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Shaksey

Rangoon, Burma - October 2013

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Shaksey
I went to Rangoon last week for 4 days, 3 nights and had a grand old time. Apologies, no photo's, I hardly ever take photo's of anything, anywhere - I have a photographic memory but if I take photo's of things then all I remember is the photo and I don't like that so that's how it is. 

 

Rangoon as you see it today was founded and created by British Army enginers after Burma became a British colony in 1852. They built it on a grid pattern and if you're at the river facing North 1st Street is to the Left (West) and the numbers go up as you move Right (East). Youl could say the "Centre" is around the Sule Pagoda area. By the early 20th Century the infrastructure and public services were said to be equal to those in London. However after bombing in WW2 and dire lack of investment combined with huge corruption and mismanagement after Burma gained independence in 1948 the state of the city became very much near derelict. In the 1990's as the ruling military junta opened up towards foreign investment a lot of colonial era buildings were torn down and replaced with low rise tower blocks and small commercial centre's. This is pretty much the current state now. There are no real high rise or skyscraper type buildings, I think the highest is about 25 stories which is a condo block in an upscale neighbourhood in the 'burbs. They have now created a list of 200 historical buildings that are protected so at least there now is hope that they may be restored and preserved for the future. New development has begun on quite a few empty or cleared sites though and foundations are being laid for what look like being big towers and shopping centre's etc. If you want to see Rangoon as it is now and has been for 150 odd years then you haven't got long to go-see.

 

The currency in Burma is Kyats (Ch-ats) and you get about 1000 of them to US$1. All local shops and restaurants take K's but the nicer hotels and restaurants price in $'s. Take a supply of both out every day and night. You can change your $'s at the airport, it's not worth faffing around trying to find better rates in town and when you change them back the spread is not bad. $ notes must be unmarked and clean as a whistle. Some folding or small creasing is OK but they must look decent. 

 

Hotel wise your choices are going to be good high end or pretty poor value middle of the road type places. They are all expensive compared to Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam. Prices are equal to or more than London or NYC for the high end places and even the acceptable middle of the road places will set you back minimum $80 a night. hotel price inflation is rampant, costs are going up in the 100's of percent per year due to chronic shortage of supply and the growing number of tourists now visiting combined with the people now going to try to do business there. The best hotels are The Governors Residence, The Strand, The Savoy and Traders. You're looking at about $300-500 per night for all of them. Of those only The Strannd and Traders are in the downtown area so I'd recommend those for ease of access to everywhere else you might want to go. Choose The Strand if you like colonial charm or Traders if you like your hotel more new and bland. The Governors Residence is worth a visit for dinner though, lovely old restored mansion. The mid-range hotel I'd recommend is Asia Plaza which is well located and although a bit worn is clean and well staffed for about $80 a night. Ask for a room at the back on the exexutive floor so you're not facing the railway yard and you get a decent modernised room.

 

Getting around Rangoon is easy - the grid pattern streets are simple to navigate and you can walk to most sites of interest in the daytime. You'll need a cab to get to some places though and they are refreshingly cheap if rather old and worn out. Drivers are friendly but if you ever get asked for more than 5000K ($5) for a trip anywhere but the airport they're taking the piss. Anywhere from anywhere is $2, $3, $4, or $5. 

 

Must-do's in the daytime are - 

 

Schwedagon Pagoda - The most amazing temple i've ever been to, beats anything in Thailand by miles, you MUST go here. Normal temple dress rules apply. You'll need to take a taxi.

 

Sule Pagoda - Bang in the centre of town, you can walk here. 

 

Bogyoke Aung Sang Market (formely Scott Market) - Good local stuff for sale and a lot of nice gold. Colonial era market building, can walk to it.

 

National Museum - Big museum, a lot of interesting artifacts on display. Need to take a cab.

 

 

Other daytime outings if you get time - 

 

The old Zoo - how zoo's used to be, take a nice relaxing stroll.

 

Inya Lake - Large lake, very pretty.

 

Happy World - Quaint old amusement park.

 

Drug elimination museum - very stearn type museum but very interesting.

 

Defence Services Museum - Interesting military museum.

 

St Mary's Cathedral - Very pretty cathedral, biggest in Burma.

 

 

Old colonial buildings to go and see. Most are closed to public, fenced off and guarded. Enter at you own risk - 

 

Secretariat building/Ministers offices - Huge old building, covers a whole city block. Abandonded since the Junta moved the capital. Outstanding Victorian architecture.

 

Old Railway HQ - Currently being assessed for restoraiton...let us hope.

 

Immigration building - Formerly Rowe and Co dept store. Currently in scaffold but worth a look. Next to city hall.

 

City Halll - Next to Sule pagoda.

 

High Court building - across the square from City Hall. Still in operation. Beautiful huge Queen Anne style court house. I got in for about 20 mins then was grabbed and escorted out by security.

 

The whole row of buildings from The British Embassy heading West along Strand Road on the river. This covers The Strand, The Maritime building, The Customs House and a couple of others. All oustanding turn of the century architecture. Most are accessible. The Customs House has a big Golden sign in the foyer that says "Honesty is the best policy" which quite ticked me.

 

The Pegu Club - The most famous British Gentlemans Club in Asia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pegu_Club  and http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/in-depth/7441-a-toast-to-the-past-3.html . Next to the Russian Embassy and v near the National Museum so you can visit one then the other. Keep asking Taxi drivers until one knows it. It's in a precarious state of dereliction now but it's still a beautiful reminder of a bygone age. Redyard Kippling, George Orwell,  the then Prince of Wales and countless other historical figures visited. It created the famous Pegu Club cocktail. MASSIVE CAUTION ADVISED if you go inside. Floors are collapsing and the grand staricase is not stable. Get your taxi driver to come inside with you in case anything goes wrong. There is a crazy local guy who lives there who will try to scare you off - get your cab driver to tell him to piss off, he doesn't own it or have any right to kick you out. Absolute scandal that it's not on the heritage list but there is a lot of interest in it being bought and restored....again, let us hope.

 

 

Onto the night time entertainment.....

 

First the bad news - Rangoon has no gogo's, no beer bars with girls in, and no G-clubs. What it does have is a few good Western type bars, streetside beer bars, a lot of disco's/FL pickup joints and a tinsel club. 

 

Early evening a great place to go is 19th Street which is where all the locals go to drink, chat shit and put the world to rights. I gues the relatiive freedom they are now allowed after years of strict Junta rule is quite novel for them still. There are BBQ and food stalls galore and music from most bars. Sit, chill, chat, drink, eat and enjoy the view. 

 

An alternative to this is to go to a "sky bar". There are a few of which Sapphire Bar in the Alfa hotel and Space Bar are both popular as is the bar on top of Sakura Tower. As I said earlier they are not really high up but as Rangoon is a low-rise city you can get great views of sunset of Inya Lake or the Schwedagon Pagoda. 

 

After dark you can visit one of the Western stlye bars of which the best are Union Street on 37th Street and 50th Street Bar. Both have good drinks, food, sports on TV etc. Good crowd of expats and some locals, you can ask around where is hot right now etc and gain some useful loal knowledge. 

 

An intersting place to go before the disco's is Escape bar. It's by the lake and is the top, top hangout for the Burmese high-so's, Generals sons, TV stars etc. Prices are actually reasonable and the girls are stunning but you will seriously need to be careful trying anything with them due to the attendance of the above mentioned peoples. They do good food too.

 

One place you absolutely have to visit at least once is Power Light which is the aforementioned Tinsel Club. It closes about 12 so go before the disco's one night. It's a big outdoor place with a lot of tables around a stage and Runway.  There's also private rooms up above where VIP types hang out. There is a guy onstage who is an awesome one-man-band type setup who sings too. When he's not singing there are 20+ girls on stage in cocktail dresses who sing alone or as groups. They are seriously hot, most of them would be the hottest girl in any BKK or Pattaya gogo bar. BEWARE though, some are blatantly young. Getting caught with an underage girl in Burma is about as bad as it could get, if you think she's too young she most likely is. Ask to see ID. Up to you. As an aside, there is also one girl who is older and wears jeans and is not hot - she's the house singer and is very very good and obviously there just for singing. So how does it work? So when you see a girl you like you ask your waiter to get her some tinsel at $10 a time. Then some boys go up on stage and drape it over her. This usually then means that she will come and sit for a drink with you; however, some of these girls end up looking like Christmas tree's and the tinsel buyers then bid aganst eachother for the pleasure of her company - it goes upto $100's so best to stay out of that game. If you do get her at your table then you can discuss further activities when the club closes, you're gonna be paying $200+ for LT here IF she wants to go with you - they do not have to go with you no matter how much you spend on tinsel or drinks. As I said it finishes early so you can then take the girl to further bars or disco's - they are unlikely to just go back to your hotel with you straight away. You need to confirm this with them as some just take $100's to accompany guys to disco's with no intimacy involved.

 

The dicso's/FL type places get going around 10pm and they are mostly all a taxi ride away from one another. The best and most popular disco hands down is Pioneer -OK music (for Rangoon), a lot of nice girls, busy every night. On any night this was ime the best place. Other disco's include JJ's which is in a huge complex with KTV and other things. A lot of girls, a lot of noise and a lot of annoying touts outside. WARNING - if there is a fire here or any type of emergency causing a painc/stampede you will almost certainly die. Music Club is at the Park Royal hotel and is a pretty standard pickup joint with a few nice giirls. A bit further out of town by Inya lake is DJ Bar and next to it is GTR which were both very quiet when I went in the week. I'm told they are busy Fri/Sat. BME2 is another place that is very popular but is currently being refurbed so ask around if it's open again or not. It should be good when it's finished and open again so they say. Emperor and Palace are two other places but quality of girls was very poor, would not bother with them. Prices in the disco's for FL's for LT seem to be from $50 to $100 quoted to me first offer. Other guys told me that the prices have gone up loads in the last Two years, same as hotels and other things. I did not try to negotiate as I wasn't interested in taking a girl home and did not want to lead them on. Other guys said they were quoted $50 - 200 and the girls took less after negotiating but never heard of less than $40 so like anywhere with this kind of setup the price is very much dependent on you - age, looks, style, how drunk etc. I'd say average young guys will be paying $40 - 100 for a nice girl LT and average older guys $100-200. Prices are now going up by the month.  Price to get in disco's was $3-6 and included a drink. Check your hotel is girl friendly though as many are not. It also varies on you and the girl. If you and her look classy you will get her in. If she looks like a slutty whore she will not. If you're staying at one of the nicer one's you might want to book a room just to take girls to at a cheaper place. This advice is from other guys there i talked to - i did not take any girls so cannot confirm 100%.

 

The demographic at these disco's is not the same as in Bangkok or Pattaya - they are primarily aimed at local guys and the majority of the guys there are indeed the more well off locals. Be sensible, don't try to pickup the top local boys hottest girls etc. The high-so types all come from Escape to Pioneer in the week and to GTR and DJ Bar at weekends I was told. The whole atmosphere is very different to Insomnia or Marine. They're local clubs for local people so behave yourself. I never saw any trouble but just be aware you're not in Kansas anymore. That said though I felt totally safe walking around Rangoon at any time night or day - street violence or robbery against foreigners is rare so don't worry too much. The main thing to worry about walking around is the state of the pavements - huge holes, crack and gutters running across them that you could lose an elephant down. If you can't see your next step don't take it!

 

Finally, after the disco's you can ask a cab driver to take you to a late  night massage/sauna place. I did not go but was told there are plenty where ST is available and the girls are OK. 

 

You can do everything i've mentioned above in 4 days and 3 nights if you get up at a sensible time and pound the pavement in the day. Get a map from your hotel, get the concierge to point out everywhere you want to go and hit the street but just watch where you're treading. I thought the vast majority of Burmese people were all nice and friendly, they were eager to speak English to you and help you if they could. There was no anti-foreigner vibe like in some places in tourist areas of Thailand. The only potential rip-off I encountered was taxi drivers trying it on, nothing serious. I was told however that the guys who approach you on the street offering to change money are dodgy so avoid them. You could walk around the city for an hour and not see a single other foreigner. The kids and some of the adults still stop and stare when you walk by but they all smiled back when I did to them. 

 

On one night there was a city wide power cut, this is still quite common and although all the big hotels have generators they do not all seem to have UPS's so the time for them to switch over varried. Take a torch. II did not take any phones, tabloets, or gadgets at all so cannot comment on current phone coverage or quality of wi fi in hotels etc. I was told wi fi is now getting OK but service for foreign phones is still not setup.

 

One last word of advice is to give yourself 90 mins to get to the airport on your way back - it's only 20km or so but the traffic gets really bad in the afternoons. The airport itself is new, modern and very nice to use, no problems there. 

 

That's about all I can think of right now, will add anything else I remember as and when.

 

S.

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sinbad5

That's an excellent report from every every viewpoint. You really captured the place.

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jumpjack

Wish I had this to read before I went there. I didnt look to closely to the scene, but of course its there. In general the girls are very conservative, but its a big country with many different ethic groups etc

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DaveDV

Thanks for the report, aiming to see some of Myanmar next year :)

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asmodeus

Great summary...I've met a few Burmese girls in London and some are beautiful...sounds like a worthwhile place to visit

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Highlander

WOW, thanks for the recent report, but I cannot see how their economy will stand in parallel with other Asian nations if the prices are that much, too much, too quick, and we bomb the Thai's for bumping up prices.

 

Sorry it is now OFF my bucket list.

 

Thanks again for the update, good work.

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beachboy63

I stayed at the Alfa hotel and the hotel staff would get me a taxi down to Traders and they would tell the driver I would be paying 1000 kayets. The trip back would either be 1500 kayets or 2000 kayets from the same return point. Not worth arguing with them though  :question1:  :P

 

I liked the lake area for a pleasant afternoon beer there were quite a few cafe / bars set up there. At one stage at Emperor the judging of the winning girl / girls ?? went on for quite some time with kylie's "I just can't get you out of my head " on a loop of about 1 minute sample. The girls looked mostly bored as it would take a good 5 minutes plus for the next lot of tinsel to be added to the massive amounts they already had. Lucky I drink a lot  :Beer:

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enterprise

Good report but would disagree with you about Emperer and Palace. You can find a few ok girls, not top end stunners, but nice little spinners, little to ne English $40 

 

SCHWEDAGON Pagoda is top attraction

 

mynmar2011 025 (600 x 450).jpg

 

mynmar2011 025 (600 x 450).jpg

 

Hotels over priced, not enough rooms.

 

Internet poor

 

Can you use credit cards yet?

 

Also is there a mobile phone network up and running yet

 

mynmar2011 034 (600 x 450).jpg

 

Railway

 

mynmar2011 006 (600 x 450).jpg

 

Outdoor eating for the brave

 

mynmar2011 023 (600 x 450).jpg

 

Tricycle for hire

mynmar2011 026 (600 x 450).jpg

 

Water available if thirsty

mynmar2011 024 (600 x 450).jpg

mynmar2011 007 (600 x 450).jpg

mynmar2011 030 (600 x 450).jpg

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enterprise

Girls from Palace

 

pattaya  big budda 001 (600 x 450).jpg

 

pattaya  big budda 022 (600 x 450).jpg

 

pattaya  big budda 027 (600 x 450).jpg

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Shaksey

Those girls look like pretty much the quality I saw at Palace and Emperor, yes some "OK" girls but sorry for me I would not go to a club for that quality of girl. Compared to the girls at Pioneer, DJ, GTR, Music Club, Escape and Power Light there is no comparison. The girls at JJ's I'd say are a level better than Palace or Emperor but not as good as at the above bars/clubs. Of course prices are reflected in the better class of girl.

 

The model show/judging thing seem to happen at JJ's, Emperor/Palace on a revolving basis. I just walked out if I walked into one going on, very annoying.

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beachboy63

Alfa hotel quoted me $90 a night, I ended up paying $10 more for a Pagoda view room. Only looked a couple of times during the day and at night. A better view is available at The Roof bar.

 

I was told that the mobbile sim that was available for tourists at one stage is not available at present.The locals are on long term plans.

 

I do not recall seeing anywhere that took credit cards, i did see a few ATM's which dispense kayets for I was told a $5 fee.

 

Internet in my room was patchy, sometimes good at other times dropped out completely. The hotel had a business centre and also the internet was good in the dining room.

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Shaksey

I liked how the locals jerry-rigged the old telephones straight into the local PSTN network from the poles then charged people to use them.

 

One of the best things for me overall was the freedom of not having any phones anyone could call me on, nor any internet connection so no email etc. I don't use any social networking so i am a lot less net-active than most but even so the peace and feeling of freedom of being completely off the grid was very welcome. It's a shame it won't last long there, it must be one of the last countries on earth where in the capital city it is like this still. 

 

All the big hotels took credit cards as well as all the ATMs that displayed the Visa/MC signs. A few of the bigger shops in the shopping centre next to Scott Market also took cards. While reading local business magazines it said that credit card take-up was on a steep upward trend now.

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joemu1

could find some action down near the night market..old building with roof top bar..

the best bar was on 50th street marvellous makeover with staircase and cool vibes..same owners originally as foreign correspondents club/bar in phnom penh..not to be missed. on the whole i found it sleepy and bit boring.. train ride aroung city whole circle 2 hours is cool.$1 ride costs

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R-eckless

Thanks for the info Shaksey. Good read.

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