Yangon International Airport (RGN) is a modern airport with every facility. Flying from Yangon Domestic airport is a completely different matter.
The check in process is very relaxed. A man with a clipboard directs passengers to a lady behind a desk which caters for all the airlines. A brief glance that you’ve got a ticket (seats are rarely assigned) and your luggage is wheeled away by hand.
The security desk has the only conveyor, passing your bags through an unmonitored X-ray machine. Passengers cheerfully chat to the lady who uses the metal detector wand to point out directions, rather than checking for inappropriate luggage.
Unidentified lumps of metal are fine, but there are still no bottles of water allowed on the plane.
Passing into the gate area it’s easy to spot the two gates as they’re only a few feet apart. There are no signs indicating which gate relates to which flight. Instead a man wanders round with a sign saying 16.00 – no airline or destination, just 16:00.
Our 25 minute flight to Heho was scheduled at 15.55, so 16.00 was close enough. We passed through the gate unimpeded and climbed into the old prop plane.
A few moments later we were taxiing down the runaway and the pilot announced this as being the 1h 15m flight to Mandalay.
Mandalay isn’t Heho. Aargh!
I probably should have asked a member of the flight crew, but figured it was a bit late to worry about it as the plane rose gently into the air.
Despite the worry, it was a fun flight. On-board services are friendly and generous, with sandwiches and an endless array of soft drink refills.
Once again the pilot announced we were coming into land at Mandalay.
This was rather tricky – how were we supposed to get from Mandalay to Heho? Our driver was due to meet us at Heho airport and we didn’t have any contact details.
It wasn’t until the plane touched down that they let us know it was flying on to Heho. We later learnt that flights here operate like buses, travelling in circular routes stopping at each airport. A perfectly sensible system, but it would be more reassuring to the first timer if there was some prior indication that this was the plan.
Heho is considerably more basic. Walking into the arrivals area I could see all the passengers walking through without any checks. Then I arrived and got pulled aside by a hawk-nosed man in a leather jacket. He started questioning why I’d want to come somewhere like Heho.
Thankfully our contact in the area was able to freely walk through to the secure air-side and tell the security guy to mind his own business. That wouldn’t have been so effective at Heathrow…
She led us through to the car park where we met our driver and his ill-fitting wig.
Another short drive got us to Kalaw. Passing through it seemed like a backpacker hangout – the first we’d seen in Myanmar. Hotels offered cheap rooms and banana pancake breakfasts, whilst bars offered low-cost beer and free Wi-Fi.
This wasn’t that sort of trip so we continued out of town into the low foothills. Our home for the night was the peaceful Amara Mountain Resort Hotel. Judging from the books and photos lining the shelves this appeared to be a German or Swiss owned mansion that had been divided up into some African decorated rooms.
As much as I love trying the local cuisines, having lived in Beijing for some time the uncompromisingly German breakfast with a selection of breads and meats was a special treat, and not a banana pancake in sight.
Alternatives to Flying
With enough time to spare it’s reasonably easy to get around Myanmar. We were only there for a couple of weeks, so opted to fly, but it’s possible to hire a driver or take the bus. Roads to remote regions can be basic, but there are newly built highways between the major cities that make road travel perfectly comfortable.