat ruinous ... it's the ruins that never saw glory.

Hhmmm ... my legs hurt a little today from climbing up Perak Tong. I wonder if it is the flu I have ... sometimes they give sore muscles (and joints) in addition to the usual ear and nose troubles. I'd better hope it's that otherwise I'll be in trouble for climbing Kinabalu. I walk up 18 floors in Auckland to get to my office once in a while without any problems but this seems out-of-character.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Seeing a geriatric doctor

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large_5550_13577233916214.jpgIpoh was a rich and important colonial town backed by the rubber and tin industry. It still shows.
Specialist in geriatrics

I needed to see the doctor to check on my fluey ears and chest. There were plenty of choices around the hotel but upon enquiry some of them were “specialists” of various kinds. Strange that they’re not marked as such … perhaps the doctors have had experienced in various fields and like to work with eg. heart, but have not done the qualifications to put it on their window.

While many clinics had their doors open, the doctor doesn't turn up till 0930 so I had some dimsum breakfast which Ipoh is famous for, being so Cantonese.

I returned to one which was a General Practice. At 0930 the doctor shuffled in through the back door and was absolutely geriatric.large_5550_13577233925236.jpgIpoh was a rich and important colonial town backed by the rubber and tin industry. It still shows.He had a helper carry his satchel and his old wife shuffled in behind him. I wasn’t comfortable but my turn came up before I had the courage to run.

The consultation room had very old brown glass bottles of tinctures etc. like what my Dad had in his medicine cupboard. The consultation was very much focused on the current complaint and dispensing the medication. There was little explanation even when I specifically asked about various things. Very old school.

He had a collection of rubber stamps for various drugs on his table. He stamped a few on my record card and popped them through to his wife to dispense.

The wife had three kinds of medicine for me. She gave me the directions for the medication in Cantonese which I don’t understand. We couldn’t communicate in three other common languages namely English, Mandarin or Malay.large_5550_13577233923271.jpgIpoh was a rich and important colonial town backed by the rubber and tin industry. It still shows.

I asked for the name of the medication. The wife’s helper (who spoke Mandarin) was reluctant. I replied that without the names, I wouldn’t pay. Upon their hesitation, I upped myself and walked out. He is stuck in a time warp and probably treats lots of elderly people (from when he first started up) who are illiterate.

I found myself another EXCELLENT doctor across the road. He turned out to be expensive but was very good at listening and explaining. At the end, he even explained each medicine to me personally. It is still normal for doctors (rather than a pharmacist) to dispense medicine in Malaysia. The role is often delegated to the wife, receptionist, or cleaner-cum-helper; it sounds worst than reality as they tend to take on these roles for life rather than for a few fleeting weeks.

Cave Temple

I met an old flatmate from my Wellington days for lunch. It was very nice to catch up and talk about the old times and the many years that have gone past since we were both in a flat in a really dodgy area of town.

He was kind enough to drop me off at Perak Tong, which is a series of temples built in caves on the outskirts of Ipoh. Actually there are several such caves around in various Guilin-like limestone mountains around the town. It was cool inside the cave but I soon warmed up climbing up to the various parts built up the mountain-side and top.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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