After years of grueling ethnic strife and military regime (which it is still currently under), Myanmar has opened up its doors to tourism. It’s a hot spot that kept popping up so I knew I had to go now before tourism destroys its natural beauty and its people.
In 9 days I was able to discover the highlights of this stunning country. If you are reading this because you are interested in travelling to Myanmar in the near future, then I have only one word for you – GO! and go NOW because it is one of the only places in Asia that is ‘pure’ in culture, natural beauty and real off the beaten track travel.
I flew in to the capital, Yangon which looks like a typical colonial city in Asia. Colonial style buildings painted in bright colors, with peeling facades. Bustling streets filled with young monks who collect alms daily. Street vendors (often children), people hanging out at the park – life is truly simple and there was a sense of overwhelming peace from the moment I landed. The lifestyle is slow and humble in Myanmar, including city life. I was grateful that a friend was living here and he invited me to a LGBT party at a local club. He also mentioned I was lucky because parties and social events have been banned due to the curfew set in place because of the current political elections.
This explained why the city was quiet after 8pm. Although bustling during the day, at night you only saw pitch darkness in the city.
The expat community is extremely small so it was fun to meet a lot of them at this party and see how life in Yangon was really like. A lot of expats living here were working in NGOs, they weren’t trying to make money (like most expats in Asia) but trying to help rebuild and strengthen this country.
After 2 days in Yangon, I headed to Bagan, famous for its hundreds of temples. Many compare this town to Ankgor Wat due to the temples and how well preserved they are. The truth is that this town was relatively undiscovered until recently, which is why the temples are in tact. Also the locals still go and pray at these temples, they aren’t just a tourist attraction.
The easiest way to explore Bagan was on an e-bike. The town is dusty because of its dirt roads and the temples are scattered around. As soon as I arrived I was taken to a temple to view the sunrise. And the day I left Bagan, I climbed atop another temple to view the sunset. Yes, this is the attraction here but with these views, even the monks were tourists with their cameras! (Tourists are now banned from climbing temples, I’m lucky I got here just in time.)
Bagan was a wonderful place to let time pass you by. By day I was temple hopping, by night I was indulging in local cuisine and chatting with locals every chance I got. The locals here speak a bit of English, but enough to share their views and tell me about their lifestyle. Buddhism is the culture here and it’s beautiful! Burmese people are not selfish; they are content with the simple things in life. People smile and want to help you. I was overwhelmed with this sense of love and camaraderie.
My last destination was Inle Lake located in the north east. This is the biggest lake in Myanmar and people live on the lake, literally. Boats are used as transportation so its the only way to wander around. Accommodations in all of Myanmar are humble, but even more so in Inle. The first day it rained so I hung out at the local tea shop, people watching as the locals rode by on their bicycles and scooters. I also wandered around the marketplace, inspired by the colorful sarongs and the friendly faces.
The next day I rented a boat with a boatman who stopped at some silver shops (they are getting in on the tourist game), along with a Buddhist monastery (they are abundant here, naturally) and peaceful cruise through vegetable gardens located on the lake. The main attraction on Inle Lake however are the fisherman, who have a unique way of fishing on one leg.
Myanmar is my favorite off the beaten track destination in Asia. As if I wasn’t already in love with this country, its people reassured me that I wasn’t just wearing my tourist goggles by returning my iPhone which I had stupidly forgotten on the overnight bus back to Yangon. I realized as I was in my taxi on the way to the airport, but my driver took me back to the bus station where the bus company called the bus driver and he returned the phone to me – all within 30 minutes!
Myanmar, you are the simply beautiful! I pray that tourism doesn’t jade its people and culture. Thank you for teaching me that human compassion is alive and well. I am truly humbled by how easy it was to travel and learn in this country.