Saturday, October 06, 2012

Booking Burma

When I'm not writing Iron Man prose or chasing Kuwaiti comic books, I'm either planning class, teaching class, writing my next Wanderlust magazine weekly post, or planning my Christmas trip to Burma.

Once in a while I manage to get to the gym.

The Burma thing has been a lot tougher than I thought it would be. I congratulated myself when I managed to piece together the crazy itinerary to get myself there on frequent flyer miles at a time when mileage seats weren't really available. I added a few nights in Bangkok at the end at my favorite hotel, made a dentist appointment at the place I have been going to there for ten—oops, eleven—years, and bought an AirAsia ticket for Mandalay to Bangkok on January 3.

Turns out, that was the easy part.

My friend Toby, who lives in Chiang Mai, met someone who had just been in Burma, and reported that the "opening" of the country (which has been open all along, but the reduction of the tourism boycott from "don't go" to "go mindfully") has produced a tourist onslaught. And there aren't enough hotel rooms or little guesthouses to go around, particularly during high season (aka high-price season).

Which is when I have to go, due to my teaching schedule.

I jumped on it, sent about 20 emails, checked all the hotel booking sites (which mostly access crap, but Agoda/ has good stuff), and finally just called places via Skype.

Burmese hotels and travel agents do generally seem to be switched on to email. They have intermittent power and slow internet, but they mostly have email addresses (at least) or sites, but most don't seem to answer. Some do, some do but slowly, and it seems more effective to use the web forms on their sites than to directly email. My phone calls produced mixed results, including one "Use the website."

Here's what I have confirmed so far:

26 Dec: Arrive Yangon/Rangoon. Overnight at new city center hotel (no reviews yet, yikes) booked on Agoda. Clover City Center Hotel. Day One in Yangon. Also: sleeping off the tremendous plane trip.

27 Dec. Yangon. Clover City Center Hotel.

28 Dec. Fly early AM Yangon-Bagan on Air Mandalay. These guys are efficient and do web bookings. Probably because they have an office in Thailand, where they have fast internet and steady power. Spend day in Bagan. Overnight Aung Mingalar via Agoda.

29 Dec. Bagan. Aung Mingalar.

30 Dec. Bagan. Aung Mingalar.

31 Dec. Tentative flight early AM Bagan-Heho/Inle Lake. Here's where I'm having a hard time getting a room. Some of the small guesthouses seem promising.

1 Jan. Tentative Inle Lake, depending on finding a room. Otherwise, maybe I'll go somewhere else between Bagan and Mandalay.

2 Jan. I need an early flight from Inle (Heho) to Mandalay, so I can have the whole day in Mandalay. Air Mandalay goes in the afternoon. Yangon Airways has the earliest time, 1225-1255, but they haven't responded to my various booking requests yet. Overnight in Mandalay at Silver Swan Hotel (confirmed, miraculously, via their own website).

3 Jan. Early AirAsia to Bangkok, where I intend to eat pad thai, get a massage, see the dentist, buy more zebra T-shirts, and get the audio on one of my old iPhones repaired. I might even go to my doctor to get a report on the state of my parasites.

So the only piece of the puzzle still missing is Inle Lake.

This wasn't easy--I couldn't get a single Burmese travel agent to email me back (maybe because I'm just booking budget rooms and domestic flights). Most people that actually wrote back wrote to tell me that everything was booked—they seemed terribly concerned for me, which was sweet. And tracking down email addresses and websites was kind of ridiculous, and involved lots of coffee, determination, and a bit of desperation.

I am a professional. Okay, maybe not that professional. But telling me something cannot be done is exactly how to get me to do it. So I have to thank the person Toby met in Chiang Mai for telling him how difficult this would be. Otherwise, I would have rolled up to some guesthouses in Burma and ended up sleeping in the reception area when the country was booked solid.


Alexander Rapp said...

What? No hell-bus rides?

Marie Javins said...

If I can't get a room at Inle Lake, it's entirely possible I will end up on several hell-bus rides, but I'm not sure what the other options are yet.