There are so many things I can share with you about this beautiful country, its culture and my experiences there. Here are a few things:
- Myanmar(Burma) is where China meets India.
- Kissing sounds are made to get a waiters attention.
- Traditional Burmese attire worn by men and woman is a wrap skirt called longyi.
- The country has many natural resources, but little to no technology to build.
- The steering wheel is on the right side and they drive on the right side as well. But I did see a bus with a left side steering wheel. It’s just insane!
- Motorbikes are banned in Yangon.
- There are more than 100 ethnic groups. The 7 largest are the Chin, Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Mon, Rakhine, & Shan.
- Religious and ethnic tensions have been escalating since 2012.
- Rebel militias have been fighting the government for years because they want their own state, and equal rights because many feel neglected by the government.
- Some Burmese were sold the idea of a better life in Thailand and forced into slave labor, many of which work on seafood boats. Some are forced into joining the army (including children), and others even thrown off at sea and left to die.
- Many children are working in sales; (great hustlers I must say) and I can’t help but wonder whether they are working against their will, or helping to support their family. And what happens if they don’t make any money?
- The hotels/hostels have curfew, and yes they have gates.
In Hpa-An (pronounced Pah’an) we stayed at Soe Brothers Guesthouse. The room rates start at $7 for a single, but I couldn’t picture sleeping in a hot room so for a few extra dollars we got a double with an ac. We settled in and headed outside to take a walk around the neighborhood. Sonya and I walked through this beautiful green and gold embellished arch way curious of the what was on the other side. We walked a long and unmarked path to the back, and there, stood an abandoned temple that was in the process of being rebuilt. There were a few men working outside, but no visitors except us. This temple is filled with hundreds of Buddhas. As I walked up to the first main Buddha, Sonya goes to the next one. I am standing in front of the Buddha just observing and feeling out the energy around me, it felt welcoming. I decided to walk to the next one where Sonya stood. As I neared closer all of a sudden I felt this enormous surge of energy bolt at me. I literally had to catch my balance because I was in motion as I was forcibly pushed back. I freaked out and left that area. I recall Sonya asking me why I ran away. I refuse to go where I am not welcomed, and that Buddha’s energy for whatever reason did not want me around. We walked around the entire temple and I walked up to every Buddha that was positioned liked the first two I approached. I wanted to see if that negative energy I felt was present. None of them gave me that feeling. There were small rooms with smaller Buddhas that connected through another passageway. It felt a bit creepy in those spaces. When we were ready to leave it seemed to me like we walked endlessly in circles. Each corner we turned looked the same as the last. As crazy as it sounds, I really wanted to go back there to see if that second Buddha that startled me would exude the same energy. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to go find out, which could be a good thing.
[The gold point you see in the picture is a pagoda. We sat in front of it to watch the bats fly out at night. We climbed further up to see the view before the sunset.]
The next morning we went on a full day tour of temples and caves booked through the hostel. We were a group of six and three of those people (Julian, Aurora and Sandra) would soon become a part of our travel adventures.
[We watched the monkeys out front play in the water and eat pears at the
Ya The Byan Cave]
[Ya The Byan Cave]
[Lonebini Garden at the base of Mount Zwegabin. Has rows of Buddhas a total of 1,121]
[Saddan Cave in the Kwak Mu Tar village group, Eindu range, Hpaan Township, Karen State, Myanmar]
Our next stop was Yangon: We stayed at Garden Guesthouse At this point in our trip Sonya was extremely sick and I was left sightseeing with our new backpacker friends. Our hostel looked like one of those hospital wards from the late 1800’s. There was something unsettling about it. One of our new friends heard voices in the hallway saying “Hello”, but saw nobody. Sonya was alone while we went sightseeing and was practically hallucinating. And I woke up one night and saw a nurse sitting at the edge of my bed. I simply rolled over, threw my sheets over my head and kept my eyes closed until I felt the sunlight shine through the barred windows and onto my face. I would not recommend staying at this hostel especially if you’re looking for a social hostel. However, its decent if you are staying a night or two and have no other places to stay.
[Tobacco along with betel nut and spices are wrapped in a leaf which people chew. It leaves the mouth filled with red gunk and they just spit it every where. It’s pretty disgusting. I was told it makes you feel drunk.]
Street Food/Fruit Market:
A short boat ride across downtown Yangon is a town called Dala. With intentions of just going at our own pace and just wanting to walk or rent a bike, we decided not to get a guide or a cab. There was a man who followed Sandra, Aurora and myself everywhere. Trying to force us to get in his ride to take us to the tourist area in that town. It was beyond annoying. We might not speak the same language, but there are universal gestures for the word “no, and this man was not taking no for an answer. He followed us around and even sat next to us while we ate. He lost at least two customers had he not spent the 30+ mins following us. He eventually left, and the three of us walked off the main road and into the neighborhood nearby. As we passed, people called their family members to come outside and see us. They pointed, they laughed, called us beautiful and were just amazed by my skin, and my blond hair blue eyed friend. We greeted them as we walked around shouting “mingalaba” (hello).
The ferry to/from Dala have little kids selling different items including food to throw for the seagulls. On the way back we spoke with a few of the kids. They taught me new words in Burmese, and hand games. It was truly delightful and one of the most memorable parts of my trip.
[Behind me is the man that was following us. We walked into here hoping he’d go away. Instead he gets out his ride and follows us inside.]
The Shwedagon Pagoda is a must see in Yangon. It is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar & contains strands of Buddhas hair & other relics.
Our next stop was Bagan: We finally caught a cab to the bus terminal which was approximately an hour away, and traffic was really bad. Our cab driver called the bus company asking them to wait for us. They told us they will wait only five minutes after the bus was scheduled to leave. It was about 15 minutes before our bus was scheduled to leave and we were more than 15 minutes away and traffic was not moving. Oh, and I forgot to mention we already paid for bus.
You know that feeling where your heart starts pounding you can almost hear it in your ears? Your breath is short, your throat feels dry and closing up? Your eyes are welting up and you’re seconds from crying, but your holding back because you’re looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, yet it’s still pitch black? Well, that’s how I felt.
I remember sitting in the passenger seat, watching our driver do a quick prayer before zooming off weaving between the cars. Luckily, we made it in the nick of time.
Bagan is a must when visiting Myanmar(Burma). I was there during the dry season. The air was dry, thick, and the skies fog dust coated a layer on your body soon as you step outside.
When you enter Bagan you are required to pay The Bagan Archaeological Zone Fee of $15, valid for a week. All the temples in Bagan are free of charge and you are able to climb some, which is perfect for watching the sunset and rise. Bagan is filled with hollow temples, as well as solid temples called stupas or pagodas; some dating back to the 9th century.
Before entering a temple you must take offyour shoes (no socks), and make sure your knees and shoulder area are covered.
Every morning we would wake up early rent our motorbike and head out for a long full day of sight seeing. It was extremely exhausting, but well worth it. Besides, there’s nothing else to really do.
[A Novice Parade. Marching through the ancient city of Bagan before dedicating their life to the monastery]
[I was observing and taking pictures of a pagoda and felt like someone was over my shoulder. I turn and there was literally a group of almost 12 people bunched up behind me just starring at me. I run up to the other side to get away from them. These two guys run after me asking for a picture and snapping shots at the same time. While posing for their picture I realized I should take some too! I flipped my camera around, which was still on full zoom. I zoomed out a bit while taking the picture and this is what came out.]
Thingyan is the Burmese New Year Water Festival (also known as Songkran in Thailand). I was informed by a travel agent that a week before the festival begins transportation will become difficult. Some buses will not run, certain roads will be blocked off and seats for transportation were already booked out. I would’ve had to buy my ticket at least three days in advance, so basically it would be hard to move around. My flight was at the start of the festival, and by the looks of my options I was not confident that I would make my flight out of Bangkok, so I extended my trip.
The night I would have traveled back to catch my flight, an earthquake hit. I was laying when I felt a long odd shake as if someone was moving my bed around. Sonya said it was the girl walking in the hallway (LOL), which I thought was crazy because of the building structure. Minutes later we find out it was an 6.9 magnitude earthquake. Thankfully no severe damage was caused.
After Bagan we caught a bus to Mandalay. It was in Mandalay that I realized I was able to tune out all the background noise. That allowed me to enjoy being in the moment, being present with no distractions. I recall walking down the streets and Sonya said, “You’re going to cause an accident”. She was referring to just about everyone riding on their motorcycle breaking their necks to look at me. I was oblivious to everything around me because I blocked everything out and focused on where I was walking. It was only the voice of a child shouting “Helllooo” that took me out of my trance. Seeing their expression when I responded to their gesture, even if they were secretly pointing at me as I waved in return is un-explainable and joyous.
From Mandalay we took a train to Pyin oo lwin. Once again I wanted to stay awake to watch the scenery along the tracks, but I was beyond exhausted. I eventually fell asleep after watching the sunrise only to be woken by a cold bucket of water that flew into the window, slapping me across the right side of my face. I, along with the rest of the passengers sitting on the right side jumped and screamed. The kids outside laughed with joy. The water festival has officially begun.
The Burmese children wait all year round for this one holiday. The kids who live along the railroad wait anxiously for the train to pass at the perspective times with buckets of water, ready to soak passengers.
In Pyin oo lwin, Sonya and I bought water guns and joined the groups of people on the street spraying everyone that passed by, except the police officials/gov’t military, the elderly, nuns and monks. We’d run in the middle of the street to avoid getting wet. One girl came up to me with a bucket and I managed to dump it on her; it was my proudest moment. However, I took four steps and got hosed down by some man. The girl and her truck full of friends cheered. My moment was definitely short lived.
The train ride from Pyin oo lwin to Hsipaw was brutal! Water flying all over the place non stop. It was fun collectively pulling the windows shut when we saw people with water along the tracks ahead. Even some police officials were having fun, which was nice to see.
We met a couple, Devon, Mike, and their two beautiful kids on the train. Later on in our trip, we stayed with them for two days in Yangon. They were so kind to open up their home to us. I got to swim in a beautiful pool, eat a delicious dinner, helped with a paper mache project, got to read their son a bed time story and more. It felt so good to sleep somewhere that felt like home, and to be around such a loving family. It was truly a pleasure meeting them. I hope to see them again some day.
Getting into Hsipaw marked the start of my dislike for the water festival. On our drive to Mr. Charles Guesthouse the streets were filled with splashers. A grown man stood in the street with huge hose. The entire tuk tuk ducked down as we tried to hover over our belongs. Every thing and every one was soaked. As we lifted our heads to sit back up, we got a strong wiff of feces. The man hosed us down with basically sewage water!! The stench was so bad I could not stop gagging. Those are the type of people who should be banned from participating in the festival.
My days at Mr.Charles were spent on his beautiful wooden balcony, hiding away from the water and hanging out with some new friends we made (Camille, Arthur and Zach). Every morning we’d eat our complementary breakfast together like a little family. If you didn’t see us on the balcony we were at La Wun Aung having a delicious meal. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was extremely fun.
[With The owner, his son, Sonya & Zach]
The worst decision I made was going on a bike ride the day before a three day trekk. My bike was crap so I had to peddle five times as hard. My legs were so tired from the excessive peddling I had to walk a few times, which was bad because the mounds of people outside throwing water was too much for my liking. I even begged six children monks not to wet me. Too tired to run I slowly dragged my feet and the bike pass them while they dumped one bucket after the next.
I started the trekk extremely sore. My entire trip I was not sick except those three days trekking. Overall, I enjoyed the hike and would highly recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to do it.
[The Palaung Hill Tribe village where we spent the first night.]
After returning from the trekk, we were ready to leave Myanmar. We booked flights out of Yangon, and now it was time to start our journey back to Bangkok. We caught a 5:30am bus from Hsipaw to Mandalay. The bus we intended to get on from Mandalay was full and there were no transportation options for hours to come. Even then we were not sure if we could get seats. We grabbed our packs, walked to a main street and began flagging down cars. One man was kind enough to give us a lift to the Mandalay-Yangon highway where our hitch hike journey began.We hitch hiked for more than 300 miles. By the time the sun began setting, we were on the side of the road almost half way to Yangon. The thought of potentially getting stuck on the road side at night was a bit scary. There were a few men on the side who watched and attempted to help. Lucky for us a grape truck pulled up and the driver agreed to take the three of us along. Zach jumped on the truck, I passed him the bags and he began strapping them down. I was so excited! The thought of eating grapes and riding care free down the highway seemed amazing to me. Next thing, a mini bus pulled up out of no where heading to Yangon. We got into Yangon around midnight and headed to Devon & Mike’s place, the perfect end to our time in Myanmar.
Veni. Vidi. Amavi
We Came. We Saw. We Loved.
Until next time