A Country Awakening… Myanmar Calling.
The awe and admiration we felt as we entered the formerly second most excluded country in the world was indescribable. With it’s majestic untouched landscapes, Myanmar displays a beauty completely unparalleled by any other paradise on earth.
We arrived in Yangon, Myanmar’s blooming capital, not knowing what to expect. Since we decided to visit this undiscovered country last minute we didn’t really do much research. We were able though to get a hold of the newest Lonely Planet about Myanmar which was published in 2012 and read a little before we took off. The more we read the more excited we got about our visit to Myanmar. Our only worry was the fact, that Lonely Planet stated only crisp clear US Dollar bills would be accepted. No crack, no fold, no rip, just fresh from the ATM. To make matters worse, they said it would be hard to get any money in the country so we brought all the money needed. As it turned out, since 2012 many things have evolved and so did the money supply. Many places didn’t even accept our beautiful and crisp clear Dollars but wanted Myanmar Kyat instead.
The arrival was accompanied by mixed feelings. On the one hand we were happy to see this isolated country but on the other hand we had no idea were to go or start. We shared a taxi with two other backpackers to our hostel, who were the only ones among only a few others. We just threw our backpacks in our dorm and started right away with sight seeing. We strolled along the streets of Yangon and it felt like we were more of an attraction to the people of Yangon than Yangon was to us.
Since it is off season, there weren’t many tourists in Myanmar and we probably passed every westerner on the first day already.
The most impressive sight was the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is an enormous golden pagoda north of Yangon. We went there in the late afternoon so we would be able to see it by day as well as by dusk. We had quite a hard time finding the perfect spot for the sunset and after running around the pagoda on the outside we decided to go back in and watch it from there, which – by the way – was a good decision. The golden pagoda showed its whole beauty being bathed in the red sunlight. As usually we found an excellent place for dinner thanks to Lonely Planet.
It started to rain pretty hard the next day. We didn’t do much sight seeing but planed the rest of our trip through Myanmar instead. We decided to leave Yangon one day earlier than planed. It was once again the right decision. After a night-bus to the north we arrived early the next morning in Bagan. Again we just drop off our bags at the guesthouse and rented a bicycle for the day. We cycled around the astonishing scenery of Bagan and visited some of the over 2700 temples in the area nearby. The temples in Angkor have already been breathtaking but Bagan was a whole other story. Even though, the temples in Bagan weren’t quite as pretentious as the ones in Angkor the whole scenery and the atmosphere around the many temples in Bagan made the place unique and completely unparalleled by any other place we have been to.
Since Myanmar hasn’t really been discovered by many tourists yet, we got to see the temples as original as it gets. No hand rails, no barriers, nothing that gave us the impression of being in a place built up and preserved for tourists only. We would have loved to see each and every temple but that would simply have outnumbered the time we had.
The only thing that stopped us from riding to the next temple was our stomach calling for food. Riding along the road from Old to New Bagan we found this restaurant run by an elderly couple. We ordered three dishes but the owner kept us bringing more and more food. We had an amazing appetiser (tomatoes on an oil and peanut sauce), roasted cashew nuts with pineapple and rice, fried noodles with vegetable and chicken, and Myanmar cake for dessert. But more about the food in the post about Myanmar food.
After we got our strength back we hit the pedals again to see more temples and pagodas. We even tried to take our bicycles off-road to see some temples a little further off the road. As it turned out, it wasn’t such a good idea. The nature in Bagan can be pretty spiky and Toby managed to get six wholes only in the front tire. Luckily there was a mechanic nearby who fixed every single whole in the tire and we were ready to hit the road again. At the end of the day we made our way to the spot from were the view for the sunset was supposed to be the best. Sadly we didn’t get to see much of the sunset since it was quite cloudy.
The next day we decided to get up early to see the sun rise over the temples of Bagan. But due to the fact, that the mercury hit the 40 degrees mark everyday we decided to rent an e-bike instead of a bicycle which was much more comfortable… and fun. The sunrise was a little cloudy but a short glimpse of the sun between the clouds enlightened the countless temples. But as in places like this, the pictures never do the reality justice.
We again spent the whole day among the temples and pagodas. It was quite an eventful day. We almost got attacked by straying dogs at a deserted temple, had to go back were we rented our e-bikes because one of the batteries was empty (so far we either broke or had problems with ever vehicle we drove), and went to same place for lunch as the day before.
We enjoyed Bagan to the fullest and were ready for our next destination in Myanmar which was Kalaw. The bus-ride to Kalaw was one of those rides we will not forget. The bus was packed. With locals even sitting in the aisle on little plastic stools, the bus was making its way up the mountains of the Shawn State.
Arriving in Kalaw after a long bus ride, we booked a three-day trekking tour from Kalaw to Inle Lake. Trekking through the mountains of Kalaw was gorgeous in many ways. Changing landscapes, getting in touch with local farmers which barely knew the western world and getting a sense of how traditional the village life still was. It was once again the people and villagers making the experience incomparable.
At Inle Lake we stay in a town called Nyaungshwe. We only stayed there for one more day on which we enjoyed the sights on and around the lake. The boat ride on the lake was by far the best. Seeing the fishermen balancing on one leg on their boat and collecting the fishing-nets was astonishing.
Because we booked our flight back to Bangkok from Mandalay we had to get there by night-bus. We arrived just in time for the sunrise. We took a taxi to the U Bein’s Bridge and enjoyed a wonderful sunrise.
At noon it was time to wave goodbye to this amazing and wonderful country. We heard so many good things from people that had travel to Myanmar but we didn’t think it would steal our hearts. The people, the scenery, and the food – there is nothing not to love about this country. It made us think a lot how Myanmar is going to be affected by the growing tourism. We read the following paragraph in a travel blog and thought it hits the nail right on the head:
“Burma is a wonderful place, it would be hard to ignore what a tourism treasure this place is, and because of that it is changing, and quickly. It’s difficult to say if the government forces are savvy enough to curate the tourism experience to highlight the culture, while shrouding it at the same time. This wonderful and intoxicating experience in Myanmar makes me think, what does it mean to be in constant pursuit of the exotic? It means to hunt mystery. Is this a sustainable quest, or in time will all places wonderful see the same fate as Myanmar seems to be experiencing? How can these special and untouched wonders of our planet save themselves from those who wish to experience them? How can the keepers of these places come to see that the lure of their destination is not in its resorts, or branded billboards, or mass-made souvenirs, but in its disconnect from all those things? While it is evolving quickly, remember that not all change is for the bad. Burma is on its way to becoming a more accessible, vibrant destination for the world to enjoy. This is a place that will be special for years to come. But if exotic is by definition perishable, and the mystery of untouched is what lures you, then be the first to get there.”
Being back in Bangkok felt like waking up from a wonderful dream. Off to massive traffic jams, protesters, and scams. Bangkok here we come again. But this time just for one day. After that we were off to explore the islands of southern Thailand.
But until then, so long…