Mandalay – Words to the wise…

Most of Myanmar presented us with completely new experiences and challenges. Mandalay international airport was certainly no exception. Here are my tidbits of advice for those of you who might one day find themselves in Mandalay international airport.

Everything will happen in Myanmar time. Which is even slower than North Queensland time.

It took a good 20 minutes or more for our bags to make it from the plane to the terminal. The airline ground staff in Mandalay were by no means in a rush to do anything. Everything was done at a leisurely pace, with friendly chats along the way. I’m not the most patient person in the world, and I was super keen to get out of the airport and see Mandalay. But the staff were not lazy, just relaxed. A reminder that not everything needs to be done at lightning speed. The wait for our luggage provided me with a good opportunity to plonk down on the floor and scribble in my journal.

Be aware of the power outages.

Because I wasn’t. Whilst sitting on the floor, writing and waiting for the luggage, the power went out plunging the arrivals hall into darkness. Cue a slight wave of panic. ‘What the hell? I can’t see! How am I supposed to see my bag on the carousel? How does the carousel run? Damnit, now the air conditioning doesn’t work and its hot.’ Don’t worry, the power will come back. Chances are the power has been out for a while and they needed to swap generators to run lights and other essential electrics (generators ran everything for the whole two days we were in Mandalay). More patience is required. A perhaps a palm leaf fan to combat the lack of air conditioning.

John with his woven palm leaf fan. We each bought one the first night in Yangon. Best investment of the trip. Cost us 100 kyats each ($AUD 0.10).
John with his woven palm leaf fan. We each bought one the first night in Yangon. Best investment of the trip. Cost us 100 kyats each ($AUD 0.10).

The airport is really dark anyway.

Probably because they have to use generators for power most of the time. You can see, but the light is definitely not that fantastic. It’s a bit like wearing sunglasses inside. Don’t drop anything small, like an earring, because it’s too dark to find it. But you don’t know the meaning of “dark arrivals hall” until the power goes out. That’s dark.

Be ready for the attack of the extremely helpful-to-the-point-of-hindering taxi touts.

Once we’d collected our bags, we made our way toward the exit and were accosted by taxi service touts who pounced on us like over enthusiastic puppies. All smiling, all friendly, all meaning well, they chattered and shouted over each other to us in broken English whilst grabbing at our suitcases and trying to steer us toward cars. I was far too tired and snappy to cope with this and it was not something I was expecting. I tried to distance myself from it and left the bargaining to John, who was cool as a cucumber. Consider this your warning – late nights and early mornings at your previous destinations will ensure your head is spinning by the time you get outside.

There is no such thing as “getting to the airport too early”.

The airport is a fair hike from town, and this after you’ve battled the crazy traffic to get onto the highway. Book a taxi the night before to pick you up from your hotel and drop you out there. We asked our driver from the day before to pick us up and he agreed to for a reasonable price.

Something else to take note of is the lack of departure boards – thank you, power outages. That’s right, no electronic departure boards to advise of departure gates and times. Getting to the airport extra early means you won’t have to stress about gates changing without your knowledge – ground staff will advise you in person.

Blue marker: Mandalay international airport. Yellow marker: our hotel - Mandalay View Inn.
Blue marker: Mandalay international airport.
Yellow marker: our hotel – Mandalay View Inn.

Eat before you go.

This may have been a symptom of Thingyan approaching, but when we arrived at Mandalay international airport for our flight to Thailand, there were no restaurants, bars or snack stalls open. Admittedly, the airport is not exactly the busiest place on Earth so the lack of shops and eateries is understandable. There were a scattering of shops selling tourist trinkets, some of which will convert your kyat back to US dollars.

Keep your eyes open… you’ll be endlessly entertained.

Never have I been to an international airport where I have watched two men pick their way through six foot high grass to climb through a hole in the fence, and then stroll across the apron to a set of stairs leading to the terminal. No, I’m not kidding, I actually saw that happen.

All information in this post was correct at time of travel. Given the tourist boom that Myanmar is beginning to experience, it is possible that things have changed. Always do your research before you travel.

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