Myanmar,  Travel

My Own Burmese Days*

After leaving Cambodia, I flew to Mandalay, Myanmar. And learned a very important lesson. Most carriers in Asia are point-to-point carriers, so if there’s not a direct flight between two locations, you have to book two flights. Thus I flew from Siem Reap to Bangkok, and then Bangkok to Mandalay.

But two flights means you have to get off the plane, go through immigration, get your bag, go check it back in for your second flight, go through passport control, and then go find your gate.

I had 2 hours, 15 minutes to accomplish this. I knew it was tight, but the flights here are also pretty cheap so if I missed it, it would have meant an overnight in Bangkok but not the end of the world. The flight from Bangkok to Mandalay was $58.

So I got off the plane, got through immigration, and got my bag all in under about an hour. Doing well so far. The baggage check closes an hour before international flights here, so I had about 30 minutes to get my bag checked. I was thinking that seemed like it was going to be fine, so I went upstairs to the departures desks.

It was the biggest clusterf*** I have ever seen. Hundreds of people were in lines with no apparent rhyme or reason, and of course, no signage. What is it about Asia that they hate signage?!

It looked like the bottleneck was that they were insisting on scanning all checked bags before letting you get to the check-in counter. And of course, each counter had ONE X-ray machine. And they were taking their sweet time.

To note, it seems safe to fly out of DMK airport in Bangkok… they are remarkably thorough.

So I finally make it to the front of the line, get my bag through, and of course I get stopped. They said I had a battery pack in my bag. I had forgotten that I packed my extra iPhone battery charger thing. So I had to unpack half my bag, dig it out, and then put it in my carry-on backpack. At this point, I had about 10 minutes to get my bag checked.

I went up to the counter, and they asked to see my ticket. The AirAsia person at the back of the lines told me I could go to counter 1 or 2. The people at counter 2 saw my ticket and told me that counter 2 was only for group travelers (WTF?). I was almost in tears at this point because while I started the day not super adverse to missing the flight and having an overnight in Bangkok, I knew I never wanted to go near that airport ever again.

So they said I had to go to counter 1, and that I had to go back through the counter 1 security line. Because that makes sense? So I looked at this 45 minute security line, and I knew if I tried to use the line I would miss my flight.

I decided to use my blonde-ness and very clear foreign-ness to my advantage and just went to the front of the line. Luckily, I was coming out of the counter 2 area so I was coming from the other side of the main queue, and I had just been talking with an “official” person who pointed this way. So I was hoping people might give me the benefit of the doubt that the person I was talking to told me to go to the front of the line.

But ultimately, I just didn’t care. I don’t speak a word of Thai and I’m sure people were talking rudely about me. But I made it through the line! I got my bag checked with approximately three minutes to spare.

Whew, made it, right? I now had an hour to go through passport control, security, and make it to my gate.

Then I get to passport control. The line was also about 250 people long. I do not understand the lack of efficiency at DMK airport. If you’ve ever complained about Chicago’s lines being terrible – you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen this level cluster.

At that point, I had nothing to do but wait for the line. I waited about 45 minutes and then made it through.

Thank God, the security line was short. So I made it to my gate with 5 minutes to spare. And made my flight. Whew.

I spent most of the flight to Mandalay stewing about how much I hated that airport, and was wondering what would greet me in Myanmar. Was the airport going to be full of touts like the rest of the seem to be? How would it be? And would I have any trouble with my visa? (You have to get it before, which I did, but still…)

I landed in Mandalay, and it was a complete 180 from Bangkok. The lines for immigration were fairly short and moved quickly – the lady at immigration genuinely welcomed me to Myanmar.

Getting the bus to the hotel was also easy – thanks to the government, the prices from the airport to downtown are fixed. So no touts involved or needed.

The bus ride was about an hour and a half, and I enjoyed looking out the window. Along the way, there were a few spots where you could see dust coming up from the side of the road where there was a herd of something churning it up.

Apparently they were herding ducks.

I kid you not. Ducks. Flocks of ducks. (Wait is that what you call a group of ducks? No clue.) It was the most interesting thing I’ve seen in a long time!

Mandalay was very modern by a lot of Southeast Asia standards (it’s no Hong Kong or Singapore, but it’s fairly clean and developed. And they have actual crosswalks).

I walked down to the palace where the King of Burma used to live and saw the palace walls and a bit of the palace. I was moving quickly because I needed to catch my bus to Bagan.

The streets were fairly empty, and there was no catcalling! It was a nice refreshing change from most of the other places I’ve been.

So I quickly fell in a bit of love with Myanmar. It’s a very welcome change, and seems to be a great country! It’s already so much easier to travel in than Cambodia!

*except they call it Myanmar now. Except for the US State Department. They still call it Burma.

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