Travels through Asia (Hopefully I'll have extra money to travel to the Middle East)
Our flight has been confirmed so my friend and I decided to fly to Myanmar. We are taking some water and a bit of food to hold us for a couple of days (nothing too nutritious) in case that is find to find after the cyclone. We plan to go to the Red Cross and see if there is anything that we can help with in Yangon, otherwise we are going to try to go north via bus or train to go to the are that wasn't affected by the cyclone.
It's a bit scary to go to Myanmar now without knowing how difficult it will be to find a guesthouse, food, water and transportation but it's a risk that I am prepared since I really want to see this country, if worse comes to worst I will change my ticket from Myanmar to Bangkok and return as early as possible.
I will finally be leaving India tomorrow. I am flying into Bangkok for one day to meet Arjan, a Dutch friend that I met in Borneo three months ago, and from there the plan is to fly to Yangon, Myanmar and travel there together for one month.
Myanmar, previously known as Burma has been ruled by a military junta which has been widely accused of brutal persecutions of minority ethnic groups, opposition groups, students and human-rights activists. Although the political situation in Myanmar affects the Burmese people traveling through Myanmar is supposed to be very safe and enjoyable. Travel is slow and there are a lot of bureaucratic situations that you encounter through the trip but a lot of travelers that I have met in the last month highly recommend visiting the country.
Even if I haven't arrived in Myanmar yet, I already encountered some issues related to this trip. The visa was a bit difficult for me to get because I have a US passport and they thought that maybe I was a journalist that wanted to travel through the country to write articles against the military junta and its oppression. After doing a pretty good background check on me, they gave me the visa.
The second difficulty about going to Myanmar is that there are absolutely no ATMs in the country, that's right not at all. This means that I have to take all the money that I expect to spend for one month in US dollars. The currency in Myanmar is called the Kyat and although there are exchange houses, they are run by the government and their exchange rate is very bad, so it's better to exchange the money through the black market. Most of the guesthouses, tourist restaurants, and transportation (owned by the government) only take US dollars but I have to exchange a little bit into Kyat to pay for buses, smaller restaurants, entrance fees, etc. The other difficult thing is that people in Myanmar only accept nice crisp bills with newer series, for example the best exchange will be given to a new crisp $100 bill with series after 2006. Since I am in India, I have to withdraw money in Indian Rupees, exchange them to dollars, so I am loosing a lot of money with these transactions, then I also have to beg to get new bills and that's extremely difficult as most Indians behind a counter don't care about any customer needs (that's actually being polite, the truth is that they don't give a shit about you... pardon the language)
Now, my friend emailed me about a third difficulty. A cyclone packing winds of over 120 miles per hour hit Myanmar yesterday leaving over 350 people dead, and has left the country without power and water. The Yangon airport where we are supposed to arrive has been closed and flights have been diverted to Mandalay. We are supposed to leave on May 7th but at this point we don't know if we can even flight into the country. We'll just have to wait and see. My friend and I have to discuss our options but I am pretty sure that I want to go if it's possible and even stay in Yangon for some days to try to help out with any cleaning or anything I can do. Here is a link with the news: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080504/ap_on_re_as/myanmar_cyclone;_ylt=ApAHoDNhEOAbpOvPq7VoDDGs0NUE
Another difficulty about traveling in Myanmar is internet access as the military junta monitors it and censors several websites, so I don't know if I will be able to update this blog for the next month. Website such as hotmail and yahoo are censored although some internet cafes have ways to get around this problem, otherwise I will have to find a new email provider and create a new email account to stay in touch with my family.