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Thursday, October 19, 2017

The ASEAN Tour: Myanmar

The trip to Yangon was planned at least since end of last year. After pretty much fixing the members of the trip, buying the tickets, booking the hotel and planning for the itinerary, we eventually departed from Changi on early Friday, around the time when the sun rose. After a quick (and expensive!) breakfast at Changi, we took the bus that brought us to the plane we were supposed to board on. There was this surreal experience where the bus actually stopped for a while right when there was another aeroplane waiting on the other end of the runway. It is as if the aeroplane would race towards us the moment our bus crossed the runway!

Anyway, that must be me, in the state of sleep deprived and watching too many movies. There was no collision, of course. We flew and reached Yangon safely. The beauty of Myanmar was, it is one and half hour behind SG time, so we earned extra hours the moment we got there. After changing money (each person can only change SGD 300), we bought the sim cards (and it was quickly concluded that Ooredoo was good and 4G, Telenor was bad and 3G) and went to the city with a minibus that charged us for MMK 16K per one way trip.

Keith, Heng, Uncle Eddie and Joseph at the Yangon International Airport 

Yangon was surprisingly exceeding expectation. I was expecting a city on par with Vientiane or Phnom Penh, but from what we saw throughout our journey to the hotel, it was definitely a much more advanced city as compared with those two. In hindsight, perhaps it was due to the fact that Yangon was a British colony rather than French that it was well taken care of.

After check in, we walked from downtown to the ancient looking train station to try out the circular train. It was cheap, slow and hot, with many vendors climbing on board to sell goods. I originally thought of going one big round, but after sitting there for perhaps around one hour, I couldn't help thinking that it would be a miserable idea, so we alighted at Kamaryut station. I was about to ask around, how to cross to other side of the railway, when I saw virtually every local people just cross it like that. And I was like: "but of course there won't be any overhead bridge! Hello, this is not Singapore! Who cares about safety here?"

Boarding the circular train.

With a help of a nice local who could speak Malay, we took bus #11 (note to Heng: JJ is 22, reversed CC is 11) to Shwedagon. It was a grand pagoda complex. Buddhist believers or not, one could surely sense the serenity by just visiting the temple. However, for those who were not used to it, the temple floor was burning hot!

We went to Myanmar Plaza afterwards to meet our old friend Win, whom had been very kind to help us with the local arrangements. From one host to another, we departed with David Aung Ko Ko for our dinner at Seinn Lann So Pyay Garden, nearby Inya Lake. It was great.

Dinner with our host, David Aung Ko Ko.

Our local driver fetched us on the next morning, bringing us to Kyaithiyo, the Golden Rock Pagoda. It was a long ride, but not without its highlight. Heng actually got excited by the fact that we were crossing the river that flows to Andaman sea. Talk about a historic moment!

Once we reached Mon state, we were transferred to another vehicle. This was where things got interesting. It was a truck and we needed to climb onto a metal platform with staircases to get into the back of the truck. The vehicle had been modified so that it had many rows of seats, with each row catering for six passengers. Once it was fully boarded, off we went to mountaintop. It was like a roller-coaster ride with no seat belt! The road was so narrow that if there was ever a slight mistake, we would have gone. Kudos to the driver, really.

On the truck, waiting for the second half of the roller coaster ride.
Photo by Keith Leong.

Once we were on the top, we visited the (painted) golden rock. Apparently what was so special about it was the rock stayed there, defying gravity and rain throughout the years when it should have slipped and fell down long ago. People prayed and stuck gold leaves there, creating a gold coated layer on the rock.

On our way back to Yangon, we had lunch at Khine Khine Kyaw. The food was alright, but what amazed me was the sweet they called the Myanmar Candy. It tasted like a palm sugar and I had some. This, I believe, had contributed to the laryngitis that I suffered later on. When the evening came, I already had no voice!

Lunch at Khine Khine Kyaw.

We stopped by Bago because Joseph was keen on thanaka powder. It was apparently made of thanaka wood grinded and mixed with water. While waiting for the thanaka wood to be cut into two, we entered the temple of reclining Buddha. There was a charge of 10K MMK per head, so we walked away immediately. When asked where we were from, Keith and I quickly said that we were from Singapore, creating a false cheap tourist impression, haha.

It was already night time when we reached Yangon, so we had a dinner at Café Sule. Once done, we walked to the direction of Sule Pagoda in the city center and went to the Strand Hotel. The thing with TripAdvisor is, most of the information was written and catered for western tourists, so places like Sarkies Bar actually didn't impress us at all. As a result, we walked back right to where we came from and, much to my dismay, there was a roof top bar there! If only I knew it!

At the roof top bar.

On the third day, since we had been waking up so early two days in a row, we decided to take it nice and slow. We had a long walk to Kandawgyi Park, with us most of the time staring at the floor of the wooden bridge to ensure that we didn't step on the plank that broke. From there we went to the zoo.

Lunch time, Win, our generous host, decided to treat us lunch, an offer that we were really grateful of, even though it should be the other way around since there were so many of us. Win did mention that we should meet YKKO noodle shop, but mistake did happen and we ended up sitting inside the same shop but in a different location. My bad, my apology.

At Bogyoke Market.

After lunch, we went to Bogyoke Market to see the famous Myanmar jade. We grabbed some t-shirt there and had Shan coffee. We spent at least two hours there before we boarded our under utilized car to go around and do sightseeing. We checked out the Chinatown and Little India, which happen to be side by side. We also went to some sort of shopping center before had our dinner at 999 Shan Noodle Shop, where Uncle Eddie kept disturbing the waiter for wifi password, haha.

And that was the last of it. We went back hotel, had various types of beer at Keith's room while watching John Carter. The next day, we departed early and flew back to Singapore...

Sule Pagoda.

Tur ASEAN: Myanmar 

Perjalanan ke Myanmar telah direncanakan sejak akhir tahun lalu. Setelah mengumpulkan peserta, membeli tiket, memesan kamar hotel dan merencanakan tempat-tempat tujuan yang akan dikunjungi, saya berangkat bersama rekan-rekan kantor dari Changi di Jumat pagi, saat matahari mulai terbit. Setelah sarapan pagi yang singkat (dan mahal!) di bandara, kita menaiki bis yang membawa kita ke pesawat yang akan kita tumpangi.

Perbedaan waktu antara Myanmar dan Singapura adalah satu setengah jam, jadi jam sembilan pagi di Singapura sama dengan 7.30 pagi di Yangon. Setibanya di bandara, kita menukar uang (satu orang hanya boleh menukar sekitar IDR tiga juta atau sekitar MMK 300 ribu) dan membeli sim card (Ooredoo bagus sinyalnya dan 4G, sedangkan Telenor jelek sinyalnya dan hanya 3G). Setelah itu kita menuju hotel dengan menyewa minibus seharga MMK 16 ribu.

Yangon ternyata jauh melebihi harapan. Saya mengira akan menemukan kota seperti Vientiane atau Phnom Penh, tapi dari apa yang saya lihat sepanjang perjalanan ke hotel, bekas ibu kota Myanmar ini ternyata lebih maju dari ibu kota Laos dan Kamboja. Mungkin saja ini dikarenakan Myanmar adalah bekas jajahan Inggris, bukan Perancis, sehingga terlihat lebih maju.

Di depan stasiun Kamaryut.
Foto oleh Keith Leong.

Setelah tiba di hotel dan bersantap siang, kita berjalan kaki menuju stasiun kereta kuno di tengah kota untuk mencoba kereta api yang melingkar mengelilingi Yangon. Harga tiketnya sangat murah, wajar untuk kereta api yang lambat dan panas serta dipenuhi pedagang asongan yang naik-turun untuk menjajakan dagangannya. Awalnya saya hendak mengelilingi kota, akan tetapi, setelah duduk satu jam lamanya dan melihat pemandangan yang itu-itu saja, saya mulai merasa bahwa ini bukanlah ide yang bagus. Akhirnya kita turut di stasiun Kamaryut. Saya sempat berpikir untuk bertanya bagaimana caranya menyeberang jalan melewati rel kereta, namun saya lihat semua orang menyeberang begitu saja. Saya lantas teringat bahwa ini bukan Singapura. Tentu saja takkan ada jembatan penyeberangan! Pantas saja semua menyeberang seenaknya.

Dengan bantuan penduduk lokal yang kebetulan bisa berbahasa Melayu, kita akhirnya menaiki bis no. 11 ke Shwedagon (catatan: dalam tulisan Burma, JJ = 22, sedangkan CC terbalik adalah 11). Tempat yang kita kunjungi ini adalah kompleks pagoda. Suasananya terasa tenang dan sakral, tapi lantainya, karena kita tidak diperbolehkan memakai sandal, luar biasa panas!

Di Pagoda Shwedagon.
Foto oleh Keith Leong.

Dari Shwedagon, kita bertolak ke Myanmar Plaza untuk bertemu Win, kolega kita dulu. Setelah itu kita dijamu lagi oleh tuan rumah lain yang juga pernah menjadi rekan kerja kita, David Aung Ko Ko. Kita akhirnya makan malam di Taman Seinn Lann So Pyay di samping Danau Inya.

Keesokan harinya, supir kita datang menjemput di pagi buta, membawa kita ke Kyaithiyo yang juga dikenal sebagai Pagoda Batu Emas. Perjalanannya cukup panjang, sekitar empat jam, tapi Heng sangat bersemangat karena kita akan melewati sungai yang mengalir ke Laut Andaman. Baginya, ini adalah sebuah momen bersejarah!

Setelah tiba di negara bagian bernama Mon, kita pindah ke kendaraan lainnya. Ini sebuah pengalaman yang menarik, sebab kendaraan yang kita tumpangi ini adalah sebuah truk dan kita duduk di baknya yang sudah dimodifikasi menjadi deretan tempat duduk. Setelah penuh, kita pun menuju puncak gunung. Jalannya bukan saja panjang, menanjak dan berkelok-kelok, tapi juga sempit! Kalau terjadi sedikit kesalahan saja, maka truknya pasti masuk jurang.

Pagoda Batu Emas, Kyaithiyo.

Setelah tiba di puncak, kita mengunjungi batu (yang dicat) emas. Ternyata yang istimewa dari batu tersebut adalah posisinya yang menantang gravitasi dan tidak tergelincir karena hujan. Banyak yang berdoa dan menempelkan lempengan daun emas ke satu sisi batu sehingga menciptakan lapisan emas tersendiri.

Dalam perjalanan pulang ke Yangon, kita singgah di Khine Khine Kyaw untuk makan siang. Masakannya lumayan enak, tapi yang menarik perhatian saya adalah manisan yang mereka sebut sebagai permen Myanmar. Rasanya seperti gula kelapa dan setelah saya makan dua biji, suara saya pun hilang!

Mencari thanaka di Bago.

Kita mampir di Bago karena Joseph berminat untuk membeli thanaka. Tepung kuning kecoklatan ini terbuat dari kayu thanaka yang diparut dan dicampur dengan air sebelum dipakaikan di wajah. Sambil menunggu kayunya dipotong, kita masuk ke kuil Buddha tidur. Setelah melihat harga masuknya, kita pun dengan cepat melangkah keluar. Ketika ditanya berasal dari mana, Keith (orang Malaysia) dan saya menjawab bahwa kita datang Singapura untuk memberikan kesan bahwa turis dari negara ini memang pelit, haha.

Ketika kita tiba di Yangon, hari sudah malam, jadi kita pun bersantap malam di Café Sule. Sesudah itu, kita berjalan ke arah Pagoda Sule di pusat kota dan menuju Strand Hotel. Menurut TripAdvisor, Sarkies Bar adalah tempat bergaya kolonial yang santai untuk minum, tapi setelah kita hampiri, teman-teman merasa bar tersebut lebih cocok untuk bule. Setelah bertanya tentang keberadaan bar di atap gedung, kita akhirnya kembali ke titik awal kita karena lokasinya hanya di seberang hotel tempat kita menginap.

Hari ketiga dimulai dengan jalan pagi di Taman Kandawgyi. Karena jembatan kayunya yang retak dan terlihat rapuh, kita jadi lebih sibuk memperhatikan langkah kita daripada pemandangan di sekitar. Setelah itu, kita pergi ke kebun binatang yang terletak di sebelahnya.

Keith menyusuri jembatan kayu di Taman Kandawgyi.

Menjelang makan siang, Win, tuan rumah kita yang baik hati, menjamu kita makan siang di toko mie YKKO (sebenarnya dari segi jumlah orang yang lima banding satu, harusnya kita yang traktir. Agak tidak tega rasanya melihat dia mengeluarkan setumpuk uang lusuh untuk membayar makan siang). Akan tetapi toko mie YKKO ternyata ada di banyak lokasi sehingga sempat terjadi kesalahpahaman. Kita duduk di toko yang sama tapi berbeda lokasi!

Seusai bersantap, kita menuju Pasar Bogyoke untuk melihat giok Myanmar yang termashyur. Di sana kita membeli beberapa kaos dan menikmati kopi Shan, lalu keliling kota sejenak melewati Pecinan dan Kampung India yang ternyata bersebelahan satu sama lain. Kita juga sempat mampir ke semacam pusat perbelanjaan sebelum makan malam di toko mie 999 Shan. Perjalanan pun berakhir di situ. Malamnya harinya, kita minum bir di kamar sambil menonton John Carter, kemudian berangkat ke bandara di pagi berikutnya...

Bersama Win di Myanmar Plaza.

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