My Unfinished Travel Symphony By Lynne Kennedy
Chapter 2 – Travel To Myanmar:
After a fitful night’s sleep I woke up at 5.30am. Denis slept on. The anticipation and excitement prevented me from nodding off again so I used the time before the alarm was due to go off at 7.00am to check emails. Messages from friends and family expressed concern about this coronavirus in Wuhan, China. They say it’s spreading fast and the death toll is increasing rapidly. Chinese New Year is on January 25th and millions are already travelling all over the place in readiness for the celebrations. If this virus is as contagious as they say then the consequences of all this movement could be disastrous.
Apart from our flight to Myanmar today and, of course, our flight back to England in April nothing else is planned. Totally immersed in where we are at any given time, it can often feel like we’re in a bubble away from the rest of the world when we’re travelling. I love the contradiction of being confined in an imaginary bubble yet having a feeling of liberation as we drift from one place to another. But we will have to check the news on a more regular basis now to stay updated on this contagious killer.
We checked out about 8.00am and I asked the receptionist how much a taxi to the airport would be. He guessed about Rs200. Forewarned is forearmed. With our backpacks packed ready to take on the flight as cabin baggage we walked out onto the road with the aim of flagging down a taxi. As is often the case when we actually want one, none are forthcoming. Denis walked ahead of me along the road towards a group of men gathered on the pavement next to a taxi. One man peeled away from the group as we approached.
“You want taxi?”
“How much to the airport?” “Rs200,” he replied instantly.
He didn’t attempt to inflate his price for tourists and we were relieved not to have to haggle.
After receiving texts and emails from the airline, ‘Indigo’, warning us of queues at the airport we arrived early. There were no queues. We walked straight into the airport. The ‘Indigo’ check-in desk wasn’t open yet so we went to a kiosk for coffee.
“Can I also have a banana and walnut muffin please?” I asked, pointing at the display counter.
The young man placed one on a cardboard plate. “Can I vomit?” I thought I heard him ask.
He couldn’t have said what I thought he’d said so I queried it. “Can I vomit,” he asked, pointing at the microwave.
I laughed and thanked him for offering to warm it for me. I’m going to miss India! We’d obtained our visas for Myanmar before we left home and presented them on pieces of A4 paper at the check-in desk along with the credit card we’d bought the tickets with. Equipped with boarding passes showing seats 1A and 1B we proceeded to immigration. As the official was processing my passport I wanted to confirm the visa was for multiple entries into India as we’re planning to return next month.
“Can I come back?” I queried. “Many times,” he replied.
The thud of his stamp in my passport seemed to indicate a kind of finality though. I’ve never been good at goodbyes.
Rules seem to vary with regards to what you can and can’t carry on in your hand luggage. On the flight from London to Mumbai I was permitted to carry small scissors as long as the blades didn’t exceed four inches. That wasn’t the case here. The man at security had other ideas for my nail scissors. Other items that passengers had confiscated were thrown into a drawer. I noticed my good quality nail scissors weren’t discarded in the same way. After a brief inspection they qualified for a more exclusive status. He carefully placed them at the back of the desk.
The bit where we’ve been stamped out of one country and not yet admitted into another always feels like no man’s land. With time to kill we looked for a coffee shop. As we approached the counter of the only one with no queue a young man glanced over at us. “Closed,” he said, unapologetically.
“Closed?” I queried.
The lights were on and the cabinets were full of snacks. Then a girl dressed in a uniform of black trousers, a shirt with a logo on it and a baseball cap came careering round the corner at speed.
“Open!” she called out, as her right knee bent as if giving way and her left leg slid out to the side.
We chuckled and took our coffees to a seating area by the window. A troupe of circus acrobats couldn’t have been more impressive. Numerous sure footed workmen with no protective wear or harnesses climbed the lofty scaffolding outside the building. We watched the show from our front row seats. Their performance deserved a drum roll and a cymbal crash as they reached their intended level. That was when they winched up wooden ledges to stand on. A tap dance routine on their suspended stage would have been the perfect finale.
Goodbye India. For now anyway. An hour and a half later the landscape was interspersed with pagodas as we descended into Yangon, Myanmar. I got that same feeling I get when we reach a new destination. It’s addictive. Venturing into unfamiliar territory.
Immigration was swift. Our visa allows us up to twenty eight days.
The atmosphere in the arrivals hall was filled with anticipation. Television cameras were poised.
“Welcome to Myanmar, Lynne and Denis!”
No. The welcome wasn’t for us. We laughed. A beauty queen decorated in a tiara and wearing a long dress attracted attention. Her efforts were obviously not for an upgrade on her flight. We bypassed the flashing cameras and went to one of the money exchange counters. Myanmar’s currency is the kyat which is pronounced ‘chat’. The rate is around 2000 Myanmar kyats to the British pound (MMK2000 =£1.00) but we read that they prefer U.S. dollars here. We came prepared and changed $50 into local currency just to get us started. Denis had already researched which bus to get into Yangon and where from. Our bus ‘K2’ was waiting at the stand. The driver pointed at a transparent box with a slot in the top where we were to post the fare of MMK500 per person.
The first thing I noticed as we set off on our half hour journey into Yangon was the fact that they drive on the right here. That wouldn’t be unusual if they didn’t drive right-hand drive vehicles. The ruler at the time, General Ne Win, for no logical reason ordered traffic to drive on the right instead of the left in 1970. I thought this illogical arrangement on the roads would cause mayhem. It didn’t. The absence of honking horns was a notable contrast to where we’d just come from.
We got off the bus in downtown Yangon where we could see the East Hotel across the road. The steps up to the entrance of the tangerine coloured building was The staff were all very smiley as we checked in.
To be continued…………