Myanmar(Burma) the Golden Land
Myanmar. Burma. Whatever you prefer, it is an amazing place. An entity of it’s own. A kaleidoscope of colours, sounds, sights and noises. It is only beginning to see the wave of tourism crossing into the country. A country of hidden treasures that leaves you asking for more. Flying to Yangon after a trip to the Embassy in Bangkok I didn’t really know what to expect. What would i see? Who would i meet! And what would lay in store as the adventure unfolded?
Arriving in Yangon i was content as could be. I wasn’t hassled, ripped off or plagued with a landscape of buildings in comparison to Bangkok. I loved the city. The markets were amazing and full of a myriad of interesting items. From little buddhas and traditional longyi’s to hilarious T-shirts and dvds. And no market is complete in Asia without the sprawling mass of people hocking all sorts of delicious foods, that i just have to try. The majority of foods a complete mystery. The Chinatown section is also a must see for all types of goods. Maybe Yangon fascinated me because of all the old historical buildings of the imperial age or just the sheer difference in energy that it exudes. Quiet side streets for simple breakfasts and sweet tea. The morning glow as people navigate through traffic.
If you are ever in Yangon don’t forget the obligatory trip to The Strand Hotel and Bar. A place that has stood through time, built in 1901, serving the likes of George Orwell, Kipling and even Mick Jagger. Stop in for a ‘Gin and Tonic’ or two, as you feel the nostalgia grow with each drink. The bar now nicely redone was once used as the stable for the Japanese horses in WWII. Also, if you have some extra time take the circle trip around the city on the slow train, check out some of the big temples or just take a walk, no telling what you’ll run into. Every moment in Yangon is a picture and alive with action. Life for the majority is not easy pickings, it is hard work, but they do it with an amazing air.
After taking in the sounds and sights of Yangon i headed north by train towards the legendary temple plain of Bagan. Now that it is over i can claim that taking the train there was not a mistake, but at the time it was for sure. It departed at 4:00pm and bumped through the night and into the next morning for a gruelling 20 hours. When i say the train bumped i mean it. Starting out slow it eventually picks up speed as the sun sets and then it is like a runaway train that seems about to derail at any moment. Crashing and squealing metal all night. If you are interested in seeing what i mean check out Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode on Myanmar. In any case it was a great experience I can laugh about now.
Nothing could have prepared me though for the awesome beauty that is Bagan. It truly is the ‘Golden Land’. Never before have i looked upon so much gold. It’s everywhere you look. Thousands of temples, pagodas and buddhas amazingly decorated and designed. As the sun rises you feel like you are on some magical planet with the hot air balloons floating across the landscape. A place like i have never been or will ever see again. You could spend a week there and not see everything. A land of amazing sun rises and sun sets. Sitting atop one of the many temples you get to imagining the grandness of this place in the old ages. Truly one of the wonders of the world and a place i have been looking forward to seeing for a long time.
After it was off to Mandalay, a city of mystery from old story books and poems. I found out there was a boat there so I boarded the Shwekeinnery Express and shoved off in the early morning up the Irrawaddy River. One of the highlights of the trip as well. A very relaxing day aboard the boat taking pictures of life on and along the river as we meandered along. On the boat i met a Swiss traveler and found a place to stay for the night in Mandalay. A dusty and busy city with a long history. Myanmar can amaze you all on its own with the dynamic history of old architecture, government oppression and the new change coming about. As you travel here, don’t expect all the amenities of home, rarely can working internet be found, few street lights and forget the fast food chains. It is not your Thailand backpacker trail. But the people are also friendlier than almost anywhere else i have been. Rarely did anyone try to charge me too much money and never before have I been thanked by so many people for simply visiting their country.
After some sightseeing around Mandalay I said goodbye to my Swiss friend and boarded an afternoon train to Thazi, a local in-between town on the way to Inle lake. An interesting ride for 3$ in ordinary class. Lots of stares and smiles. In fact whenever i boarded the trains in Myanmar i was always greeted with big smiles of curiosity from the people. The majority of travellers in Myanmar cramping themselves into huge barrelling buses that travel by night and miss everything that is along the way. Leaving Thazi in the morning light, the slow train crept towards Inle Lake. This for me was one of the best moments on trip. The train slowly winding its way up switchbacks into the mountains eventually reaching 4,600 feet. The vistas from the open windows on the train cannot be matched and won’t soon be forgotten.
Inle Lake was a bit touristy on the outside, but is easy to get away from. I rented a bike and toured around the outskirts of the lake for the day, at one point getting a local man to drive myself and the bike across the river. I saw the daily goings on of local life, sampled some new food and tasted wine at a vineyard. I honestly cannot say enough about the food. I loved all the little side dishes, spicy salads and curries that exist in the country. I spent the next two days on the lake taking in the incredible fishing style, floating markets, gardens and temples along the way. A truly humbling experience.
When all is said and done it was time to make my way back to the capital Yangon. On the way back I thought about what I had learned. What the purpose of my trip was and what had i gained from it, or for that matter had given back. It is hard to say, Myanmar is a complicated place that is now warmly welcoming tourists into the country. Though only certain parts are accessible to outsiders at this time, if you get off the beat n’ path for a bit it is not hard to be amazed by this country. It did not let me down at all. The pictures and words i have used to describe this place can never do it justice. It is in the simple noises, the little moments in which you find your place in Myanmar. I am a better person for going there and have a snippet of knowledge about it. From the monks that walk the streets in the cool early mornings, to the golden sunsets, delicious food, silent stares and betel nut smiles. To the people working to carve out a life in Myanamar, from the helpful man at the guesthouse to the lady that lies listlessly with her sick child. To the future and prosperity of Myanmar and it’s people. If you want to see Myanamar, go now. It is changing at an amazing pace. There is still much purity left in this place but you have to be ready to roam the road less traveled. It will open your eyes.