Wait a while before planning a trip to Myanmar

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Myanmar has some wonderful attractions for tourists, but you might want to wait a year or so before planning a trip. This was one of the observations made by Nathan Russo, a club member, who spoke about his recent trip to that country at the Sunday, March 31, meeting of the Pattaya City Expats Club.

Myanmar is very different from Thailand, Nathan said. “It is like what I imagine Thailand was like about 50 years ago.” Nathan cited the following reasons why people might want to wait a while before going to Myanmar: Anti-Muslim rioting has been on the rise; on some of Myanmar’s borders, there are still battles between the Myanmar army and rebels; lack of availability of ATM machines; most hotels and large businesses do not accept credit cards; American money (cash) is accepted but only if the bills are brand new (crisp and clean); and most of the roads are in poor condition.

The auditorium at Yangon University where President Obama spoke last year with Aung San Suu Kyi.The auditorium at Yangon University where President Obama spoke last year with Aung San Suu Kyi.

In addition, there is a shortage of hotels. Tourists compete for hotel rooms with middle-class Myanmarese and representatives of the numerous NGOs that are working in the country. Nathan said that rooms have to be booked long in advance. He said he found some plain, but adequate rooms for US$55 a night, but that he also saw rooms at three times that price that were not any better. Hotels tend to be overbooked.

Nathan shows some beautiful etched lacquerware available in the markets in Burma, direct from hand of the makers.Nathan shows some beautiful etched lacquerware available in the markets in Burma, direct from hand of the makers.

Also, Nathan noted, there is no public transportation, except for taxis, which can be fairly expensive. The interiors of many of the taxis were in very poor shape. Another consideration, Nathan said, is that foreigners are expected to pay for just about everything, including fees to every attraction and service, and even fees for using one’s camera. Finally, Nathan remarked, the outdoor toilets could be described as “seriously rustic” at best.

People planning to visit Myanmar will need a visa, which can be obtained at Myanmar’s embassy in Bangkok. Expect long line-ups, Nathan said. Nathan said that he spent five days in Yangon (Rangoon) but that, in retrospect, two or three days would have sufficed.

Nathan stated that the ancient pagodas and temples at Bagan were “spectacular.” He explained that these were not ruins; in fact, most of the structures were fully intact. Bagan is in the Mandalay region of Myanmar. Nathan said that he took a boat from Bagan back to Mandalay; it was scheduled to take 11 hours, but took 15 because the waters were at a very low level. He said that you don’t want to be late for a flight at the Mandalay airport. It is classified as an international airport, but has only one international flight a day (to Bangkok).

Nathan recounted that there are posters everywhere showing a photo of Aung San Su Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy and Nobel peace prize laureate, and US President Barack Obama. The photo was taken when President Obama visited Myanmar in November 2012.

Nathan shared his photos of the trip and mentioned the names of several restaurants and hotels that he liked (and even some that he didn’t like!). Nathan said that many Myanmarese he met were anxious to learn English – so much so, he said, that some of them offered to put people up for free in exchange for English conversation.

Nathan Russo divides his time between the US and Thailand. He is retired from a property search and appraisal company and has been coming to Thailand for the past six years. Nathan and some of his friends have been strong supporters of the Mae Tao Burmese Clinic in the Thai border town of Mae Sot.

Master of Ceremonies Richard Silverberg provided an update on upcoming events and called on Roy Albiston to conduct the Open Forum where questions are asked and answered about Expat living in Thailand; Pattaya in particular.

For more information about the many activities of the Pattaya City Expats Club, visit their website at www.pattayacityexpatsclub.com.

Mahamuni Paya Mandalay - 6 inch thick gold, 2,000 year old Buddha.Mahamuni Paya Mandalay – 6 inch thick gold, 2,000 year old Buddha.

Goktiek train viaduct near Nawnghkio.Goktiek train viaduct near Nawnghkio.