Morning newspaper

Emerging from Yangon airport I felt like I was actually ready to just head home, we'd been in five different hotels, taken three internal flights and the constant coming & going had worn me down. We'd already had an early start, longish drive to the airport, all the kerfuffle of checking in, a (thankfully) short flight, and the tedium of baggage reclaim - it didn't help when domestic arrivals turned out to be a traffic free-for-all and we had to wrestle our way through the mass of cars, minivans & coaches to get to our bus, which of course we had to board from the street side.

When we got to the hotel (the same one as our first night) I just wanted to get to my room and unwind with a nice, long shower but people kept asking Lae questions before she'd finished handing out the keys. When mine finally arrived I grabbed it grumpily, curtly told the bellboy I could pull my own case and stomped over to the lift. In such a black mood how could things run smoothly? When I opened the room I found a naked man inside so I muttered an apology as I retreated, made my way back down to reception and, through gritted teeth, told Lae and the receptionists what had happened. The explanation was that the 2 at the end of my room number had been misread as 1, after profuse apologies (which I grudgingly accepted) a new key was issued and this time I found a nice, empty space awaiting me. A nice long shower eased my grumpiness and I made my way downstairs for our last (guided) trip into Yangon.

Final group meal

On the schedule today was free but both the suggested sights - the central market and the national museum - were closed as it was a public holiday. Lae had offered to lead us to a shopping mall but when we got there it turned out to be a very Western affair, a huge selection - like the markets there were lots of very small shops inside a very large building - but very little that you wouldn't see at home. After a quick look around I got a taxi into the city centre and spent a few hours wandering & taking pictures before making my way back to the hotel. Street life in Yangon was active & interesting but there weren't many green spaces to relax & unwind in, it quickly got quite tiring.

That evening we had our final group dinner and decided to return the the same restaurant that we'd had the first one in. This required travelling in four taxis but only three arrived at the destination, two of the group remained unaccounted for. As the minutes ticked by the jokes about where they'd ended up started to feel a bit strained and Lae set off to track them down. More time passed but eventually all three appeared, to much applause & cheering. It turned out that the taxi driver had misheard the the address but our friends, being experienced travellers, had seen that it was the wrong place and refused to get out, instead saying he should take them back to the hotel. Things weren't helped by the lack of any mobile reception so they couldn't ring Lae and tell her what was going on. Eventually they were driven back, Lae found them and they belatedly arrived at the meal, so all turned out well in the end.

On the last day my ride to the airport was set for 12:30 in the afternoon. Normally I'd stay close to the hotel for fear of missing the trip home but at breakfast Gillian said she was getting a cab into town so I decided to risk one more venture, solo as she was moving on to another trip.

The city was much quieter than I'd expected and I enjoyed myself seeing the day's activities begin and the people & businesses slowly get started. Myanmar clearly didn't have much of an 'early start' ethic, I walked in to the huge Bogyoke market at 9am and found the vast majority of stalls either closed or still in the process of opening & setting up. Eventually things started to liven up and I found myself a couple of t-shirts, one with a Myanmar flag and the other sporting a Myanmar Beer label design. My huge stack of kyat had finally run out so I paid in dollars, the cost worked out a little higher but it was still very cheap and the stallholders seemed very happy.

Doorless trains

I'd planned on getting a taxi back but I'd grabbed the wrong hotel card when I set out and I wasn't sure if I could explain where it was to a cab driver. There was ample time to walk back but when wandering around the market I'd seen that there was a train station behind it and a quick check on my phone's map app showed that there was only one line and it passed another station close to the hotel. Throwing caution to the wind I decided to try and get home on public transport.

At first it felt pretty daunting. The route map was shown in Burmese & English but what I took to be the station name didn't seem to appear on it. The trains I watched passing through all seemed to travel slowly so I assumed that any train going in the right direction would stop at all the stations, if not I still had lots of time to make my way back again. There seemed to be no ticket checking going on but I didn't want to cheat the rail service (or risk a jail cell) so I went up to what looked like a ticket booth and was rewarded with an official speaking friendly, very clear English. He sold me a ticket (for about 25p), told me the next train would be in fifteen minutes, and wished me a happy journey. All was well.

About half an hour later a train pulled in and I clambered abord, there were no doors and the steps were quite steep but the handrails made it fairly easy. Inside the carriage was cool with benches down both sides & glassless windows and, after a quick glance, the other passengers treated me as just another traveller. A sequence of food & drink sellers came through the carriage as we moved along, doing a slow but regular trade with the locals. The station signs made no sense to me and there were no maps inside the carriage so I used my phone's GPS to track my progress and to tell me when to get off. I arrived back at our hotel with the air of a cosmopolitan traveller but the sting in the tail came when I got home and found that my phone had been updating its maps all the time I was on the train, resulting in data roving charges that were ten times what a taxi would have cost. Even so it was a nice way to see the ordinary side of Yangon life.

The journey home was relatively uneventful. Myanmar emigration was quick & easy, the flights passed smoothly and I managed to get a good amount of sleep on the long haul, UK immigration was the fastest I've ever known (my first trouble-free use of the electronic gates), and although I had to wear all my clean clothes to stay warm in snowy England and half of the trains were cancelled I managed to get home reasonably quickly.

Myanmar had been a great holiday destination. The cities didn't have much for me but Bagan had been wonderful, Inle Lake & Kalaw were fascinating & fun, the people were friendly and the food was really good. It felt welcoming, safe, and a nicely cheap place to visit. Lae may have been a little over-protective but she had been a great guide, sensible & cautious enough to be trustworthy, playful enough to be fun. I'd have no qualms about returning to Myanmar, my only hesitation would be that there are so many other places to see.

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