Myanmar left a smile in our hearts. Such an amazing country that we will certainly go back to.
Of all the wonderful and amazing things we did in Myanmar, the absolute highlight, by far, are the people. Despite years of repression and militar government, everyone we have meet has been immediately willing to give us a smile. People are friendly, curious, and they seem happy… Every single person you smile at, smiles back. They are also very curious about the world outside, and often ask foreigners for pictures, as we are still a somewhat strange sight!
Regardless of where you go people live in a very simple way but I wouldn’t call them ‘poor’. Poor means: lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society. Their standard is totally comfortable and normal in their society. At least this was how we felt in the countryside. Yangon is a big city and supposedly the third most expensive to live in in Asia so with that surely poverty rises but we didn’t spend enough time to notice.
Yangon: the capital city
Our expectations was a very busy and chaotic city, full of motorbikes and traffic, and what we found is something quite different. While it is definitely, more chaotic than Singapore (and which city isn’t), it’s quite an orderly place. We also found it to be quite clean and nice! By all means, there is still an “Asia Feel” to it but don’t go expecting floating markets in the city and millions of people on the street.
The highlight of the city is Shwedagon pagoda which we had the privilege to visit on New Year’s Day. This is the day when everyone goes to a pagoda or temple to pray so the place was very full. There were people from all over the country there on that day but even though it was very full it didn’t feel claustrophobic or annoying in any way. I get more annoyed in the metro in Singapore then there to be honest. They were all dressed up to the occasion very nicely with women on their sets of long tight skirt and matching tops. The pagoda itself is very impressive. There is nothing to see inside but it is beautiful in combination with its accompanyingareas with buddha images and space for people to sit, pray, hang out, eat etc.
The first place we went to was Chauk That Kyi to see a 70 meter long reclining Buddha. It is very mmm modern looking with huge eye lashes and lipstick. Quite interesting.
We also visited the City Centre to see the colonial buildings and Scotts Market. Nothing spectacular in our opinion but it was nice to get more of the feeling of the city. The market is a big warehouse with lots of little shops selling everything from fruits to diamonds. The famous things to buy there are rubis and sapphires.
Our hotel was by Kandawgyi Lake where we could see Karaweik Hall float – replica of a the royal float. The hotel was good – Kandawgyi Palace Hotel.
Bagan : ancient capital
Bagan is such a unique place to visit. It is basically a big arid field with more than 3000 pagodas made of bricks. Most of them were built in the 1100s by different families that wanted to have a place of worship. The result of this prolific religious frenzy is an amazing landscape of pagodas everywhere you look. We visited several of them and each and every one of them have something special. Some have preserved paintings on the walls, some have beautiful images, some just have interesting architecture. There is one that even have the Mona Lisa of the buddhas having a different smile deepening where you stand.
We enjoyed going around the pagodas with our guide to be able to see the key sites and know the best places for sunset. But what we enjoyed the most was renting little electrical bikes and spending the day exploring the area by ourselves. During that day we found some very beautiful pagodas, a local village Min-Nan-Thu and amazing views from Nan Myint Tower. The village is still very authentic but one of the locals speak english so she takes you around to see their homes, how they make cotton fabrics and peanut oil while the men are in the fields and the women are in the market. It was a very interesting view to what a very different way of living is. Nan Myint Tower was newly built as part of a super beautiful hotel (Aureum Palace Bagan) and the view from up there are breathtaking.
Nyanung is the area where the airport is. We went to the best restaurant in town according to Trip Advisor –Weather spoons. Not a pub but a very local little restaurant on ‘Restaurant Row’ which is supposed to be the area to go for dinner and drinks. Our hopes were not too high but really is just a tiny clay road with a few restaurants here and there. Don’t go expecting Playa del Carmen or Bali standards. This is roots!
Also part of Bagan is Old Bagan and New Bagan. Our hotel was closer to Old Bagan on the bank of the river – Thiripyitsaya Resort. Very simple rooms but a very nice hotel but Old Bagan is disappointing because of how dirty the poor town is. There is nothing to see there anyway.
This was the most different place in my opinion. I had never seen anything like it. From the fishermen skills, floating plantations of vegetables to villages on stilts. Majority of men are fishermen and they have developed this amazing skill of setting the net at the same time as they paddle with their feet – quite impressive.
Life depends on the lake and the affluent rivers. Canoes and little motor boats are the means of transport of all ‘lake people’ who live very simply from selling fish and vegetables. ‘Mountain people’ live in very remote areas and speak a different language. They come down to the lake to sell wood in the market and to pray.
We visited one village on the water and one on land (Indein). Both of them were very special. The one on the water depicted the bamboo houses on stilts with their canoes ‘parked’ underneath. In Indein we were able to see rice fields, catch a tractor ride to the local market where women from the lake and mountain get together to sell their produce and see hundreds of pagodas.
It was always nice to ride the boat back to our lovely hotel by the lake – Inle Resort. The rooms are on stilts and quite picturesque.
This trip, as any other, started with the planning. But because it is a country recently opened to tourism, it still has some very particular ways of booking a holiday. It is impossible for a foreigner to get a visa without an invitation letter from a tour company or to get internal flights so we decided to bite the bullet and hire an agency. They took care of everything apart from flights to and from Yangon and visas. We built the itinerary together to fit our wishes and the tour was totally private to our lovely party of 4. It was the best we could have done for a stress free trip. We totally recommend the agency we used: Myanmar Shalom. Another thing to note is the weather – it is extremely hot between April and October and because of that the sky is not as clear as you would hope. Best time to travel to Myanmar is between November and March which is also the season when balloon rides are available in Bagan.
Now to the funny things about Myanmar.
– people are still curious and amazed by foreigners and they don’t hold back to ask for a picture. Always very kindly but they didn’t hesitate going for a little hug or a squeeze. And I am not talking about 1 or 2 pictures. We were asked to take about 20 pictures. Very sweet.
– airports: imagine bus stations, that’s what they are. Very funny that the flights are called by a dude screaming the flight number but in fairness, the service was better than a lot of high standard airports. Flights were on time and very safe. They were so efficient that they managed to board a whole plane and leave in 10mins – Fernando was rather impressed by it 🙂
– e-bikes: as I mentioned on the Bagan section, this is the way to move around but bear in mind they are for Asian sizes. We looked rather odd and uncomfortable on them but it was part of the fun.