Alan’s time on the road has come to an end and he has returned home to NZ. I headed back to KL to get my visa sorted for Myanmar (aka Burma – more on this further down).
I had it all worked out: fly to KL on Monday, take the application to the embassy on Tuesday, pick my visa up on Wednesday and fly out Thursday morning, What I didn’t count on was the fact that Tuesday was a public holiday in Malaysia. Given that they don’t do same day service, I was now probably stuffed.
I tried not to stress too much but did start working out alternative plans. I would go to the embassy on Wednesday, beg and plead for a same-day turnaround. Turn on the waterworks, if required. If that didn’t work, I was going to probably lose my flight, and had to look at alternative, and now more expensive, flights.
But, of course, things never go to plan in Asia.
Wednesday, I got up early, checked out at 7.30, leaving my bags at the hotel, and caught the train towards the embassy where I needed to get my visa. I didn’t even bother stopping for breakfast as I just wanted to get there.
However, when I got to the embassy, a good 45 minutes early, there were flyers hanging up to say that as of TWO DAYS ago, they were no longer processing visas at the embassy and that I had to go somewhere else BACK in the city. Bugger! I figured that by the time I figured out where I had to go, and actually got there through morning traffic, I would now be late and probably at the end of a long queue. Stress levels were rising.
There was an Australian Malaysian guy in the same predicament as me so we shared a taxi to the new location. Fortunately, there was no one else there so I got the application completed and handed it very quickly. And the best thing – they now do a same-day service. They gods must have been smiling down on me today!
I had a few hours to kill so wandered the streets for a while, and enjoyed a really good Caesar Salad for lunch. My first proper salad in months. (Yes, it always comes back to food!) And by 4.30 I had my visa in hand – yay!
I headed back to the hotel to pick up my bags, took the hour long bus ride to the airport where I was staying at a nearby hotel, handy for my 7am flight the next day. I got there about 7pm that night – it was a long day!
So I’m off to Burma. Or is it Myanmar?
Burma or Myanmar?
You will see that I am inconsistent in my usage. Essentially both are frequently used and I’ve read and heard so many accounts as to which is used when, and by whom and none are consistent. So I’m just not really sure which to use.
Apparently the ruling military junta changed its name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, a year or so after the suppression of a popular uprising in which thousands were killed. At the same time, Rangoon also became Yangon. However, Burma’s democracy movement prefers the form ‘Burma’ because they do not accept the legitimacy of the unelected military regime to change the official name of the country.
A guy I met on the street today indicated Myanmar was the correct one to use, and Burma was used by the Buddhists (which didn’t quite make sense to me). Other people indicate that Myanmar is the formal term, and when speaking, they say Burma.
I really don’t know the answer – and no doubt will continue to use the two interchangeably.
I’m having mixed feelings about going. For starters, there was the news about the recent bombings which was a bit unnerving. Whilst many were in remote places that I won’t be heading to, one was in a major hotel in Yangon, where I would be starting my travels. They seem to be small bombs to warn off potential foreign investors rather than trying to cause mass harm and destruction. But a bomb is a bomb, and they are targeting guesthouses. I don’t need that! ( I have since read that they’ve arrested most of the offenders – but hearing sirens last time put be back on edge!)
I also haven’t done as much research about where to go, or planned much of an itinerary outline as I normally like to do.
I always try to learn a few words of local language at minimum, but I just can’t get my head around this one. For example, a simple word like hello is turned into a longer Burmese phrase – min ga la ba – which I struggle to remember!
And finally, it’s dawned on me that whilst I’ve travelled alone before, it’s the first time that I’ve hit up a new country on my own. So while I’m excited, I’ve also the feeling of trepidation. Not sure why, given all the travel that I’ve done in the past? But I’ll just take it one day at a time…
I landed at Yangon airport and there was a happy smiling face holding a card with my name on it – the driver from the hotel. That was a welcome site. I had to wait for ½ hour (which turned in one and a half hours as the plane was late :-/ ) for other passengers to arrive who were also going to the hotel. I grabbed a coffee and just watched the world go by. Men and women wearing beautiful, coloured longyi’s (basically a length of fabric tied around the waist like a sarong.), looking happy, relaxed and smiling. It didn’t feel as frenzied as I expected. It was only the airport, but it seemed like a good start.
I was feeling just a bit more at ease and looking forward to exploring Myanmar.