BackPacking Granny is on the road to Mandalay

” I have good news for you ladies” said the check in girl, at Malaysian Airways, “I am upgrading you”!

I must explain that this time, for my amazing trip to Burma, I am travelling with my very good friend Other Granny.  She will be called OG in my blogs. She is a delight to travel with as nothing phases her and she has spent lots of time in mainland China, visiting her own son, so NOTHING PHASES HER!

She and I complement each other quite well… she is the techie… she opens safes, legally of course, and works out the vagaries of electrical systems in posh hotels and if we are lucky enough to have a TV she manages to find Al Jezeera or CNN. I, of course, do the really important jobs like map read, darn rucksacks and mend suitcase handles with a Swiss army penknife.

Back to the upgrade – I do not wish to appear ungrateful to Malaysian Airlines but it would have been much more acceptable if they had upgraded us on the long haul, not a two and a half hour flight. Never mind we had a second breakfast, enjoyed our Kuala Lumpur baked croissants, but our visions of bubbly to accompany them sadly did not materialise. We drank delicious coffee and looked out from our unaccustomedly comfortable seats at the exciting country below us.

For those of you who haven’t seen the very excellent film, The Lady, maybe I need to explain a little. Myanmar (old name Burma) still has many political difficulties. It is a country ripe for the picking, unused pristine clean not folded American dollars with them, and then exchange for local currency on arrival. You cannot prebook hotels or taxis or trains or boats … so you really have to have someone in Myanmar to do it for you. Moreover, you also really need an English speaking guide, practically all sign posts are in Burmese script so unless you can speak and read Burmese you cannot even read a map.

OG and I decided to travel with a company called Mountain Kingdom, they are a small but specialist trekking company, and best of all they are politically sensitive.

We were met by our ever smiling Burmese Guide Ni Ni and driven to our hotel, OG and I had decided to arrive a day early to acclimatise ourselves and do downtown Rangoon…. big mistake…. there are not many reasonable hotels in Rangoon let alone luxury ones as we were soon to find out.

Our guide, slightly bemused that we were staying downtown, described our hotel as cosy. We were to move to the official one the next day. Cosy… well I have now experienced the closest I hope to ever having to be to being in prison. The loo was IN the room nestling behind an old wardrobe door. Now, OG and I go back a long way but there are limits.  The last time OG and I had travelled together we were mindful that we had been woken up by a fire alarm at 4am so we decided just to look to see where the fire escape was since we were on the 6th floor. I looked at the map on the back of the door and, despite Burmese script, worked out where the fire escape door was. I opened it and looked out and there was a very rickety, rusty, spiral staircase, which seemed to be standing independently and not connected to our building and was blowing and bending in the breeze! It would have never have taken OG’s and my weight, let alone all the other little people that might have been clambering down it in a fire. I began to feel happier about having a loo in the room … if we do have a fire I could always drown myself in the loo.  There was nothing we could do about it as every hotel room in Yangon was occupied, so in good old boarding school fashion we just got on with it and looked forward to moving to the Savoy Rangoon the next day.

The Savoy was a wonderful Somerset Maugham type hotel, glorious bathrooms with teak loo seats, black and white check tile floors, a bath and a shower with lots of little packets with soaps, combs and shampoo and a singularly unreliable electrical system. I fused the entire hotel by turning on the kettle and the hairdryer at the same time!

The next morning, having met our fellow trekkers, we were off to the airport for an internal flight up country and we are on our way to Mandalay….

I must say I did think it was nice of the children to line the streets all the way to the airport and wave at us. The number of very muscular, American gentlemen in chinos and black polo shirts with

headphones in their ears was initially surprising. I thought, they cannot all be deaf?

“Secret Service men ” whispered our lovely guide, Ni Ni, “President Obama is arriving, he is coming to see The Lady”.

So there it was we were on the Road to Mandalay and Barack was on the road to Yangon…

Our adventure had begun!