Emirates commenced a Dubai – Yangon – Hanoi service last autumn and invited ITTN’s News & Features Editor, Neil Steedman, to take a Business Class ‘round trip’, visiting Yangon and Hanoi, then returning from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), with Sunway providing a hotel and city tour in each city. Yangon, my first stop, proved to be a big surprise.
Getting to Yangon
As I am travelling Business Class with Emirates, I was collected from my home in Arklow by Ruairi Pender of Devine’s Worldwide Chauffeur Services – this is a very efficient and friendly service as, indeed, is Emirates Business Class.
Devine’s have some 40 cars and 70% or more of Emirates’ First and Business Class passengers now avail of the chauffeur service, which is available free of charge for distances up to 150 driven kilometres for First Class and 70 driven kilometres for Business Class, with the option of paying (direct to the driver) for extra distances at €1.75 per kilometre.
Business Class check-in, Fast-Track security and the daa lounge at Dublin Airport preceeded a most comfortable flight and great service to Dubai, where Emirates’ excellent Business Class lounge provided a comfortable brief stopover before my onward flight to Yangon International Airport, which is modern, bright and spacious.
Arriving in Yangon
My first surprise about Myanmar had been how easy it was to get the required visa. Irish and UK passport holders are two of 100 countries that are eligible for an online Tourist eVisa service and of 50 countries that are eligible for an online Business eVisa service. The service is available 24/7 at the official Government website, https://evisa.moip.gov.mm, and the visas are valid for 90 days from the date of approval – with Business visas eligible for extension.
The site says three working days for processing, but I received my emailed approval within 24 hours – and Immigration at Yangon International Airport was efficient and friendly.
Currency exchange immediately after Customs offered 1,445MMK for €1.00, while the Information Desk provided a city map and, alongside, a taxi ride to Sunway’s Clover Hotel for 8,000MMK (€5.54).
My second surprise, having seen videos of Hanoi and Saigon, was that there were very few motorcycles in Yangon – but I was later to learn from my city tour guide that they are not allowed in the city, but are commonplace elsewhere in Myanmar.
Sunway’s 3-star Clover Hotel at 7A Win Gabar Street, Bahon Township, Yangon (not to be confused with its sister Clover City Center and Clover City Center Plus Hotels) is a little north of the city centre but is ideally located for Yangon’s top attractions of the Shwedagon Pagoda, the Chauck Htat Gyee Pagoda, and Kah Daw Gyi Park and Lake, with its Karaweik Palace, Botanic Centre and adjoining Yangon Zoo.
This is a good value and friendly hotel – and my strong tip is to ensure that your clients are given an upper floor room with a view of the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is floodlit at night and can also be seen from the top floor restaurant.
My half-day Yangon Culture and Traditions city tour was very well guided by Myat Phyo Linn of Intrepid Urban Adventures, who speaks very good English and was able to answer my many questions about Yangon and Myanmar, including its politics, economy, religious beliefs, and dress – many men wear the traditional longyi, or sarong.
The Karaweik Palace is a concrete replica of a Burmese royal barge and is the only place in Yangon where you can watch a cultural show of traditional dance and music.
While the Chauck Htat Gyee Pagoda is famous for its amazing 65-metre long Reclining Buddha with 100 symbols on his feet, the absolutely ‘must visit’ attraction in Yangon – and my biggest surprise of all – is the Shwedagon Pagoda on Sanguttara Hill in Dagon Township. This pagoda was first built in 588 BC to house four relics of Buddha Sakyamuni (Shwedagon means ‘Reliquary of the Four’) but was raised to 92 metres in 1453 AD and then to today’s 100 metres in 1774.
Both of these pagodas are visually impressive – Shwedagon is covered in gold leaf and gold plate and has 4,351 diamonds, including a 76-carat apex diamond, for example – and they are both places of religious worship, but they are far more than that. They are centres of the Buddhist community life that is so strong in Yangon and elsewhere in Myanmar.
If your clients have time to venture outside Yangon, top attractions to visit include Bagan, an 11th century archaeological site with thousands of Buddhist monuments, and the Golden Rock in Mon State, a gold leaf-covered granite boulder that dangles over a cliff and has the small Kyaiktiyo Pagoda on top.
Next week, I will be reporting from Hanoi and Saigon in Vietnam.