Our 30-day visa for the Philippines ran out just before Christmas, so it was time to move to our next destination: Myanmar. At the time, we were still in the north of Palawan, and we had a long journey ahead of us:
- Minivan: El Nido -> Puerto Princessa
- Flight 1: Puerto Princessa -> Manilla
- Flight 2: Manilla -> Kuala Lumpur
- Flight 3: Kuala Lumpur -> Yangon
You know one of those days that feel like as if the whole world is conspiring against you? Well, this was one of them. It all started with the minivan that “forgot” to pick us up, and we had to wait for another two hours for the next one. Stressed out that we would miss our flight (and consequently the two next flights), we arrived at the airport in Puerto Princessa, only to find out that our flight was delayed. Even worse, the plane that we were supposed to take was still in Manilla, waiting for approval to get into the air towards Puerto Princessa.
Afraid that we would miss our connection for the second flight, we already started to imagine spending our first Christmas away from our families, on the overcrowded airport of Manilla. The flight attendants made it into a sport to keep us on the edge of our chairs while waiting for the plane:
“Dear passengers, we would like to inform you that the plane has finally departed from Manilla, and will be here in 1 hour and 5 minutes.”
— One hour later —
“Ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you that the plane has arrived in Puerto Princessa, but there is currently no gate available.”
—- When we finally made it into the plane, with 1:45hr left to catch our next flight —
“Ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you that we are still waiting for approval to depart”
— Hovering above Manilla, with 1 hour left to the next flight —
“Ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you that we need to stay in the air a little longer, as there is no runway available to land…”
When we eventually made it into the arrival hall of Manilla airport, the flight attendants shoved us in a taxi to get to the other side of the airport, where we against all odds, caught the plane to Kuala Lumpur! There we had a relaxing six hours overlay, before departing on our final flight to Yangon.
After travelling for almost six months, it sometimes becomes harder to appreciate the beauty of a country together with its own unique culture. It was only in the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist Pagoda in Myanmar, when I fully grasped that we were once again in a different country, with a unique history and culture. Walking around this holy site was a great way to see how important Buddhism is in the daily life of Myanmar people. Especially when you realise that the golden umbrella on top of the pagoda, is worth a stunning 3 billion US dollars (5% of Myanmar’s GDP in 2014)!
Another important religious site is the Golden Rock on top of Mt. Kyaiktiyo. We started our pilgrimage from base camp Kinpun, and joined others on our four-hour journey to the top of the mountain. The site is filled with tons of people (mostly who simply took the bus up), who come here to catch a glimpse of the “gravity defying” Golden Rock.
A long night bus brought us to Bagan, a flat city filled with over 4.000 temples/pagodas. Climb up one of those pagodas and you are able to watch the sun rise, lighting up the holy sites, whilst the hot air balloons fly towards the gleaming sun – absolutely beautiful! After Bagan, it was off to Mandalay to end this fantastic year with a new year’s rooftop party.