Saturday, 18 April 2015

Return to Rangoon

'Rangoon', of course, is the old British name for the city of Yangon in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, but I couldn't resist the alliteration of 'Return to Rangoon'. Incidentally, the airline ticketing code for Yangon remains 'RGN'.

I've just started my ninth visit to the 'Golden Land' and I write this from my friend Dr. Hla Tun's house in Yangon. I left home at 05:30 on Friday, 17th April to catch the Qatar Airways flight from Manchester to Doha, transiting there to a flight to Yangon. There was quite a bit of traffic on the M6 Motorway, even that early, and there was what appears to have become permanent road works on long sections but the journey only took a little over one hour. Terminal 2 was fairly quiet, thankfully, so before long I was checked-in, through security and looking for the appropriately named 'Escape Lounge' which passed the time before boarding pleasantly enough.

Flight QR22 was operated by a (slightly tired-looking) A330 and we left on time at 09:00 for the approximately six hour flight to Doha.

A view of the runway approach lighting at Manchester as we taxied to the runway threshold for take-off.

During the journey, I watched the recent release 'Mr. Turner' (which had a mention in my earlier post Rain, Sleet and Snow) and most of 'Interstellar' before my video-on-demand system packed up. I enjoyed 'Mr. Turner' (although the under-lit candle-light scenes were a bit hard to follow) but I rather formed the opinion that 'Interstellar' was trying to be another '2001' and not quite succeeding.

At about 18:00, we came to a stand at the airbridge at Doha and I entered Hamad International Airport. A year earlier, I'd made my first flights through Doha (this trip was described in the collection of posts labelled Burma-2014) but this was when the 'old' airport was in use. The architecture of the new airport was quite impressive but what I noticed was the number of staff patrolling and the courtesy with which they assisted passengers. I was intrigued by a Paramedic patrolling on what I first thought was a 'Segway' but was fitted with a third small stabiliser wheel. There were also numerous 4-wheeled sales trollies selling Duty-Free, pushed around by smartly-suited young men. If you won't visit Duty-Free, Duty-Free will come to you! I gather the new airport has already won an award for customer service. The Business Lounge was large and fairly spectacular. In the separate dining area, food was available buffet-style with staff on hand to serve your selection but there was also a squad of uniformed waiters taking orders so that passengers could avoid the tedium of actually carrying the food to the table. All the staff I saw (including the toilet cleaners) were noticeably polite and friendly. Like all modern airports, there are fair distances to walk and not all the 'moving pavements' were working, so I left plenty of time to reach my departure gate, B5, for the QR918 to Yangon leaving at 20:40. The aircraft was another A330 in excellent condition and with a very friendly, attentive cabin crew. We pushed-back on time and joined the short queue for the runway (34 Right, I think). By this time, it was dark and I noticed that the 'Windsock' near the runway threshold was internally lit so that it could be seen at night.

View of Doha by night as we departed from Hamad International Airport.

Having had a snack at Hamad International, I just took a simple cheeseboard after take-off before watching the three available episodes of 'NCIS', none of which I'd seen before. Then I put the seat in 'Bed' mode and managed to relax until we were about 90 minutes out of Yangon when I had a cursory wash and took a light breakfast. It was very hazy as we came into land in Yangon but I still spotted the Circle Line curving beneath us. We taxied to the stand and two airbridges were attached, one near the nose for business class, one a little further back for economy.

The A330 on arrival at Yangon.

Another walk led to immigration where I was the second arrival. For the first time, I'd been issued an 'Electronic Visa' rather than having a paper visa stuck in the passport. I'd been given a 'Letter of Introduction' to the immigration officer and, to my relief, I was quickly admitted. It was a few minutes before the bags started to arrive on the carousel but mine was one of the early ones so, having had all my luggage X-rayed, I was quickly through customs at 06:25 - the nominal arrival time.

Within a few minutes, Dr. Hla Tun and his son had picked me up and we drove to the same restaurant we'd visited a year earlier (mentioned in the post here). This time, I was even more circumspect about the food I sampled. We then drove to the Doctor's home where, after exchanging greetings with members of his family, I was shown to a bedroom and instructed to rest. After a shower, I set my alarm and slept until eleven a.m. Then, I spent some time re-organising my luggage so that I could travel more lightly on our trip to Mon State. I was then introduced to a young American medical student, Emily, who is to accompany us to Mon State, and her Myanmar friend Mi Mi. After a delicious home-cooked lunch, I took out the Notebook computer to write this initial report. I'll write more when I'm able to.

Go to next post.

All my posts on this trip to Myanmar can be found here.

My pictures

Manchester Airport.
Doha Airport.
Yangon Airport.

[Pictures added 8-May-2015]