SawasdeeKa (probably spelled very wrong). Basically a good-morning and hello in Thai. We are headed bright and early to Bangkok airport for a 1 ½ -hour flight to Yangon, Myanmar (my itinerary booklet lists it as Rangoon.) I have decided to deal with the “Please, you need to see the doctor for yellow fever shot.” -or with the possibility of encountering any other immigration glitch- with a smile, consider it an adventure, and just have fun with it all. But I am hesitant and I sweat (which I rarely do) as we head out to the airport.
We are stuck in the worst traffic jam. It is very early on a Saturday so Benny, our Thai guide, ponders why. As we inch along we see a horrible accident. Around the world we are more similar than we think because the accident is on the other side of the road and we are held up by the “looky-loos”.
She tells us there sometimes can be lines at the departure area at the airport that take hours to clear. We have to go through passport checks upon leaving. Fortunately, Thailand respects its elders and there is a dedicated line for those over “a certain age”. The guide looks at me and says that I look too young and I must say that I am one of our group’s caretaker. Can’t I say that I am with the group? No, you must say you are taking care someone! Okay. Who of? A really nice woman in our group walks with a cane and, even though she is perfectly healthy and able, I am assigned to her. We laugh that since there are three doctors in our group I could also pose as a nurse. As we go to the priority line I am asked who I am and I put a concerned look on my face and put my hand on Pam’s shoulder and say I take care of her. “Yes. Please follow her.” Now I sport an inner smile and in less than 10 minutes we are at the other side of Departures and encounter this.
I fill out the immigration form on Bangkok Air (a really adorable plane with fishes all over it) and it asks you to declare anything of value that you are bringing temporarily to Myanmar. Uh, hold up… this plane has fishes swimming on it. That sort of doesn’t give me much confidence. Just a thought, I would prefer it had clouds or birds on it. Hmm. Back to the customs form. Do I have to declare my Mac? I am told to. So I list it, along with my 3 cameras and my yet unread Kindle. At customs I am thanked for declaring my stuff and with a smile told that I didn’t need to. Please proceed. We are now at the counter. A beautiful, very petite, immigration officer takes my passport. “Please stand back.” Photo taken. She looks at my passport again. Looks up, looks down. Looks up again at me and seems to scrutinize my face which I am sure is now sporting a very anxious look. “You are an actress? So pretty.” And then gives me one of the most charming of smiles. Okay, maybe it’s my relief talking. Please proceed.
We are met by our local guide Thiha (pronounce tee-haa) who is wearing a skirt called a longy. He promises to give us a how-to-tie-one lesson during our stay. All other men are wearing it too. His smile is honest and open. He greets us with “mingalarbar” (min-gah-lah-bah) that is used as a greeting in Burmese and means “auspiciousness to you”. How can one go wrong with a country that greets you in this manner? In less than an hour we have been met with more smiles than in all our hours in Thailand: the land of smiles. To be fair we did arrive at godforsaken hours there. I am still very much looking forward to our Thailand portion even when it means going through any other possible snafu at port of entry.
We go to change money since it turns out that our crisp new dollar bills we were instructed to bring, are less accepted than the local money. It was true, however, than in Myanmar nothing less than a crisp bill, regardless of its denomination, is turned away. So I hand a new $100 bill and am handed what looks like a lot of money. The exchange is 800 Kyats to $1. So 1,000 Kyats is about $1.25
We get to the hotel and it turns out that it is peak season and the rooms are not ready so we sit, as we are served orange juice that tastes like Tang (a good omen since it brings me loads of happy memories from my youth), while Thiha tells us about his country and his people. He also tells us that Hillary Clinton stayed at the Chatrium when she visited Myanmar recently. Warns us about numerous power outages that may occur (the room has a flashlight prominently accessible on the bedside table.) Tells us his country is safe. And gives us our itinerary for the rest of the day. At 1:00 pm we are set loose and free until 4:30 where we will go for a walk in the park and dinner at a local restaurant.
I go to the room and, after taking a shower and settling in, I look at the clock on my phone and it’s already 4:30! I rush out and walk down the four flights of stairs. The power is cutting in an out and I don’t want to get stuck in the elevator. Hotel employees populating the inner sanctum (stairs) of the hotel smile. I am regaled with lots of “auspiciousness to you”. I am sure I am proving them their daily amusement. No doubt they are wondering why this crazy tourist opts for walking down. I go to the reception and it turns out that the clock on my phone is wrong. Ay, ay, ay! I go upstairs again and try to change it to the right time and am not able to. I call and ask to have someone come and change it. No one does. I call again. They will send me the engineer soon. Upon arrival engineer tries to change the time to no avail. I am not feeling that inept any more. So he says he will change the phone. He returns with an assistant carrying a brand new phone. He plugs it in and asks me what time it is. Uh… I don’t know. So his assistant tells him and I now know the time in Yangon! All this has happened with a ton of smiles interchanged and with the best of disposition. Don’t think I could ever possibly be angry at anyone here.
We go to dinner and at the restaurant there are two wedding receptions going on. To get to our reserved table we have to go through the greeting line of one of them. The bride and groom patiently pose for pictures from our group.
We have a really great meal and I finally am sleepy… at barely 8:30 p.m.!