Official rate in 1968: US$1 = 5 Kyat
Black Market US$1 = 10 Kyat
Equivalent to sterling £1 = 12 Kyat / 24 Kyat
Sunday 29th December 1968
We landed in Rangoon at 13.30 local time, which is an hour ahead of Indian
time and six and a half hours ahead of England. Although customs at Rangoon
went through the luggage with a fine tooth-comb, none of us were really
sure what they were looking for. Everybody on the plane was thoroughly
searched, but it was efficient and we had completed all formalities within
half an hour of landing.
We all travelled in to Rangoon on the airline bus, which took us to the
U.B.A. office. We were going to spend the night in the office, but the
others who had paid full fare were taken to a hotel. Three of them were
in the Orient hotel, which was just around the corner, and two girls were
taken to the Strand Hotel, which was a bit further away. Why they split
them up we don't know. We left our luggage in the office and headed off
to the Orient Hotel to meet the others.
It felt strange walking through Rangoon. After the teeming masses
of Calcutta, the city seemed deserted by comparison. We also realised
that because tourism to Burma was not possible at that time, the
group of us who had arrived on that flight were probably the only
tourists in the country, even thought were only on a 24 hour transit
visa. It also felt good to be able to walk along the tree lined
streets without being hassled by beggars or people trying to sell
We needed to get some Burmese money and decided to ask a rickshaw
driver where we could change some. He told us to get on board and
while he took us around to the Orient Hotel, we agreed to change
one U.S. dollar for 10 kyats, which was double the official bank
rate. When we got out of the rickshaw we paid the driver the dollar
and he gave us the 10 kyats as change. The fare was complimentary.
The Orient Hotel was like something from last century. It was large
and very colonial in appearance. It was also in a good state of
decoration and well staffed, considering that they did not get many
tourists. The others had already left to go to the Shwedagon Pagoda,
and so we went outside and caught a bus to go there ourselves.
At the Shwedagon Pagoda we had to take off our shoes and socks
before we could go in. We then had to climb up what seemed like
thousands of stairs up to the top. The Pagoda was a most beautiful
place. A large stupa contained not only some of the relics of the
Gautama Budha, but also some relics of three other Budhas that had
been born a long time before him. As you can imagine, this pagoda
is one of the holy of holys to Buddhists. The stupa is 320 feet
high and the bud at the top is made of pure gold, which according
to the guide book consisted of
8688 sheets of gold. Each sheet measures a foot square and is valued
at about US$300. I calculated that the value of the bud alone must
be in the region of 2.6 million US dollars. In addition to the gold,
the buildings were encrusted with many diamonds and semi-precious
stones. All around me people were buying small pieces of gold leaf
then sticking it on the statues. The accumulation of years of gold
leaf left the place looking so fabulous that words just couldn't
describe it. I felt privileged to be there and couldn't help thinking
that so few tourists had seen it.
We met up with the three from the Orient Hotel who were also walking
around the temple complex, and from the Shwedagon, we all shared
a taxi to the Sule Pagoda, another smaller Pagoda near to the airline
office. Compared to the Shwedagon, this one was disappointing, so
we decided to split up with the others and go for a walk around
Rangoon. We found the post office and I posted the letter I had
written on the plane. I later found that it took just 2 days to
get to Liverpool.
We had arranged to meet up with the three from the Orient hotel
for a meal that evening. We decided to eat in the hotel restaurant
to finish off what remained of our money. Also because the evening
meal was included for the others and they understandably didn't
want to spend money eating out. They introduced themselves as David
and Prudence from England, and John from USA. The hotel had automatically
assumed that David and Prudence both being British were married,
and had allocated them a room together. Fortunately for Prudence,
David and John agreed to share and let her have the single room.
They showed us the rooms, they were so large and old fashioned,
but well decorated with big wooden ceiling fans turning slowly.
It was like a time warp, just as I imagined the hotel in the days
when the British ran the place. I don't think it has changed a bit.
We had a fantastic large meal that evening, waited on hand and
foot. Surprisingly the dining room was quite full, probably well
to do locals and businessmen.
took a walk around the area. We saw a house where the door was open and
people were all gathered chanting what appeared to be prayers. I asked
what was happening and was told it was a house of mourning. We decided
not to stay and walked back to the Orient, where I had left a bag to collect
later. We managed to avoid the disgruntled waiter. On the way back to
the airline office we found a British registered mini parked just down
the road to the airline office. It also had a diplomatic badge on it,
so I guessed it must have belonged to somebody at the British Embassy.
We had been careful to check the prices before we ordered to ensure
that we had enough money to pay. When the bill came it was exactly
as we had calculated. We still had a few pyasa left over, which
was to be the souvenir coin from Burma. I had kept a coin from each
country visited so far and was quite disappointed when the waiter
didn't bring the change. When I asked for the change he got very
agitated, saying that a rich tourist like me shouldn't be bothered
about a few pyasa. I explained why I wanted the coin, and he reluctantly
gave me the change. I guess he thought it was a tip, and looking
back I can understand why. We had not eaten in such a grand place
up untill now and were not used to leaving tips.
The others decided to get an early night, so Lou and I
Back in the airline office we each set up our mosquito nets over tables,
taking care to tuck the ends in underneath the sleeping bag. It was just
as well we did because that night the net was covered by thousands of
mosquitoes all trying to get a good feed, while we slept inside, even
though it was a very hot night and the lights were left on all the time.
At one point I must have touched the inside of the net and immediately
felt the sting of dozens of mozzies biting me through the net. You don't
usually feel a mosquito sting, but when there are lots of them in a concentrated
area, you know about it. I was very tired and despite the hardness of
sleeping on a table, I still managed to get a good sleep even if it was
only a very short sleep.
The next morning the airline bus came to collect us just after 6 am.
We were the first pickup, but the driver went straight past the Orient
and went directly to the Strand to pick up the two girls who had stayed
there. He then headed out to the airport. We tried to tell him he had
to pick up at the Orient, but he didn't understand any English, and continued
merrily on to the airport, arriving at 6.40 am.
We told the check in clerk that the driver had missed out the Orient
Hotel, and this started a bit of a shouting match. While they argued about
who's fault it was, we checked in and went through customs and immigration
into the departure lounge. There was another flight going to Peking, and
the passengers for that flight had formed a long snaking queue around
the departure lounge. They also seemed to still have their baggage with
them as they filed out of the door and onto the plane they looked like
David, John and Prudence arrived in the lounge at about 7.45, having
arrived by taxi, and we boarded our plane at 8.15. We had a nice breakfast
shortly after take off, then I went to sleep. Shortly before we reached
Bangkok, the stewardess woke me up to see if I would like some more to
eat before landing. You don't often get offered second helpings of airline