2

Cities in Myanmar offer endless discoveries. From pagodas
to historical relics, museums to traditional cuisine, there is
plenty to spice up your travel from dawn to dusk. We spend
a day each in Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan ...

One day in Yangon,
and Shwedagon
Pagoda is a must
The 2500-year-old gold-plated Shwedagon Pagoda remains Yangon’s major tourist attraction. Photo: Naing Wynn Htoon

Khin Su Wai and Mya Kay Khine
Sunrise
oreign tourists arriving in Yangon
often begin their itinerary by visiting
the famous 99-metre-tall Shwedagon
Pagoda that dominates the city’s skyline from
Theingottara Hill, to the west of Kandawgyi
Lake.
It is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in
Myanmar, believed to contain relics of the four
previous Buddhas of the present kalpa (aeon).
Once you enter the Shwedagon Pagoda’s
sanctorum, no matter what religion one
professes, a unique feeling of immense
peacefulness sinks in. Although the pagoda is
not located at the centre of Yangon, visitors
can easily venture to other places in the city
from here. The pagoda’s religious structures
mirror Myanmar’s ancient arts and culture,
and they are an attraction for shutterbugs. An
ideal time to visit would be at 6am to witness
the sunrise.
Breakfast is available along Bahan 3rd
Street, about a 10-minute walk from the
eastern entrance of Shwedagon, where
ethnic Shan and Bamar restaurants are
located. Food can cost a mere K500 (US$0.50)
to K2000 for a bowl of mohinga (a typical
rice noodle and fish soup) or rice. Shan food
costs from K600 to around K3500.
Tourists can then visit the lush Kandawgyi
Park for a stroll on the wooden bridge built
around the scenic Kandawgyi Lake, which
is also a good location to photograph the
Karaweik, a barge in the lake, designed
based on a famous Myanmar royal barge.
Yangon Zoological Gardens nearby, the
oldest and the second-largest in Myanmar,

F

can be your next stop. From its opening
in 1901 until 1951, it was called Victoria
Memorial Park and Zoological Gardens in
honour of Queen Victoria. During weekends,
there are elephant and snake performances
to entertain visitors.
Noon
Lunch could be at the House of Memories
Restaurant, a quiet retreat in a more-thana-century-old colonial and historical villa
situated at 290 U Wisara Road. It was the
family home of the chair of the Indian
Independence Army for Burma. It is now
a recreation centre and restaurant, where
guests can enjoy the feel of the historical
house.
The first office of the late national hero,
General Aung San was once located upstairs
and furniture used during his days and a
photo collection are displayed in the living
museum – a pleasant place to relax after the
morning outings. Here, Bamar, Kachin and
Kayin traditional food price ranges from K5000
($5) to over K10,000 per head.
Other options for lunch can be the famous
restaurants at Myanmar Culture Valley (MCV).
Opened in 2014, MCV shares the plot with
People’s Square and Park, another major
park west of Shwedagon Pagoda.
It serves as a one-stop shopping centre
where tourists can also enjoy tasty
Shan, Bamar or Thai traditional cuisines.
Happy Café and Noodles menu includes
a typical Myanmar salad – a mixture of
cooked rice and ponyaygyi, a sour-sweet
sauce of fermented soya bean. Typical
Myanmar fries, Sagaing cooked rice salad,
Shwedaung noodles and Shan food are

also available at Cherry Land.
MCV also promotes Myanmar cultural
products, paintings and sculptures, and
souvenirs for tourists. Myanmar fashion
and silk dresses are available at several
clothing stores. As Yangon is home to
many tourist attractions, for day trips, it’s
best that not more than two hours should
be spent at each place.
After lunch, one can visit U Thant House,
a museum dedicated to former United
Nations Secretary General U Thant, at No. 31
Panwa Lane, Kamaryut township. Treasured
photographs, documents and artifacts
covering everything from his early life in
the Ayeyarwady delta village of Pantanaw
to his days at the UN are displayed at the
museum.
Evening
Wish to view some fine age-old architecture?
Then head downtown, where nearly
century-old colonial buildings are well
preserved – the iconic former High Court
Building at Pansodan Street, Yangon City
Hall on Mahabandoola Street where Yangon
City Development Committee is situated.
One cannot miss Sule Pagoda, located at
the heart of downtown Yangon, occupying
the centre of the city. Right opposite is
Mahabandoola Park, dating back to 1867
and named after General Mahabandoola
who fought against the British in the First
Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26). After 1948,
the Independence Monument, an obelisk in
commemoration of Myanmar independence
from the British, was installed in the park,
replacing the white marble statue of Queen
Victoria.

Here, the water fountain is usually turned
on after 4pm and the park is often crowded
with locals and tourists.
Walk a few blocks east and there’s
Botahtaung Pagoda near the Yangon River. It
was built by the Mon ethnic people almost at
the same time as Shwedagon Pagoda – over
2500 years ago – according to local belief. The
pagoda is hollow within and houses what
is believed to be a sacred hair of Gautama
Buddha.
Sunset
The Botahtaung wharf is just nearby and
visitors could see flocks of seagulls flying over
the river. The wharf is popular among locals,
who enjoy the fresh air and relax eating local
barbeque sold by evening vendors, and watch
boats and ships go by. If you are not tired, visit
the Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda, along Pyay Road,
on top of Mindhama Hill near the Yangon
airport, before sunset.
The pagoda is known for its enormous
Buddha image made out of a single piece
of white marble. Going down the hill to the
right is a park where rare white elephants
are kept.
Night out
Nightlife may not be as exhilarating as in
cities of neighbouring countries but Yangon
offers entertainment for all groups – cheap
beer gardens (mostly catering to locals).
Western-style cafés, tea houses, karaoke,
bars, and traditional dance performances.
A number of cafés and bars are located
along Strand and Merchant roads, while
Chinatown, which is close by, is known for
its street food stalls.

3

In Mandalay, go
Morning
t takes about a 10-hour bus ride from
Yangon to reach Mandalay, the former
royal capital in central Myanmar on the
Ayeyarwady River. At its heart is the restored
Mandalay Palace from the Konbaung Dynasty
(1752-1885), surrounded by a moat.
Once the bus reaches the Chan Mya
Shwe Pyi (Kywe Se Kan) terminal early in
the morning, the first place to visit is Maha
Myat Muni or Phaya Gyi Pagoda near the bus
stop. It houses the most revered and ancient
Buddha image in Myanmar, thought to be
cast during the lifespan of Lord Buddha in
the seated posture of relaxed deportment,
symbolic of His conquest of Mara (the demon
that seduced him with a vision of beautiful
women). For a day trip, there is no need to rent
a hotel room as there are public restrooms for
visitors to shower and freshen up.
Breakfast can be taken at Shwe Pyi Moe (35th
Street), Min Thiha (72nd Street) or Pan Thakhin
(70th Street), where various food from dim sum
to Myanmar traditional mote ti (dishes made
with thin rice noodles), mohinga, kyarsan
hingar (vermicelli soup), or Shan noodles are
served. The food is not only delicious but also
priced reasonably from K500-K700.
After breakfast, a stroll through Zay Cho
Market would be perfect as it is one of the
oldest markets in Myanmar and, for window
shoppers, the city’s biggest shopping mall,
Diamond Plaza, is an option. Yee Mon pickled
tea or htoe mont (glutinous rice cake with

I

for the food

raisins, cashews and coconut shavings) are
sold here as gifts.
Mandalay Palace, Kuthodaw Pagoda and
Shwe Kyaung Gyi would be the next stops for
a day trip.
Noon
For lunch, Shan food, like meat curry and
veggies are popular, and cost only K1500 per
serving. Eateries like Aye Chan May and Shwe
Wutt Hmone are known for Shan dishes.
While, Too Too and Daw May Lay serve good
Myanmar food.
One could shop for souvenirs and gifts on
the way to or at Kywe Se Kan.
A 30-minute drive from downtown
Mandalay leads to the world-famous U Bein
Bridge, a crossing that spans Taungthaman
Lake near Amarapura township. The
1.2-kilometre bridge, built around 1850,
is believed to be the oldest and longest
teakwood bridge in the world. Many cotton
looms are located around the area and pure
cotton fabrics are available at reasonable
prices.

The royal palace in Mandalay is an interesting place to study the lifestyles of ancient Myanmar kings.
Photo: Staff

Sunset
One can also view the sunset from the bridge.
Another good place for that is Mandalay
Hill. Thazin New restaurant near the bridge
offers an assortment of fried snacks and
mutton curry costing around K6500.
Dinner is available at restaurants along
Tet Thay Lake, a 15-minute-drive from U

Bein Bridge. Kandawgyi Mini and Set Hnit
Pannar restaurants are also recommended.
Depending on the time available, visitors
can dine at downtown Shan Ma Ma or
Paing Li Shai restaurants. There are also
many hotpot restaurants around. Express
coaches depart from Mandalay to Yangon
at 8pm.

Night out
Mandalay’s nightlife may not match Yangon’s
but the city still offers a mix of entertainment
on a different scale. There is enough to keep
tourists busy at night, from karaoke music
and discos to cultural and fashion shows. And,
don’t leave the city without tasting the local
cuisine.
Continued on page 5

4

The best of Chinatown
Yangon’s cultural and gastronomical epicentre is
packed and ready to please
Lillian Kalish

喝玩(chi he wan le). Literally: “Eat, drink, and be
merry”. Of the millions of Chinese proverbs passing
through the mouths of its speakers, this one is not
the most profound. But those travelling through Yangon’s
Chinatown and looking for a little adventure will surely find
enough excuses to live up to its meaning.
Formally established by the British colonials in the 1800s,
Yangon’s Chinatown, also known to locals as tayoke tan, is
home today to a diverse group of overseas Chinese. People of
Chinese descent in Myanmar can trace their roots back to the
southern-most Chinese provinces of Guangdong, Yunnan, and
Fujian. Large communities of Sino-Myanmar people populate
the bustling metropolises, culture capitals, border towns and
odd-ball tourist destinations of Yangon, Mandalay, Taunggyi
and Kokang.
Though Yangon’s Chinatown is a small, rectangular plot in
Yangon’s downtown starting west of Sule Pagoda on 24th Street
and ending around Sintodan Street in Latha township, it is one
of the city’s cultural and gastronomical epicentres.
Chinatown is a “can’t miss” destination for all travellers to
and residents of Yangon. If you’re looking for a boozy, barbecue
fuelled night out or an afternoon of strolling through the
neighbourhood’s historic cultural spots, Chinatown is the place
for you.
So, maybe you’re passing through Yangon for a few days on
your way to Bagan or perhaps you live in Kamaryut township
and you never bother to come downtown. No matter your
situation, The Myanmar Times can guide you to Chinatown’s
best: where to eat and drink, and what to see.

Enjoying a boozy, barbecue fuelled night out. Photo: Staff

Where to eat and drink
Most travel guides will direct visitors to Chinatown’s famous
19th Street, a street packed on both sides with barbecue street
vendors, outside tables, and a crowd of hungry and often
inebriated weekenders.
Kosan 19th Street Snack and Bar
A classic destination is Kosan 19th Street Snack and Bar joint,
in between Anawrahta and Mahabandoola streets. Kosan has
something for everyone, from French fries and guacamole and
chips to Chinese staples, mapo tofu (a spicy mixture of silken
tofu, pork, and chili peppers) and egg and tomato stir-fried
with garlic and scallions. Those looking for drinks won’t be
disappointed either, as Kosan has an array of mixed drinks and
large Myanmar beers for a great price.
Street food
Often without official names, 19th Street is home to a plethora
of barbecue stalls, from which patrons select whatever
skewered meat, fish ball, vegetable, or tofu they would like
char-grilled over a flame. From quail eggs to whole spiced fish,
visitors to Chinatown will have all their foodie dreams come
true with this fresh, smoky barbeque.
Shwe Lai Lai
A little bit off the beaten track of the usual stream to 19th
Street is Shwe Lai Lai, known in Chinese as a place serving
手抓飯 (shou zhua fan), literally “hand grab food”. The restaurant
is at the lower block of 20th Street and Mahabandoola, right
before the rowdiness of 19th Street begins. As many Chinese in
Myanmar come from Yunnan province, or pass back and forth
between northern Shan State and southern China, the cuisine
of this region is a mix of Shan and Yunnan flavours. Shwe Lai
Lai is best known for round dinner sets which you eat with
your hands. An array of hardy curries, steamed and fermented
vegetables, sour and bitter salads, and fried meats circle
around a mound of rice all of which sits on top of a fresh,
bright-green banana leaf. In addition, Shwe Lai Lai is known for
serving Regal 7 beer – for those looking to try something other
than the ubiquitous Myanmar beer.
Moon Cake
Strolling throughout Chinatown these small, decorated
cakes will catch your eye. Especially around the mid-autumn
festival each year in late September, 月餅 (yue bing) shops
are packed with customers looking for all kinds of moon
cakes filled with savory egg, red bean, or newer flavours like
preserved peach or chocolate. Moon cake shops are scattered
all over downtown generally serving the same variety of
flavours; all you have to do is walk down Mahabandoola and

Chinatown’s Kheng Hock Keong Temple. Photo: Staff

keep your eyes peeled for the highly intricate, glossy eggwashed cakes.
What to see
Most visitors go to Chinatown to eat. Let’s face it, the food is
delicious, cheap, and fast. The beer, even cheaper. But what
most visitors don’t know or see – as many frequent the dimly
lit streets in the evening – is that Yangon’s Chinatown is home
to a few very historic and beautiful temples.
Kheng Hock Keong Temple
Dedicated to the goddess Mazu who watches over fisherman
and seafarers, Kheng Hock Keong Temple is one of largest and
oldest Chinese folk religion temples. Located in Latha township
on the corner of Sintodan and Strand roads, Kheng Hock Keong
Temple is maintained by a community of Hokkien Chinese.
Covered in gold and red, the temple is a stunning example of
Chinese architecture. For tourists and worshippers alike, the
temple provides an awesome photo opportunity and respite
from the bustle of downtown.
Guangdong Kwan Yin Temple
On Latha and 20th Street is the partially hidden Guangdong
Kwan Yin Temple where the local Sino-Myanmar community
hailing from Guangdong province come to worship and hold
black tea-infused afternoon meetings. Visitors will be struck
again by the ancient Chinese architecture as well as the
beautiful Chinese calligraphy adorning the walls.
Both Kheng Hock Keong and Guangdong Kwan Yin temples
are a testament to the diversity of Yangon, though there
are many other Chinese temples (Buddhist and otherwise)
scattered across Chinatown and throughout pockets of Yangon.
They speak to the religious and racial diversity of the city, and
for tourists, provide a view into one of the many ethnic groups
that makes up Myanmar.
Night Market
Every night around 19th Street and heading west down
Mahabadoola Street, Chinatown blossoms into a crowd of
vendors and fruit and vegetable sellers. There isn’t an official
name or start time but from around 4:30pm onward, the
streets swell with a flurry of fruit and vegetable sellers, fresh
meat and fish sellers, and various non-barbecue food stands.
Some stands offer traditional dim sum favourites such as
shumai and steamed buns. Others offer sweet desserts made
from rice flour sheets, red bean paste, and coconut. Others sell
zongzi, a pyramid of glutinous rice steamed in a banana leaf.

5

Bagan, a must-see destination

With more than 2000 ancient religious monuments dating from the 9th to the 13th centuries, Bagan is an archaeological marvel. Photo: AFP
Continued from page 3

Morning
nother must-see destination while touring Myanmar is
Bagan, the ancient city of temples in central Myanmar.
Standing on the eastern banks of the Ayeyarwady
River, it’s known for the Bagan Archaeological Area, where
more than 2000 Buddhist monuments tower over green plains.
A holy site around Old Bagan includes the ornate Ananda
Temple and nearby is the vast 12th-century Dhammayangyi
Pagoda. Bagan is accessible by air, rail, bus, car and river.
Express buses reach the heart of Myanmar’s cultural centre
through Nyaung-U terminal at about 6:30am, after an eighthour journey. Visitors can have their breakfast at the terminal’s
restaurants. Oil rice with fried chicken is K3500 per serving.
Hotels rent out cars or battery-powered cycles for tourists
to visit the famous pagodas around the city. Bagan Airport
Hotel is located near Nyaung-U express terminal, from where
a car or cycle could be hired. One could hire horse carts
for sightseeing or opt for hot air balloon tours to view the
magnificent ancient city.
Along the way to Bagan Airport, one can visit the Shin Izza
Gawna Temple (a two-storey Indian styled monument) and
Minnanthu Pagoda (in the same namesake village existing since

A

the ancient Bagan period, between the 9th and 13th centuries).
Going in a clockwise direction from Nyaung-U junction,
landmarks that could be toured include Gu Byauk Gyi Temple,
Gu Byauk Nge Temple, Alo Taw Pyae Pagoda, Ananda Temple,
Thatbyinnyu Temple and Lawka Nanda Pagoda (it contains a
replica of a Buddha’s tooth relic).
There are four pagodas in the Bagan area that each contains
a replica of a Buddha’s tooth relic. All four together are known
as the Bagan Swe Taw Lay Su (Four Tooth Relics). Besides Lawka
Nanda, the other three are Shwezigon, Tu Yin Taung and Tant
Kyi Taung; it is believed visiting all four places in a day makes
one’s wish come true.
Tourists can also view the Taung Kalat monastery built on a
mountain top from Mount Popa, about 50km from Bagan.
Noon
Lunch could be at one of the buffet restaurants nearby, where
prices range from K3500 to K4500. As there are many historical
sites in Bagan, it is recommended not to spend more than 30
minutes in a place.
After leaving Bupaya Pagoda, there’s an excavation site of an
ancient palace nearby. It was built by King Anawrahta.
Not to be forgotten during the tour is the Bagan

Archaeological Museum, where visual arts of the Bagan Period
such as terra cotta, stucco works, wood carvings and stone
sculptures, among others, are displayed.
It would be around 2pm when one visits Dhammayangyi
Temple (largest in Bagan), Hti Lo Min Lo Temple, Manuha
Pagoda (one of the oldest in Bagan, built in 1067) and
Shwezigon Pagoda (one of the Swe Taw Lay Su).
It would take 15 minutes to reach Hnget Pyit Taung Pagoda
and it would be about 5pm when one reaches Tu Yin Taung
Pagoda (built by King Anawrahta, and one of the Swe Taw Lay Su).
As the last of the Swe Taw Lay Su, Tant Kyi Taung Pagoda
is located at the other side of Ayeyarwady River and,
unfortunately, there won’t be any time left to visit it. One may
wish to mentally worship it from afar, as the day trip to Bagan
comes to an end.
Night out
The nightlife here is sedate, but one could enjoy the sunset
over the Ayeyarwady River from riverside bars and restaurants,
and even enjoy delicious local cuisine while being entertained
by puppet shows.
Translation by Khine Thazin Han,
Win Thaw Tar and San Layy

6

From six used buses, Mandalar Minn Express now boasts a fleet of over 100 luxury coaches and employs some 500 staff.
In 2012, it wrested the ASEAN-China Young Entrepreneur Outstanding Award. But not all is as rosy as it seems. In this
interview, Lai Lai Aye reveals her career challenges, and the flaws and future of the road transport system in Myanmar.

She connects cities

Mathematics graduate, mother of two and successful entrepreneur, Lai Lai Aye has
built a million-dollar intercity bus company

Lai Lai Aye at her Mandalar Minn Express office in Yangon. Photo: Naing Wynn Htoon

zay yar linn

I

n other countries, local
and foreign travellers can
conveniently make their
transit at airports, harbours, or
highway express terminals as

proper inter-connected networks
are available. Do you think we
could see this kind of network
soon in Myanmar?
In my opinion, it is true that times
are changing but a transportation
network that links airports,

harbours and express terminals
cannot materialise without a change
in people’s mindsets. One weak
characteristic is that the majority
of Myanmar people do not want to
cooperate with each other and this
behaviour would be the hardest
thing to change. The regional
government will not be able to know
what is going on in each and every
area. If relevant organisations could
come together and, on behalf of
travellers, raise the issues they face
collectively, I’m sure the authorities
will not be able to ignore them.
Only then a good transportation
system, even if it were not up to
MRT [Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit
system] standard, would emerge.
The best approach would be to
operate a shuttle service between
Yangon Airport and Aung Mingalar
highway express bus terminal
because some air passengers keep

worrying whether they will miss
their reserved bus seats. Running a
shuttle service on our own would
be hard for us. It would be more
efficient if the regional government
or respective organisations try to
pitch in.
What would be the future market
for highway express lines, as we
witness competition among them
and how can they woo customers
with new buses and services?
Of course, there is competition in
this business. There were only a
few express lines when we started,
but at present, there are over 200.
Compared to others, Aung Mingalar
highway express bus terminal is the
largest in Myanmar. A large number
of towns and cities can be reached
through this terminal. Under a free
market system, there is bound to be
competition. And yet the authorities

still impose restrictions on the fare
and the type of vehicle that should
be deployed. For example, though
ordinary buses are being used in
Myingyan, if Mandalar Minn wishes
to run that route, city officials tell
us that only Scania buses would be
allowed and the fares fixed by them.
Recently, we have seen more and
more new vehicles being added
to express lines. Is there any
system or regulation involved in
upgrading fleets?
According to the prevailing system,
vehicles have to be replaced with
new ones quite often. Also, we wish
to give our customers the pleasure
of riding good-quality buses. There
are some operators who have not
upgraded their buses so far. In late
2008, the government declared
that only left-hand-drive vehicles
should be imported, and then we

Three million and counting … as more locals take to the skies
Myint Kay Thi

T

he domestic airline sector is on the roll.
More local travellers are now relying on
air transport to crisscross the country, be
it for leisure or business.
“The advantage of flying is you can reach your
destination quicker and in a more comfortable
fashion,” said Zaw Linn Shein, from Myanmar
Signature Travels & Tours. He added that while
most travellers still go by road, air travel is
becoming more popular among locals and that
passenger traffic is expected to grow this holiday
season although taking a flight can cost three to
five times more than other means of travel.

A total of 11 domestic airlines now serve key
routes in Myanmar, namely the state-owned
Myanmar National Airlines (MNA), Myanmar
Airways International (MAI), Air Mandalay, Air
KBZ, Yangon Airways, Air Bagan, Asia Wings Airways, Golden Myanmar Airlines, Mann Yadanarpon Airlines, FMI Air and APEX Airlines.
Myanmar’s domestic passenger traffic grew
significantly from 1.9 million passengers in
2013 to 2.2 million flyers in 2014 and, according to the latest figures, an estimated 3 million
passengers depend on airlines for internal
travel.
According to travel industry experts, local
destinations that top the passengers’ list are

Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Nyaung-U, Taunggyi, Inle, Kyaikhtiyo, Nat Ma Taung in Chin
State, the Myeik Archipelago and Hpa-an.
Air ticket prices differ depending on the airline, and passengers often choose one based
on the services of the carrier, pricing and airline safety, Zaw Linn Shein said. MAI, Air KBZ
and Air Mandalay are the most popular.
The lowest airfare for a domestic journey
from Yangon to any destination could cost
between K60,000 and K70,000 for a Myanmar
citizen and about US$90 to $200 for foreigners.
Ticket prices for Yangon-Mandalay and
Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw routes could be anywhere between K70,000 and over K100,000 on

MNA flights.
Khaung Khaung from Tango Travel and
Tours said this season will be a busy time as
people travel to Ngapali beach for pre-wedding
photo shoots, honeymoons and vacations.
“The climate is perfect for travelling. So,
many people choose to book flights to Ngapali
and ticket prices are rising. It is a bit difficult
to go there by car, so most travellers take
flights.
“The view from the sky is amazing and the
beach is scenic. It is a common destination for
honeymooning couples and foreign tourists,”
she said.
Translation by Emoon

7

Some of Mandalar Minn’s fleet of Scania buses. Photo: Supplied

started seeing these new buses
on the highways. Japan does not
manufacture or sell left-hand-drive
cars. With the new import policy,
it was not feasible to buy Japanese
vehicles any more, so only Chinesemade were brought in. Later,
somewhat higher quality Korean
buses were imported. When Sweden
started manufacturing Scania buses,
we started importing them.
In other countries, there are
exclusive express bus and train
services to serve wealthy travellers
who prefer not to fly. Is this kind
of luxury service available here?
More people take flights because
they do not have the extra time
to spare and wish to reach their
destination quickly. People who
are afraid to board flights may not
necessarily be from the wealthy
class, since many from the middleclass feel the same as well. At
present, on our part, we have bus

hostesses on our express buses and
we offer quality services. There are
no TVs or other noises on board, and
each passenger is given a tablet to
listen to songs, watch movies or play
games. The seats are comfortable,
with footstools attached. Because of
these luxurious services, the wealthy
are now travelling by express buses.
What challenges did you have
to overcome to make Mandalar
Minn a highly successful express
service? What are the prospects
of highway express bus services?
Is there any current hardship that
still has to be surmounted?
We faced many overwhelming
difficulties. To be frank, we did not
receive any assistance from the
regional government in establishing
an express line. They also set
the same price for the bus fare
regardless of whether one is putting
into service a K20 million or a K500
million bus. I’m not saying fares

should be raised, but prices should
reflect the categories of travellers we
are serving. Another drawback is that
they designate each and every bus to
only one specific route. For example,
if a bus number is set by authorities
for Yangon-Mandalay route, it cannot
ply other routes. So, if a YangonMawlamyine bus breaks down on the
way, we cannot substitute it with an
available bus from another route.
Authorities should listen to the
voice of the people first and then
ratify laws so that there would be
economic development. Right now,
it’s so hard even to obtain a car or
bus passenger line licence. Without
this licence, we cannot put that
vehicle on the road for passengers
even though we already have a
vehicle license for it. Buses have to be
parked idly even during travel season.
These obstacles should have been
removed a long time ago. There’s
no cooperation whatsoever among
relevant departments. We do not know
whom we should be calling as our
godfather. We put up complaint letters
but there has been no action taken.
We hope there would be changes soon
under the slogan “time to change”.
We hear that restrictions have
been placed on special VIP buses
on some routes. What is the
motive behind this? What are the
other problems?
They have not permitted the
29-seater special buses to run the
Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw route. These
vehicles have 2+1 seats in a row
(with a wider aisle and legroom)

and in total 29 seats. We do not
understand the notion behind it.
Those travelling to Nay Pyi Taw
include parliamentarians and
business people. According to
marketing concepts, we need to put
these 2+1=29 buses into service.
Notions that are not practical any
more have to be changed. Once the
government becomes very effective,
I can foresee express trains running
on Yangon-Mandalay or Yangon-Nay
Pyi Taw routes. Since we already have
highways built, it would be easier
to launch rail lines. And I think, in
future, trains will be more convenient
to passengers than express coaches.
Some lines reduce their fare but
then accept goods to be loaded in
their under-coach compartments
for a fee (to make up for the lower
profit margin from lower fares).
Also, lower-ranking local authorities
do not follow instructions given
by their seniors from relevant
departments.
There was this incident relating
to a regulation against odorous or
fishery products. A passenger was
carrying six packs of dried fish to be
used at a village donation ceremony.
At a checkpoint, local officials
told passengers to get down and
seized not only the dried fish but
also everything from the luggage
compartment. We lodged a complaint
in Nay Pyi Taw.
Express bus tickets can be
conveniently purchased online
in other countries. It seems we
haven’t got to this stage yet.

Mandalar Minn has the largest fleet
of vehicles in the country serving
the public. For the convenience
of our passengers, we are always
upgrading our services. It includes
buying tickets using MPU (Myanmar
Payment Union), Visa and Mastercard
on websites. Also, you can download
Mandalar Minn software from Google
Play Store and book a seat easily on
your mobile phone. I have given this
access to all our customers, even
though airlines would only give this
kind of access to their agents. Also,
you can use OK Dollar mobile money
app to purchase our bus tickets.
Planning for the future, we have
opened our office in Myawady near
the Thai border as the Myanmar
government has signed deals for
running express buses across the
border to Thailand and India.
There is road access to Vietnam,
Laos, Thailand, Singapore and
Cambodia. Sooner or later, foreign
coaches will be arriving in Myanmar
from across our borders. If restrictions
and tight regulations are not relaxed,
the growth of local entrepreneurs
would be stifled and foreigners would
dominate the market. Also, they will
be left behind in the market if they
are unable to upgrade their vehicles.
Forget about competing with highly
developed countries, it would be
already hard to compete with those
in ASEAN. If Thai express lines can
operate here, then our coaches should
be able to enter their country as well
and be competitive too.
Translation by San Layy,
Win Thaw Tar and Emoon

8

Ten places to visit
in Myanmar

The Myanmar
Times compiles a
list of interesting
places for tourists
to explore, from
rocky mountains,
jade markets
and holy sites to
serene villages in
far-flung areas of
the country
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is a well-known
Buddhist pilgrimage site in Mon State.
Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing

Kyi Tha Maung
1. Yangon
Shwedagon Pagoda
Zoo
National Museum
Kyaik Khauk Pagoda
ike any other Southeast Asian
cities, Yangon has its own
characteristics that lure all
kinds of tourists to this populous
city. Foreign visitors will not be
bored for a single minute. Women
selling paan (betel-leaves) in nooks
and corners, wet markets, hawker
food and men peddling sundries are
still common scenes in Yangon, even
as modernity is slowly creeping in.
In the cosmopolitan city, places of
worship are in abundance too –
pagodas, temples, age-old mosques
and churches are found across the
city.
The 2500-year-old gold-plated
Shwedagon Pagoda remains the
city’s major tourist attraction.
Other places of interest
for foreigners are Inya Lake,
Kandawgyi Park, the colonial
structure City Hall complex and
Mahabandoola Park.
A visit to the National Races
Village, before crossing over to

L

Thanlyin, would give a glimpse of
Myanmar’s multi-ethnic society.
Visitors can view traditional
houses and the lifestyles of people
from Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin,
Bamar, Mon, Rakhine and Shan.
After Thanlyin, the Kyauktan Ye Le
Pagoda located on a small island
in Hmaw Wun Creek, a tributary of
Yangon River, is another attraction.
2. Nay Pyi Taw
Hluttaw
Uppatasanti Pagoda
Water Fountain Garden
Zoological Garden
Safari Park
Botanical Garden
Nay Pyi Taw, the administrative
capital of Myanmar, boasts splendid
governmental and parliamentary
(hluttaw) buildings and straight,
wide roads devoid of traffic jams.
It is about 322 kilometres from
Yangon. This modern planned city
includes Uppatasanti Pagoda an
almost the same-size replica of
Shwedagon in Yangon. The Water
Fountain Garden is decorated with
colourful lights, music bands and
movies projected on the fountain’s
water. The Zoological Garden is
the largest in Myanmar and home

to 420 kinds of species, while the
Safari Park contains animals in their
natural surroundings. The Botanical
Garden displays Myanmar herbs
and rare plant species. The Gems
Museum exhibits rare jewels and
precious jewels from sapphire, jade
to ruby in the three-storey glasscoated building.
3. Mandalay
Palace and Moat
Maha Myat Muni Pagoda
Mandalay Hill Pagoda
Kuthodaw Pagoda
U Bein Bridge
Mandalay is another city in
Myanmar known for ancient
monasteries, traditional markets
and local cuisine, but more known
for its royal history. Royal palaces
and moat are well-known tourist
attractions.
As the capital city of the last
Konbaung Dynasty, visitors
can still see the palace and
moat in Mandalay, 716km away
from Yangon. The palace is an
interesting place to study the life
styles of ancient Myanmar kings.
The Maha Myat Muni Pagoda,
Mandalay Hill Pagoda, Atumashi
Kyaung, and Min Kyaung are some

famous touristic places.
At Kuthodaw Pagoda, there are
the Three Pitakas written on 729
stone inscriptions and listed in the
Guinness World Records as the
“World’s Largest Book”.
The 1.2km long U Bein Bridge,
built in 1850, over Taungthaman
Lake in Amarapura is also
recognised as the world’s largest
bridge made of teak wood.
Adding to the list of attractions is
Mandalay’s jade market. At the Mahar
Aung Myay Market, traders display all
shapes and sizes of the green stone
from tiny pieces to large stones.
4. Pyin Oo Lwin
National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens
Pwe Kauk Waterfalls
Maha Ant Htoo Kan Thar Pagoda
Chinese Temple
Clock Tower and Market
At an elevation of 3510 feet above
sea level, Pyin Oo Lwin, widely
known as Maymyo, is 68km from
Mandalay. A two-dozen house Shan
village-turned British military camp
in 1896, it has emerged as a hill city
with a railway station constructed
later.
The National Kandawgyi
Botanical Gardens is the most

popular and people also visit the
Pwe Kauk Waterfalls. The Maha Ant
Htoo Kan Thar Pagoda, well known
for its marble Buddha statue and
the colorful Chinese Temple built by
Yunnan immigrants are favourites
among tourists. There is a colonial
clock tower and market in the
downtown area, where visitors can
buy local products such as sweaters
and wines.
5. Taunggyi
Tazaungdaing Hot Air Balloon Festival
Myoma Market
Pindaya Caves
Mway Taw Kakku
Inle Lake and Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda
Hten San Cave
Taunggyi is southern Shan State’s
capital that was built on a hill and is
about 629km from Yangon.
The Tazaungdaing Hot Air Balloon
Festival is held every year in the
Myanmar month of Tazaungmone
(November). Traditional foodstuff
and fresh vegetables are available
at Myoma Market, open only once
every five days. The Pindaya Caves
sit on a limestone ridge in the
Myelat region and the Mway Taw
Kakku ruins are located 24km from
Taunggyi, which is said to date back

9
Maykha and Malikha rivers where
the Ayeyarwady River, referred to
as the lifeblood of Myanmar, starts
flowing. On the way, tourists can
see the Manau Park where the
Kachin Manau traditional festival
is held for two weeks every January.
Myanmar’s largest lake and also
one of the largest in Southeast Asia,
the Inn Taw Gyi, is located 164km
from Myitkyina. Endangered birds
inhabit the 13km wide and 24km
long lake.

Nay Pyi Taw boasts splendid governmental and parliamentary buildings. Photo: Kaung Htet

to 300BC.
Inle Lake is the second-largest
lake in Myanmar and its Phaung
Daw Oo Pagoda festival has a
floating market where products are
sold on small wooden boats rowed
in a traditional style using the legs.
Located 42km away is the natural
limestone Hten San Cave.
6. Bagan
An archaeological marvel, Bagan
is the ancient city in central
Myanmar and located on the
eastern banks of the Ayeyarwady
River. It is known for the Bagan
Archaeological Area, where
more than 2000 ancient religious
monuments, dating from the
9th to the 13th centuries, could
be found. Holy sites around Old
Bagan include the ornate Ananda
Temple, built in 1091 and topped
with a golden stupa. Nearby is the
vast 12th-century Dhammayangyi
Temple. The Shwezigon Pagoda
and Thatbyinnyu Temple are
also famous sites. Visitors can
cycle around Bagan or view its
architecture and enjoy the beauty of
the Ayeyarwady River from hot air
balloons.

7. Kyaik Hto
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda
Kyaikpawlaw Pagoda
The Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is 209km from
Yangon. It is a well-known Buddhist
pilgrimage site in Mon State, and is
built on the top of a granite boulder
covered with gold leaves pasted
on by devotees. Pilgrims usually
visit the pagoda once the rainy
season is over and many Buddhists
from Thailand and China visit the
place to pay homage. Kyaikpawlaw
Pagoda, situated near the street
leading to Kyaiktiyo, is believed
to have floated from Sri Lanka.
Kyaikpawlaw is well-known
because of the hmet shin (living
mole) on the face of the Buddha’s
image. Kyaik Hto’s famous
products are a variety of candied
fruits, toys and tools made of
bamboo.
8. Myitkyina
Confluence of Maykha, Malikha rivers
Manau Park
Inn Taw Gyi
Myitkyina is the capital of Kachin
state and is 1481km from Yangon.
Forty kilometres from Myitkyina,
there is the confluence of the

9. Mrauk-U
Mrauk-U, an ancient city where
the powerful Rakhine dynasty
was founded between the 15th
and 18th centuries, is 856km from
Yangon. It can be reached by road
or waterways. Like Bagan, there
are ancient religious buildings
in Mrauk-U with most ancient
artworks preserved. It is free to visit
the museum of ancient culture in
the city. Visitors can hire a bicycle,
trishaw or horse cart to tour around
the place, which is hilly terrain and
surrounded by paddy fields and
small villages.
Lodging is not a problem here
as there are many hotels and
guesthouses.

Most of Mrauk-U’s ancient religious buildings and artworks are preserved. Photo: Staff

Taunggyi, built on a hill, is southern Shan State’s capital. Photo: Staff

10. Ngwe Saung beach
Some 48km from Ayeyarwady
region’s capital Pathein, Ngwe Saung
Beach could be reached within five
hours by road from Yangon. The
beautiful 15km beach was opened in
2000 for tourists. To pass time, visit
the fishing village, go snorkeling
and enjoy the local seafood in the
vicinity. Tourists can also visit an
elephant training camp in Padaung
village, about an hour’s drive from
Ngwe Saung.
Translation by San Layy, Khine Thazin
Han, Win Thaw Tar and Zar Zar Soe
The Kachins hold their traditional festival at Manau Park in Myitkyina. Photo: Staff

Pyin Oo Lwin’s popular National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens. Photo: Staff

An elephant training camp near Ngwe Saung beach, Pathein township. Photo: Staff

Executive Editor: Myo Lwin
Editor: Clovis Santiago

Photography: Kaung Htet, Aung Htay
Hlaing, Zarni Phyo, Thiri Lu, Aung Myin
Ye Zaw, Naing Wynn Htoon, AFP

Sub editor: P. Vijian

Cover design: Tin Zaw Htway

Staff writers: Zay Yar Linn, Khin Su

Layout design: Khin Zaw

Wai, Mya Kay Khine, Lillian Kalish, Myint
Kay Thi, Kyi Tha Maung, Ei Ei Thu, Myo
Satt, Lè Phyu Pyar Myo Myint, Hlaing
Kyaw Soe

For feedback and enquiries, please contact

c.santiago@mmtimes.com

10

Source: Ministry of Hotels and Tourism (Myanmar Tourism Statistics 2015)

So much promise,
yet so much to do
in tourism
Tourist arrival numbers in Myanmar are rising and so is
domestic tourism, but tighter rules and security risks in
remote scenic areas could spoil the show. Khin Maung
Pyone, deputy chair of the Yangon Hotel Zone of the
Myanmar Hotelier Association, provides a clearer picture of
the sector’s progress in this interview.

Zay Yar Linn
How is the hotel industry
performing? We have been
hearing reports that existing
hotels would undergo some sort
of a scrutiny. Why?
As we approach the start of the
tourism season, we are witnessing
more tourist arrivals these days.
There has been an increase in
the number of hotels too, and the
Ministry of Hotels and Tourism has
issued a directive that permission
should be sought from the ministry
for the construction of new hotels.
We are not closing down hotels. As
we have an overwhelmingly large
number of hotels, we would issue
permits only after scrutinising their
applications. This is one way to
balance the demand and supply in
the hotel industry.
With the lifting of US sanctions
and under a more transparent
democratic government, industry
experts anticipate an influx of
foreign travellers. Is there enough
hotel accommodation for visitors?
There are 320 to 330 hotels in the
Yangon Hotel Zone itself. Some
are still under construction, while
new ones are being opened. One
can say that there is sufficient
accommodation for travellers visiting
Yangon. It’s hard to say the same,
though, for other regions. Some
tourists visit places where there is no
accommodation and in some districts
there are only a few high-standard
hotels for foreigners, and that is a
problem.
Some tourists criticise the high
rates charged by some hotels in
Myanmar. How do you think this
problem could be solved?
[Some] international hotels charge
US$90 or $100 for a night. But local
2-star, 3-star hotels normally charge
only $40, $50 or $60 per night. This is
a fair price. In Thailand, it’s at least
1400 baht ($40) or B1500 ($43). If you
convert the baht into dollars, hotel
rates for Thailand and Yangon are
nearly the same.
How are hotel star ratings
determined here?
A hotel needs to fulfill the ministry’s

regulations and requirements to get
its appropriate star rating. It has to
meet certain standards. Most local
hotels in Yangon are 2- or 3-star.
Only few of them are 4 or 5. Among
local hotels, a 4-star rating is quite
rare, and there are only two or three.
Is there any coordination between
Yangon Hotel Zone and the
regional government?
Currently, negotiations are going
on between the Myanmar Hotelier
Association and the regional
government to open a night market
where Myanmar arts and crafts can
be exhibited and sold to tourists.
We are planning to launch it in
December.
This market would include all
basic necessities, such as public
restrooms.
We have put up a detailed plan
for the market, similar to those
in the Philippines, Singapore and
Thailand. There, these markets
operate at night and everything
is cleaned up once the business
is done, so the public can use the
space again in the mornings.
We need to be disciplined,
though. After obtaining a market
space, workers here tend to
sleep overnight at their allotted
places. It is important to store
their merchandise and belongings
systematically, and maintain
cleanliness. In Thailand, the night
market area is very clean and we
don’t have an idea where they
relocate their things before dawn
sets in.
There is a smooth flow of traffic
in those areas in the mornings.
There is no proper storage place in
these markets and Thai hawkers
transport their goods using
wheelbarrows. During the day, no
one would even think these places
are used as a night market.
Hotels and the tourism
industry are often referred to
as a smokeless industry. What
would be the requisites for the
development of local tourism?
Peace and stability are the main
requisites. Only when these
requisites are met, new tourism
regions could be designated, like in
Chin or Kayah regions. There are

11
many areas that cannot be labelled
as tourism regions because no one
would guarantee the security of
travellers in those places. In the
past, the state governments would
ban tourists from those areas, lest
they have to take responsibility
for whatever happens to them.
Security issues could erupt, such
as foreign tourists being kidnapped
by armed groups. Tour guides
are banned from taking tourists
to forbidden areas on security
grounds.
One example is the
beautiful heart-shaped Reed
Lake, considered the heart of
picturesque Chin State [it’s also
known as the Rih Dil or Rih Lake,
a name derived from a tribal Mizo
folktale, and it lies at the IndoMyanmar border and is about 1
mile in length and half a mile in
width.]. But we can’t send tourists
there. There are plenty of places
in our country where natural
waterfalls and frozen areas still
exist. But travellers are forbidden
from going to those places due to
security reasons. The respective
regional governments need to
issue permits to travellers. When
we take a foreigner to a place, we
need to request for a permit from
regional or state governments. We
can’t just take foreigners anywhere
we want.
Dr Khin Shwe, patron of
Myanmar Hotelier Association,
has said the local hotel and
tourism industry is on a growth
trajectory. Are the hotels offering
quality services?
We need to create places for
tourists to visit. Hotels should hire
skilled and competent staff to give
better services. It is not fair for
hotels just to charge high rates but
in return they should also provide
quality services.
These are some of the things
that we lack from our side.
Currently, we are opening many
training courses to boost staff
qualifications. It will succeed.
Once there is peace in the country
and with the emergence of new
tourism regions, there would be
many more tourists travelling to
other regions rather than just to a
city, like Yangon.
Stringent regulations regarding
foreign travellers staying in
private residences have met
with both criticism and support.
What would be your take on this
matter? Will it affect the hotel
sector?
The official announcement that
foreigners should not stay in
private residences has been made
in townships and wards. This
regulation will not affect the hotel
industry. There were a lot of cases
where foreigners would put up
in unkempt houses. If such cases
were to be discovered, action
would also be taken against the
house owner. There are some house
owners who accept any amount, like
$20 or $25 per tourist, for a night.
They rent out about six rooms
with two bunk beds in each and
with a common restroom for all. In
hotels, you have your own private
bathroom. There are still many
house owners who charge as little
as $10 or $15 a tourist a night.
Translation by
Khine Thazin Han and Emoon

Island holidays
Ei Ei Thu
Gaw Yin Gyi Island
(An eight-hour drive from Yangon)

G

aw Yin Gyi Island in
Ayeyarwady Region takes
pride in its natural beauty,
which is not much known to the
world compared to the famous
Ngapali beach in northern Rakhine
State. Perhaps, as importantly to
those travelling on a tight budget
and limited time, Gaw Yin Gyi Island
could be the ideal beach destination.
Located in southwest Myanmar, the
island’s charming landscape – cradled
by rocks and reefs and clear waters –
can be mesmerising. Even though the
infrastructure is not what is usually
expected of a holiday destination, it’s
already bustling with tourists.
Getting there is quite easy too.
Perched near Nga Pu Taw village,
Pathein District, tourists from the city
could do a weekend trip to the island.
To reach Gaw Yin Gyi Island from
Nga Pu Taw, you need to hire a
motorbike to get to the jetty and then,
along with the bike, board a boat to
reach the jetty on the island.
Almost all land near the island,

having a great potential for future
development of Gaw Yin Gyi Island,
is now owned by hotel owners to
develop the tourism industry.
From there, the bike ride to the
beach takes about 20 minutes,
cutting through a Kayin village that
is enveloped by dense forest. Lodging
facilities are limited here at the
beach. If rooms are unavailable there,
tourists can still find a few hotels and
guest houses in Nga Pu Taw village.
Even villagers rent out rooms there.
For sumptuous local food, you could
try the village restaurants that offer
fresh seafood dishes cooked to each
customer’s liking.
Once on the island, plenty of
activities are in store for visitors – from
swimming to mountain hiking.
Visitors could hike the Gaw Yin Gyi
Mountain located on the island and
from there the Su Taung Pyae (wish
granting) is visible.
The coast covered with seawatersoaked rocks is beautiful scenery by
itself that draws many tourists, making
Gaw Yin Gyi an emerging popular
tourist destination.
Myeik Archipelago – islands galore
(A 24-hour bus ride from Yangon)

Myeik Archipelago is a destination
for the adventurous. Photo: Staff

The Myeik (Mergui) Archipelago, in
far-flung southern Myanmar, is another
exotic tourist paradise but remains largely
unexplored due to its remote location.
The archipelago, part of
Tanintharyi Region, is well known
for its 800 islands and sea gypsies.
However, large tracks of the land
remain uninhabited.
It’s a pity that despite its natural
beauty, tourists still shy away from this
archipelago because of the distance,
pricey travel and the rough journey.
Bordering Thailand, Myeik
Archipelago is already popular with
Thai visitors and so is the heartshaped Cocks Comb Island that is
known for snorkeling.
Likewise, Lampi Island, Island
115, Red Monkey Island, Ma Kyone
Galet, Bo Cho, MacLeod Island (also
known as Khayin Khwa Island)
and Launglone Island are equally
famous among island-goers.

“Many travellers are fond of Myeik
Archipelago. As there are daily
flights between Yangon and Myeik,
Dawei and Kawthoung, there are
those who travel there by air. But
the air fare is so high that one can
make a round trip to Singapore
at that price. It is accessible by
road, but it will consume a lot of
time,” said Thet Lwin Toe, owner of
Myanmar Voyage travel agency.
If one wishes to holiday on an
island itself, high-end travellers
can lodge at the Myanmar Andaman
Resort on Khayin Khwa and Bo Cho
islands. Those wishing to stay at
reasonably priced hotels can opt
those in Dawei, like Dawei Garden.
In recent years, more and more
local tourists have been to Myeik
Archipelago, including holidaymakers,
honeymooners and couples planning
pre-wedding photo shoots.
Translation by Emoon and Zar Zar Soe

12

Where the flavours of home count
Padonmar’s owner, Sonny Aung Khin, is passionate about ensuring authentic Myanmar
cuisine continues to tempt food lovers amidst increasing foreign competition
Myo Satt

I

Padonmar’s interior has a cozy and rustic touch. Photo: Naing Wynn Htoon

t is no secret Myanmar cuisine
is rich, diverse and delicious.
For foodies, the county is a food
haven and one restaurant that’s
earned a name for itself in bustling
Yangon is Padonmar.
Padonmar (lotus flower in the
local parlance) offers authentic
Myanmar cuisine that can tickle any
foreigner’s taste buds. Owner Sonny
Aung Khin’s goal has been simple
from the beginning: to provide
home-cooked flavour and healthy
local dishes to attract more tourists
to Myanmar.
His fine dining restaurant opened
in 2001 at Inya Road. He moved it to

Kayaypin Street in Dagon township
six years ago.
“We use different cooking
methods to suit foreigners’ taste,
without changing the authentic
flavour of Myanmar dishes. We
had to reduce the oil which they
[foreigners] don’t like, though
Myanmar traditional dishes use lot
of oil,” said Sonny.
Padonmar’s traditional menu
includes a variety of soups, salads
and side dishes like boothee kyarzan
hingar (gourd with vermicelli soup),
grilled eggplant salad, hmyit hnint
chinbaung kyaw (fried roselle leaves
with bamboo shoots and shrimps)
and khayann gyin thee ngapi chet
(tomatoes with shrimp paste).

Some 800 to 1000 tourists dine
at Padonmar daily during the peak
season. “I have made deals with
more than 400 travel businesses [to
bring them in],” Sonny said, adding
that the restaurant tries to offer
healthy dishes.
“We don’t use monosodium
glutamate [MSG] at all. We even had
a row over ‘no MSG’ with the chefs
as they complained they couldn’t
cook dishes without it. We prepare
dishes according to our policy of
offering only healthy and authentic
Myanmar cuisine.”
Thai dishes are on the menu too.
“The reason I decided to offer Thai
cuisine is because I lived in Thailand
for 16 years and like Thai food. I

Meliá Yangon
eyes business and
leisure travellers
T

he newly built luxury Meliá
Yangon Hotel overlooks the
magnificent Inya Lake and is
ideally located on Kaba Aye Pagoda
Road, some 15 minutes’ drive to the
city centre or to Yangon International
Airport.
Opened for business in July this
year, it aims to be the next five-star
hotel and hospitality reference in
town.
In an interview with The Myanmar
Times, Meliá Yangon general manager
Céline Guyomarc’h revealed the
hotel’s strategy to promote tourism,
and how it’s competing against its
rivals and hiring the best talents to
manage its operations.
On Meliá Yangon filling the gaps
in the promotion of travel and
tourism:
Meliá Yangon doesn’t only
differentiate itself by being the
newest hotel in Yangon, but also on
the excellence of its facilities and

services that define it as the perfect
choice for both business and leisure
travellers.
It has 430 elegantly designed
rooms and suites, three highend restaurants, more than 2000
square metres of convention area
with the latest technology, an
exclusive outdoor swimming pool,
a fitness centre and a soon-to-open
1800-square-metre world-class YHI
spa. Meliá Yangon also offers a new
concept of exclusivity in the city: The
Level, Meliá’s signature executive
floor, with personalised services and
exquisite privileges, such as exclusive
access to The Level Lounge on the
top floor with incredible view of the
Inya Lake.
But all these facilities wouldn’t
make a difference without the
greatest asset we can have: our
people. Our dedicated staff is the
solid foundation on which the hotel
is based. They work with passion for
service and professionalism and they

Meliá Yangon aims to be the next five-star hotel and hospitality reference in town.
Photo: Thiri Lu

13
don’t want to serve just Myanmar dishes.”
Besides the food, the restaurant’s
interior is a talking point too. Sonny, who
is also familiar with interior design, has
created a cozy restaurant with a rustic
touch.
“All the walls are decorated with wall
paintings because I want to make my
customers feel like they are eating in a
Myanmar royal palace,” he said.
Food quality is given top priority. “Every
day I taste all the dishes that are prepared
to find out whether they are up to
standard or not, and whether too much or
very little oil is used or not. It is important
to add the right amount of oil,” he said.
“We train our chefs so that Myanmar
dishes will be accepted by all. Right
now, because it’s too oily (in some other
restaurants), some foreigners do not like
them. We have to urge Myanmar and
ethnic restaurants not to use too much
oil.
“Restaurants serving foreign cuisines
are increasing. For Myanmar or ethnic
restaurants, it’s the opposite. Some have
commented that our Myanmar dishes
do not taste authentic. For the sake of
foreigners, we have to alter slightly but
not to the extent that the original taste is
ruined,” he added.
To that end, the enthusiastic food

entrepreneur has formed the Myanmar
Ethnic Restaurateurs Association with
a single objective, which is to improve
the standards of Myanmar traditional
restaurants in Yangon.
“It is good that foreign restaurants
are opening up here and I have an aim
to improve the standards of Myanmar
restaurants to be on a par with them.
Now, there nearly 30 association
members and we have organised three
events so far to promote our members’
restaurants. As Myanmar traditional food
is becoming obscure we have to hold fairs
and exhibitions,” he said.
The “Myanfood 2016 Yangon” trade fair,
organised by the Malaysian-based AMB
Exhibitions, will be held at the Maida
Grounds from November 24 to 26.
Through the association, Sonny is
trying to promote the less popular
restaurants in town, especially to
foreigners.
“Myanmar people are afraid of progress.
They are satisfied with their small and
manageably sized businesses. We really
have to encourage them to grow. Some
association members are successful but
foreigners don’t know them well. Our
responsibility is to make them known to
foreigners,” he added.
Training and retaining quality staff is

The Lantern, one of Meliá Yangon’s three high-end restaurants. Photo: Supplied

are constantly trained to reach the
highest level of quality that all our
customers expect when entering a
five-star hotel such as Meliá Yangon.
On the challenges of competing
with existing hotels offering the
same services:
The strong travellers’ growth over
the past five years has brought a lot
of opportunities to Yangon. However,
the increasing number of five-star
hotels is an important challenge
to consider: As the newest hotel
in town, we first have to convince
customers to experience our hotel.
Afterward, it is crucial to ensure the
services and facilities we provide are
unique and excellent. Our rooms,
and especially our restaurants, have
a unique design and ambiance, a
new atmosphere for the Yangon
market. This, combined with the
passion for service which represents
our Spanish company’s culture, is
a particularity that our guests will
perceive from the very moment
they walk through our doors. Our
team members have been trained
for months, during our pre-opening
period, to be able to transmit it to
our guests.
On incentives and benefits offered
to acquire the best, experienced
and efficient staff:
One year ago, when we were just
starting the hiring process to cover
all the positions, we were impressed

by the interest generated and the
number of candidates applying to
work for our company.
It was not easy to identify the
right person for the right position,
but it was our aim. We wanted to
have the perfect mix of talents to
be able to provide our guests an
experience corresponding to our
company’s culture. A mix of talents
means experienced staff from other
hotels in Yangon (international or
more local) but also from hotels
overseas (it was actually nice to
see, thanks to the opening of our
hotel, lots of Myanmar citizens
returning to their country) and new
graduates without any experience
but full of motivation.
We work toward identifying
associates with growth potential and
help them widen their knowledge
and abilities, guaranteeing not only
a high level of development in their
current positions, but also preparing
them to reach more senior posts.
It is true that the benefits we offer
are attractive, but to keep our team
members motivated and committed
to our hotel, we work on other
factors that we just mentioned.
Meliá Yangon is owned by
Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), one
of Vietnam’s leading real estate
companies, and will be managed
by Meliá Hotels International,
one of the largest hotel chains in
the world with 370 hotels in 43
countries.

another challenge in the industry. “A-well
trained employee does not work long
at my restaurant,” said Sonny. “Other
restaurant owners will pinch them. I also
observe the manners and the quality of
service of staff in other restaurants but I
never lure them away. We should be more
ethical.
“I only hire and train staff from the
lower level. We train dishwashers who
gradually become waiters, kitchen helpers
become chefs. Myanmar dishes are not
hard to prepare compared with European
ones. Kayin ethnic workers have been
here for 10 years and they can even cook
Thai food. All employees are given on-thejob training,” he added.
Padonmar also caters for private
functions. Its main section consists
of five differently sized special rooms
and room charges vary according to
size. There’s also Padonmar Hall, with
elaborate interior decoration, which can
accommodate 150 people.
During the dry season, from November
until early April, tables are arranged
on the lawn in front of the house.
Surrounded by shady trees and flowers,
the space can easily accommodate
another 120 people.
Translation by
Zar Zar Soe and Win Thaw Tar

Padonmar’s owner Sonny Aung Khin. Photo: Naing Wynn Htoon

The restaurant’s walls are decorated with paintings.
Photo: Naing Wynn Htoon

14

5-star woman
A luxury, colonial-style hotel,
Chatrium has scored a hat-trick
at the World Travel Awards 2016.
Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw
May Myat Mon Win
thinks women have
more opportunities
than men in the hotel
industry. Photo: Zarni Phyo

May Myat Mon Win began as a secretary and
has risen to become the first Myanmar female
hotel GM – and an award-winning one at that
Lè Phyu Pyar Myo Myint

F

or almost three years now, May Myat
Mon Win has held the demanding
general manager’s post of award-winning
Chatrium Hotel Royal Lake Yangon.
She is the first Myanmar citizen, man or
woman, to lead a five-star hotel and May Myat
Mon Win tries to infuse traditional and Western
values to create a culture of customer service
excellence.
Her professional career spans some two
decades in the hospitality industry during
which she has shown a knack of succeeding
in the service sector where she has proven her
leadership qualities.
Prior to joining Chatrium Hotels & Residences
Group, where she was an assistant general
manager for five years, she worked for the
Myanmar Tourism Marketing Committee and
Hotel Nikko Royal Lake Yangon. Her strong
academic background – a Master’s Degree in
Business Administration from the Institute of
Economics, University of Yangon – helped her
make strides in her career.
Under her leadership, Chatrium Hotel scored
a hat-trick at the World Travel Awards 2016
by winning the Myanmar’s Leading Business
Hotel 2016, Myanmar’s Leading Hotel 2016 and
Myanmar’s Leading Hotel Suite 2016 (for the
property’s opulent Royal Lake Suite) categories.
It was the first time a single hotel won three
awards simultaneously.
Chatrium Hotel has been nominated for
Myanmar’s Leading Business Hotel award
every year from 2012 to 2016 and won the
award in 2015 and 2016. It also won the World
Travel Award as Myanmar’s Leading Hotel for
four consecutive years from 2004 to 2007 and
achieved it again this year. In addition, the Royal
Lake Suite was nominated for the Myanmar’s
Leading Hotel Suite award in 2014, 2015 and
2016.
A luxury, colonial-style hotel located about
25 minutes from the international airport,
Chatrium Hotel features exquisite views of
the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda. It has 303
exclusive guestrooms, 37 divine suites, three
restaurants, a bar and a lobby lounge. Other
features include a ballroom and five function
rooms as well as a fully equipped fitness centre
and a swimming pool.
In an interview with The Myanmar Times, May
Myat Mon Win shared why she is passionate
about the job, and discussed the challenges in
the industry, her leadership style and all the
special guests she has hosted at Chatrium Hotel.
What are your main responsibilities as
general manager of Chatrium Hotel?

As general manager, I take responsibility for all
the hotel’s operations. I make sure our guests
and staff are satisfied with their experience
here, ensure our projected annual progress rate
and that the short- and long-term goals for
the following year set by our organisation are
achieved.
Chatrium Hotel has won the world’s largest
travel excellence guarantee awards again this
year. Do you feel more responsible now as the
awards were won under your leadership?
We won three World Travel Awards this year for
excellence in staff services and hospitalities.
As an award-studded, five-star hotel, guest
expectations are high. To meet them, all of
us, not only me but all the hotel staff, have to
shoulder more responsibilities.
Could you tell us some of your experiences in
the hotel industry?
I started working as a secretary in hotel
operations in 1994. I did not understand much
about the industry then, but after a year or so, I
started enjoying my work because I found great
pleasure and satisfaction in making our guests
happy.
Besides, while interacting with many people
and solving their day-to-day issues, one still has
to manage the daily operations at the hotel.
During my 22 years, many changes have
taken place in the world, from technology to
living standards and people’s purchasing styles.
These changes have an impact on how hotels
are managed as well.
Now everything is done online, guests expect
more from us, and the lifestyle of our staff
has changed. Reflecting these changes, one’s
mindset and approach has to change. Decisions
have to be made instantly. We have to make
plans ahead, not like in those good old days. The
only thing that has not changed in the hotel
industry is maintaining the best relationship
with our customers.
How do you manage your hotel and staff in
current times and interact with them?
It’s not only for the hotel business. In all
professions, staff is the most important
investment. The management needs to have
consideration for its employees and work for
mutual benefit. When managing staff, it would
be best if it is based on impartiality, fairness,
kindness and respect. Some people could
become proud and arrogant when given a
higher position. In that case, there won’t be a
fair perspective of what’s happening. One has to
be humble and communicate at the same level
with your staff. Most management tends to be
authoritarian. I wish the opposite in some cases,

where the lower level staff should be given an
opportunity to propose their suggestions to
their superiors. This is because they are the
ones often in the front line dealing directly
with guests and sometimes they are more
knowledgeable about issues than their seniors.
Managers do not interact much with the guests
and so taking ideas and advice from juniors
would be more pragmatic. On the other hand,
junior employees would be more motivated
knowing their suggestions are well received by
the management. I, for one, treat my staff at the
same level.
What are the advantages or disadvantages
of being a woman in a leading management
role?
This question is often put to me. When handling
matters, I have never considered myself a
woman. Women have their strong points as
well as weak ones, and the same applies to
men too. Women are more emotional and
sensitive than men. They care more about
other people’s opinions. While they are doing
one thing, women are already planning in
advance for another two. Men are different.
While doing something, they concentrate on
that single thing without thinking much about
others yet. That being the case, men are known
to be more focused than women. If women
could focus more on matters they are already
thinking about, it would be better for them.
Women decide things from all angles, and
take into consideration other people’s feelings
and opinions more than men. This gives them
an advantage working in service businesses
like ours because we notice the needs and
satisfaction of the guests more than men do. In
the hotel industry, the most important people are
the customers and the staff. So, I think, women
have more opportunities in the hotel industry.
Which famous guests have stayed at
Chatrium Hotel?
All guests who stay in our hotel are very
important to us and all are treated equally.
The most significant guests would be leaders,
dignitaries and ministers from other countries,
including former US secretary of state Hillary
Clinton, the Norwegian king and queen, the
queen of the Netherlands, German President
Joachim Gauck and Japanese Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe.

What are the differences between the Yangon
and Bangkok Chatrium hotels?
Not much difference. The Thai and Myanmar
people think alike and there are similar kinds
of guest in both countries. The difference is that
Thailand’s travel industry has thrived for nearly
50 years and there is no doubt the service and
hospitality offered there are at a professional
level. Compared with Thailand, we have to learn
a lot about these matters. Guests already know
what they can expect, what places to visit and
what things are available in Thailand, whereas
for Myanmar they don’t know much. They
know that Myanmar is a beautiful country and
beyond that they do not have an idea of what it
offers. This is the difference between Thailand
and Myanmar.
If there are complaints regarding guest
services, how does the hotel deal with it?
As a hotel, it would be impossible not to
have any guest complaints. First, it is our
responsibility to systematically teach our guest
services staff all the dos and don’ts. Also, we
have to empower them to an extent so they
can deal with some issues themselves. Guests
normally don’t like it when our staff tell them
that they have to report to the management
for any little complaint they put up. For big
problems, guests understand that ordinary
staff can do nothing but to refer to the
management. In this case, the guest services
staff should report the issue to their superiors
and inform the guest as soon as possible. So,
in this hotel industry, having sincerity, taking
responsibility and ensuring guests’ satisfaction
by immediately solving their problems is vital.
Surely you have stayed in hotels abroad.
When you do, do you have a feeling like, ‘Oh,
this hotel has operations that are superior to
ours,’ or ‘Our hotel’s management needs to
improve on some things’?
I always do have such feelings. Even when
I’m on a holiday and a guest at some hotels, I
won’t have complete rest. I would often forget
that I am a guest. My mind would be thinking
about their services and how they treat me.
For example, if one of their staff has placed the
glass in the wrong place, I would point that out.
I would note the good points at their hotel and
try to introduce them in our hotel. That’s why
it’s true what people say: once a hotel manager,
always a hotel manager.
Translation by San Layy and Win Thaw Tar

Kandawgyi’s boardwalk is conveniently close to the Chatrium Hotel. Photo: Staff

Unearthing
hidden
treasures

As tourists expect to go farther afield, they can now observe the lifestyle of local
villagers. Photo: Thiri Lu

Hlaing Kyaw Soe

T

ongue-twisting names like Monywa, Lashio, Bhamaw and Hsipaw
townships may not be on most tourists’ itineraries but these remote
localities can offer a different experience altogether.
The picturesque countryside landscapes, serene atmosphere and
colourful festivals celebrated by local tribes are wooing the more intrepid
foreign tourists.
Ta Gun, from D&T Myanmar Travels, said foreign visitors enjoy
sightseeing in Hsipaw, visiting the traditional ethnic houses and the Shan
palace while observing the local lifestyle of villages in Shan and Palaung areas.
“Our travel agencies have been sending four or five groups of tourists
a month and the trend has been going on for three years now. The travel
season has just started this year but we are already sending visitors to
Hsipaw,” he said.
Ye Myat Tun, the Mandalay Tour Guide Association chair, said Chin State
and Mogok in Mandalay Region have been receiving more tourists in recent
years. “In the past many people would not visit these places. Now they do.
Visitors say they also want to visit Mogok.”
Ta Gun agreed. He said although tour agencies usually send visitors
mainly to Yangon, Mandalay, Taunggyi, Inle and Bagan, now tourists expect
to go farther afield.
“We have sent them to Monywa and Lashio. They also visit Bhamaw [in
Kachin State] by waterway. We do not send them to Myitkyina due to some
security concerns there,” he said.
Myo Yee, from Zone Express Travel & Tours, said although Bhamaw does
not have many tourist sites, people love to travel there by waterway, since
they can pass through a second tributary of the Ayeyarwady River and enjoy
the countryside scenery during the journey.
“Visitors enjoy the beauty of villages on the cruise. They would first come
to Myitkyina and take the waterway to Bhamaw to enjoy the sights along
the river,” he said.
If foreigners wish to visit Mogok, official permission is needed from the
relevant departments.
Myo Yee said guests usually make a trip to the gem mines in Mogok
without fail, buy gems and later tour the villages.
“It takes about 20 days for the permit approval. If not, one cannot visit
Mogok. The Mogok Gems Mining Department is now asking travellers to
produce authorisation documents from the Mandalay regional government.
These are the hurdles we have to overcome,” he said.
According to Ta Gun, tour agencies usually charge between US$700 and
$800 for a four-night and five-day package to Mogok, which includes hotel,
transportation costs and tour guide fees.
“There is a difference in pricing depending on the agencies but the
services offered are more or less the same. Travellers from Europe and Asia
have different travelling styles.
“Asians prefer to visit as many places as possible in a short time, while
Europeans would like to visit few places only and spend time studying the
location in depth,” he said.
Ye Myat Tun said although the prices of travel packages may vary, tour
agencies have a fixed itinerary for the same location and only if there is a
special request from tourists for a different destination will they include it
in the program. It is the same when travellers are visiting large cities like
Yangon and Mandalay.
“Usually visitors are taken to the same places around Mandalay. Normally,
we divide the city into the southern and the northern areas. There are many
places to visit in Mandalay. We also send them to Sagaing and the ancient
city of Inwa,” he said.
Translation by Win Thaw Tar

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