Myanmar is the designated country where I wanted to volunteer and travel in this year. The beautiful pictures taken in Bagan are enticing. I travelled with a friend and we spent 12 days in Myanmar, including 4 days of volunteering.
19 Jun 17, Mon
We purchased return air tickets to Yangon from Silkair at only SGD 208 (promotional price). We departed Singapore at 12pm (GMT: +8) and arrived at Yangon at 1.25pm (GMT: +6:30). The complementary 30kg luggage came in handy for us as we brought donated clothes, books, stationery etc over. Inflight entertainment was limited.
The first thing we did at Yangon international airport was to get a data sim card. It costs me around 10,000 kyat for 6GB of data. Uber operates in Yangon (unlike elsewhere in Myanmar). We booked an Uber ride for 2,700 kyat to Roly’s hostel, which was the only accommodation we booked prior to the trip and we only booked for a night. We thought that staying in a hostel would make it seem more like a volunteering trip (though we switched to hotel for the next few days). We got a rather spacious room at Roly’s hostel, with mosquito net over our beds. The shower room was a shared one. It was a liveable place. However, having come from a clean lion city, hygiene is important to us and the shared shower room just wasn’t ideal.
Uber brought us to Shwedagon Pagoda for 7,800 kyat. This is Yangon’s most famous landmark. Adorned with gold plates and diamonds, it is the most striking at night with lights shining on it. It was raining rather heavily and we walked around barefooted in low level of water. I couldn’t snap an ideal picture of the spectacular pagoda with the downpour. We were surprised that many locals were there to pray despite being a Monday evening.
We hopped onto a local taxi to Beauty in the Pot restaurant. Met 14 other Singaporeans there. Our university senior then brought us to Shangri-La Residence to view her apartment. Each apartment costs SGD9,000 a month. Upscale but really modern and luxurious. We then joined the rest for KTV at The One entertainment.
20 Jun 17, Tue
Start of volunteering! I found Eden Centre for the disabled children through internet search. We were given structured timetable to follow. Each day, we would join in the lessons conducted by the teachers there and had 2 hours to execute our own activities with the children. My friend and I had not really volunteered for the disabled before. We volunteered for poor kids in Cambodia villages previously together and prepared the same kind of materials this time as well. Never did we realise that these disabled children really have special needs, of which we were unprepared for. (Lessons learnt for next time.) Every student has different disabilities (cerebral palsy, down syndrome, autism, speech delay, global developmental delay, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, intellectual delay, congenital myopathy, hydro-cephalus etc). Thankfully, the teachers were there to explain to us the students’ situation. Most students do not know English and we relied a lot on facial expression and hand signals to communicate with them. It was also heartwarming to see that the parents are supportive of their disabled children. Many parents accompany their children in school.
We checked in to Sky Man Hotel at night and stayed there for 3 nights. The bathroom did not look that clean but at least, we had our own bathroom. Nonetheless, it was still a wallet-friendly and decent hotel.
21 Jun 17, Wed
To immerse in Burmese lifestyle, we took public bus to and from Eden Centre. The Admin manager from Eden Centre guided us in the morning. The ride in the morning was a comparatively comfortable one as we had seats and the bus was air-conditioned. We took a smaller bus in the evening, with no aircon. The bus was packed with people knocking off from work. It was a challenge trying to balance, along with the stuff we were carrying. The 200 kyat bus ride sapped our energy away.
22 Jun 17, Thur
The parent of one of the kids at Eden Centre invited us to her house, which was 10km away. She arranged for transports and cooked for us a sumptous dinner. How hospitable and kind of her!
23 Jun 17, Fri
The Admin manager from Eden Centre brought us to a wet market nearby to buy ingredients to cook our chicken rice for the staff. It was interesting how the Burmese sit on the platform and sell their stuff.
We booked JJ Express bus tickets to Bagan for Fri via Facebook messenger. How convenient! As we booked only on Wed night, there weren’t any VIP seats (US$19) left. We were left with business class seats (UD$12). The VIP bus is characterised by its 2+1 seats in a row where business class bus has 2+2 seats in a row. Light snacks are served in VIP bus. We departed Yangon at 8pm and reached Bagan before 6am. We had one rest point at around 11 plus. The seats were spacious and comfortable, good enough for a night rest.
(For the trips to Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake, please refer to other blog posts!)
29 Jul 17, Thur
Coming from Nyaung Shwe, we reached Yangon at around 6 plus in the morning. JJ express bus stopped by a highway where we shifted to a shuttle bus which brought us to airport and downtown. From the railway station at downtown, there were taxis waiting for customers. We took one that costs 2k kyat to Hotel Grand United 21st Downtown.
The hotel reception was located on the 4th floor and the rooftop breakfast venue was on the 9th floor. We booked a twin bed room for SGD 55.76. The hotel had good reviews for its sumptous breakfast. The room was small but otherwise, good. It was in the heart of downtown, which made it convenient to travel around.
We walked around City Hall area.
Next, we headed to the railway station to take the circular train. When you are at the railway station, follow the sign for platform 7. The ticket can be purchased on the platform at only 200 kyat. The train ride took 3 hours. It is a great way to catch a glimpse of the daily routine of the Burmese away from the commercial area. You will notice the gradual change in landscape as you pass more stations – from city concrete to rustic villages and paddy fields.
We were taking photos on the train and we got a man in singlet to help us take a few shots. Another man and him in singlets were resting around. While the train drew closer back to Yangon railway station, these men abruptly changed into their uniforms. We caught by surprise that they were actually police officers on the train and were on duty. They changed back to uniforms while nearing Yangon railway station because their boss was at the station. What a funny and interesting sight. (In case I created trouble here, I am sure these police officers were still on a lookout in their singlets. The ride was a peaceful one.)
After the ride, we took a taxi for 3,000 kyat to the Brunch Society, a restaurant and bar at Sule Plaza. Nice ambience there.
At night, we bought our food from Yangon food bazaar, which was only 5 minutes walk from our hotel. We figured it was time to try street food.
While I was waiting for my cooked fish at one of the stalls, there was a sudden heavy downpour and I was stuck at that tentage. As I was the only one at the table, a group of 3 Burmese joined me at the table and had their dinner. The older guy then told me that he just finished a Japanese lesson with his 2 pupils there. We chatted occasionally while they savoured the delicious-looking crabs. It was nice to bond with people from other countries who have the same interest as me.
30 Jun 17, Fri
We left for Yangon International Airport the next day. It was home sweet home, back to our country.
What has left me the deepest impression from this trip? It is the people. The country is so safe that I wonder if there are any bad people. The Burmese we met along the way were all selfless, who would put in extra effort to help us at no cost.
Also, along the way, even if you are not able to communicate with the Burmese because of the language barrier, you know you are at home when you see their smiles.