in International Travel

Exiting the Golden Land

Anticipating traffic on the way to the airport, we scheduled to leave fairly early for our afternoon flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand. This meant we only had the morning to continue exploring Yangon, so we arranged for James, our food tour guide from the evening before, to take us out for breakfast on the town. Adam and I took turns using the downstairs of our loft room to give each other some privacy while using the bathroom; the shower’s large window into the living room afforded very little. We met James, Chris, and Dan in the lobby at 9am and took to the streets.

Noodle salad

Noodle salad

Judging by the flurry of activity of the city at night, it was safe to say that the citizens of Yangon are not particularly early-risers. While walking, I noticed that people were just starting to get their days going. Traffic was getting heavy again and people were starting to flood the streets on their way to breakfast before work. When we reviewed our Burmese culinary adventures with James the night before, we mentioned that mohinga (noodles, egg, curry, chicken, peanuts, and banana corm-type breakfast soup) was a favorite among the four of us, so our first stop was at a busy mohinga shop a few blocks from the hotel.

James ordered us the chicken and fish varieties and also a noodle salad, sweet tea, and coffee with lime. The chicken dish was phenomenal and the fish wasn’t too fishy for my taste, both a little more interesting than Mandalay version. I wasn’t too fond of the lime coffee; not bad but not good either. The noodle salad was a less soupy version of the chicken mohinga and the clear winner in my book.


The group finished up and moved next door to a crowded bun shop, where James went overboard and ordered us two of everything: pork, chicken, and red bean buns and pork, chicken, and yellow tofu (made from the garbanzo bean instead of the soya bean) Shan noodles, and chicken and pork sticky rice rolls. Everything was outstanding, though I enjoyed the red bean bun the most. James was kind enough to give away what we couldn’t finish to other hungry patrons.

We parted ways with James after some digestion. Chris decided to walk around the city while the rest of us went back to the hotel to enjoy the air conditioning; it was only 10am and already 88 degrees. I packed up and was lazy for a few minutes before we checked out and met U Myint at the van for our ride to the airport.

imageThe 1:20 flight to northern Thailand was our last on an ATR–72 prop plane. It also meant we had completed our week-long tour of Myanmar. We discussed our opinions of the country and agreed that the food and market tour with Nay was the saving grace of Mandalay, though we could have gone without the rickshaws – we just felt bad for our rickshaw pedalers. The town itself was dusty, very crowded with tourists, and, frankly, not that interesting.

Inle Lake was fascinating and our accommodations were very nice, though we would have appreciated less boat time. Riding to the other end of the lake in the long boat several times was somewhat uncomfortable.

The hot air balloon ride with Balloons Over Bagan and associated views were outstanding, a real treat. The staggering number of stupas in town and the rich history make Bagan an interesting destination, but it was dusty and not quite developed enough yet for tourists.

Yangon was the group favorite. We agreed it was much more like what we expected Mandalay to be like, much more culturally diverse, and that we could spend more time there.

Overall, the tour was very enjoyable. All of our guides were fantastic – very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. They kept us busy, running us from site to site. Our accommodations were all comfortable and had reasonable WiFi. The airlines and primitive airports were not concerning, though I’m not sure their current check-in systems are scalable.

I am grateful I got the chance to visit Myanmar as it begins to get on its feet. It’s a fascinating country with a rich and complicated history. It is simultaneously surprisingly modern and simple. It’s denizens are friendly and I felt safe everywhere we visited. I hope they further develop their sense of nationalism and that they continue to thrive under their relatively new leadership.

imageAir Bagan provided us a small lunch on the way to Chiang Mai. After exiting the refreshingly-modern airport on our arrival, we over taxied to the Le Méridien hotel and checked in. I don’t mind sharing a hotel room, but after 7 days of close quarters, it was a relief to have my own space again. I showered, cranked the air conditioning and unwound in my room for a few hours. I explored the hotel pool and spa and the four of us met up later for drinks in the SPG lounge before we meandered through the night markets in search of dinner. We ended up having a delightful family-style meal at a nearby, upscale Thai restaurant, called Antique House, complete with lounge-y covers of Top 40 hits from the 70s. Afterwards, we wandered back through the lively streets, stopping for sweets at an intriguing dessert stall across from the hotel.