Burma has always been on my list of destinations, however, when I first started traveling in 2010 I was too much of a pantywaist to travel here on my own: It seemed so difficult, so unpredictable & and, well, …. Intimidating.
But Burma is changing, and so am I: We are both stronger & more independent than we were in 2010.
(I prefer Burma over Myanmar and it’s how I will refer to this country in my writings. I know that Burma has negative colonial connotations, but Myanmar was the name that the crazy despot Ne Win & his astrologer devised & comparatively, the British seem almost benign)
Upon arrival in Yangon, the old capitol city in the south delta, I was surprised at how modern & civilized the city is compared to other SEA cities, Indonesian cities in particular.
One of the first things I noticed was the demeanor of the people. While they smiled openly and said hello or the Burmese greeting “mingalabar”, they generally left me alone. There was no “TRANSPORT? TRANSPORT?’ or “WHERE YOU WANT TO GO?’ hollered at me as I wandered the streets. The other truly civilized thing about Burma is the abundance of free drinking water stations set up at nearly every corner
The Burmese also continue to paint their faces with thanaka which is charming,and also chew betel nut (which results in red & rotting teeth) which necessitates that they spit red, viscous globs of saliva anywhere & everywhere, which, is not so charming.
Transport in this neck of the woods can be challenging. Trains are long, bumpy & uncomfortable. Buses are worse. We opted for the train from Yangon to Kalaw (a lovely mountain town) which was a 26 hour journey in a filthy, freezing cold, dilapidated train car that was so bumpy it was impossible to read, let alone drink a beer, which was,um, medication.
At the end of the first leg, 21 hours and at 1 am, we stopped in Thazi. Thazi train station had a small shack of a ticket office, no toilet (“just go over there” the lady said pointing to a rusty & abandoned train car) and about 50 people sleeping on the platform, when we rolled into town. We followed suit and laid down on the cold concrete platform, thankful for a place to be still. Cold, but I was out of the bouncy house.
Inle lake was our ultimate destination after the train ride from hell. And as bad as the train ride was, Inle Lake was worth the journey. The lake, the countryside & the Shan people are stunning. Despite the throngs of tourists that descend upon this area every year the people are full of grace & the environment remains peaceful.
I was so looking forward to the plains of Bagan and was really surprised by my feeling of “meh” upon arrival. Don’t get me wrong, thousands upon thousands of stupas are incredible to see but after I trudged through about 10 of of them I was over it. En masse they are unbelievable, mythical & enchanting. Individually, meh. And the town of Nyuang U… Shit.Hole. Touring around on an e bike: Cool. Laquerware: Cool. Hot air ballooning: Bucket list experience that did not disappoint; the ultimate cool.
Our last stop, Mandalay was again, meh. The 15 hour boat ride up the Irrawaddy was a great journey, however. There are some great tourist sights and, yep, you guessed it, pagodas. Pagodas, pagodas, pagodas. Every guide & guide book will tell you “THIS pagoda is the most revered pagoda in all of Myanmar” hmmmmmm, really? THIS VERY ONE? But, I thought the last one I saw…. Oh, nevermind.
I did love visiting Burma & hope to return. While we were here the transition of power was transferred to Aung San Suu Kyi & the NLD. It was a bizarre ceremony with karaoke and dancing as we all know how much despotic dictators love to dance & sing. Good grief.