Myanmar wasn’t on my original travel plan. I knew I was going to be left with around 3 weeks once my trip through Malaysia came to an end and wasn’t sure where to go. I had met only handful of people who had added Myanmar to their South-East Asia Route, but that handful of people had one thing in common – they absolutely loved it. Flying into Yangon with the naive hopes of untrodden land and a place beyond my wildest dreams and left somewhat underwhelmed.
Arriving in Yangon, one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the absolute shock to every sense. There were dirt and rubbish piled high and everyone was moving at a pace of 100 miles per hour. The smell of burning trash and rotting waste lingers in the air making it somewhere between unpleasant and impossible to walk around. That’s without mentioning the packs of dogs roaming the streets trying to scavenge their next bite to eat. In contrast, Burmese people are amongst some of the friendliest, most hospitable people I have ever met. Pretty much everyone smiles, waves and greets you with the friendliest of ‘Mingalabas’. Two places in Myanmar I absolutely adored were Inle Lake and Bagan. There is so much to do and see, and plenty of places to grab a bite to eat.
This isn’t an article to discourage anyone from visiting this country. Somewhere that seems a little different often turns out to be the most interesting and rewarding trip. I guess my piece of advice would be that research is always key. Get recommendations from a variety of people; read blogs, read books, watch videos. Then maybe you won’t get the reality check that I did. The three weeks I spent in Myanmar was a mixed bag of emotions from a political perspective. It was disturbing reading the western media reports through my phone and comparing them to the completely contradictory reports in the Burmese newspapers.
Beforehand, I had read lots of negative things about Mandalay; but decided to chance a few days in the city anyway. There are some gorgeous parts of Mandalay; in particular, the Teak Bridge and watching the sunset from the top of Mandalay Hill. The detour to fit in Mandalay between Bagan in Inle Lake is substantial and in my opinion, just not worth it. The worst part of Mandalay was the fact there are literally no pavements. Every time you take a walk, be that for two minutes or twenty minutes, you are taking your life into your own hands. There’s not much in the way of a food scene, and the nightlife is pretty much non-existent. The air was thick and smoggy, and I just didn’t get it.
I don’t like to compare one country to the next, so making remarks about which is the best South East Asian country to visit would be unreasonable and unfair. Myanmar is packed with culture and the landscape is fantastic. But the real highlight of Myanmar is the people. Be it practising English with Monks or talking to Children in the parks, the people are incredible. With the current crisis in Rakhine, my trip to Myanmar feels ever more poignant. Like everyone else around the world, my heart breaks for the hundreds of thousands of people caught up in this awful atrocity. Following the news, I sometimes feel a pang of guilt for being there, enjoying the beauty when part of the population are enduring a life I can’t even imagine. But maybe, that’s a whole other blog post in itself.