When reviewing restaurants and accommodation, sometimes Lonely Planet gets it quite wrong, and sometimes it may have been accurate once but conditions are always changing. Sometimes the fact that a place gets a good review in LP leads directly to overpricing and/or decline. But sometimes it gets it very, very right.
This time there is no decline, no complacency, resulting from a good review. Three Seasons Guest House in Yangon is sweet as they come. The rooms are not fancy but the floors and walls are wood, perfectly varnished, furnished with everything one needs, and clean. The hot water works, the aircon works, the breakfast is ample and excellent, the staff is quiet and lovely, and there is a small garden area if you would rather be outside than in your room hiding from the afternoon Yangon heat.
Furnishings are an issue in budget and mid-level accommodations in Asia. I have here two rarities: a desk for my computer and – almost unheard of – a bedside lamp with a true miracle – a bulb bright enough to actually read by. In Myanmar, in any budget level accommodation, the shower head is abysmal. The water sprays thinly outward from a head that would be inadequate on a watering can, and the whole contraption is mounted high enough for a 6 foot 6 inch man. The only way I have been able to shower is to bring a plastic chair into the shower and stand on it. This is a low end mid-level establishment and it has the far more satisfactory shower head on hose which can be used at whatever level fits the user. And the water is a perfect temperature. Of necessity one tolerates lukewarm, and even cold, showers but they are never pleasant.
So here I sit in my sweet little windowed room (budget rooms may also not have any windows) under an airconditioning unit that incredibly actually works on this baking hot afternoon, having already walked 5 miles today. Aside from the immediate need to pickup a parcel waiting for me at the Bogyoke Aung San Market, I also returned to The Castle – the fastest internet in Yangon. My previous accommodation was a very easy walk from both and though there is closer wifi for me on this east side of downtown, I have a prepaid card for The Castle. Since I was over there anyway, it was just as easy to stop in there after my more immediate errand.
The internet was its usual Myanmar self. Starting out it was quite fast and I thought the problems of the past two weeks were past now that I am back in the Big City, but not so. After a half hour of a connection so good I thought I might actually be back in Bangkok, the whole blasted thing ground to a halt. I took that as a clear sign that I should pack it in for now.
My first impression of Yangon some three weeks ago was of very dirty, unappealing city, but once I get my feet on the ground, I forget all about that and just walk about and enjoy the exotic diversity, and some say craziness. My first impression this morning was exactly the same. There was no fond remembrance which supplanted the dirty and cluttered visual impression, but once again, when I start walking, it is all lively and interesting. The traffic challenges I consider mostly good fun. The constant approaches by the money changers I now simply shrug off like a pro.
Here one changes US dollars for kyat (pronounced chat) either at some of the larger hotels or more commonly in the center area of the Bogyoke Market where the government licensed gold and gem dealers provide a safe and secure place for such transactions. The street money changers are to be avoided at all costs. They offer a seemingly good rate, but play a shell game with their money packets and you will come away with half of what you were promised. Many people take on the challenge of beating them at their game, but it cannot be done. In fact, if you are on the verge of doing so, they will back out of the whole transaction and simply send you on your way.
The approaches by the begging street children are harder but perhaps I have finally learned. Don’t make eye contact. Keep clear in your head that it is the presence of the presumably impossibly wealthy tourists that cause the parents to send these waifs out to learn a life of beggary. In fact, this is a lifestyle which takes from these children their dignity, their true happiness and their honest futures. It is more profitable to beg, more profitable for the parent to send the child out to beg.
At Bagan I took a photo of some local people far down on a stairway below at the riverside temple, Bupaya. Then there appeared, running up the steps, a young girl, about seven or eight, with a baby on her hip. She was dressed to appeal for a photograph with daisy barrettes in her hair. But I wasn’t interested in the photo, though Rosemary, the girl who had accompanied me on bicycle that day, was. Then the little girl with the baby stuck her hand out demanding money. What I saw later, when I looked at my first photo taken before we had seemingly been noticed, was the the mother had pointed us out and the girl was gathering her lure – the baby – and was already dashing up the steps, our way.
Another young boy in Nyaungshwe, the village near Inle Lake, had used the ruse of asking where I was going as I bicycled by. When I told him, he then gave me wrong information about where I should go to get to the village I was seeking, and then wanted money for that wrong information. I realized only later that he had given me worthless directions, but my reply to the request for money was – you should not be begging. You should be in school. Wrong directions, unasked for ‘help’, beseeching eyes, lies of every sort to tap into the empathy of a sucker of an old lady. Yes, I think I finally get it.
This second stay in Yangon is a test. On the first, I failed almost completely. This time I think that I shall do better and not feed the destructive behaviors. If you want to help, teaching beggary, and especially trickery, is just not the right way to do so
Yangon. Still awaiting is the premier attraction of Myanmar, the lovely. reputedly gem-encrusted Shwedagon. Will I go, finally, this afternoon, after the heat abates a bit. To be continued.