Before starting our world trip, my favourite country I had ever visited was Bermuda and Dave’s was a toss up between Thailand and Barbados. Myanmar has moved to the top of both of our lists. Myanmar (formerly Burma) only opened up for Tourism in 2011 and it was the one country where we genuinely didn’t know what to expect.
We arrived in Yangon in the evening (getting through passport control/visas etc with great efficiency) and got a taxi to our hostel in the centre of town. We were surprised to find great, smooth roads where people obeyed a traffic system (one up on India already). We had been advised to get some US dollars before arriving and we were so glad we did. Our hostel only accepted USD rather than the local Burmese Kyat (pronounced ‘chat’). Where we went for dinner also requested USD. We were surprised again at how amazing the hostel was, definitely the best we have stayed in yet. It had swipe key cards for lockers and the fastest wifi we’d encountered on our travels so far!
The next morning we did our own walking tour through the city, roughly following the Lonely Planet’s guide. Everything was so much more modern and developed than anything we’d anticipated and anything we’d seen in India. The main reason Myanmar has soared to the top of our lists is the people. It is near impossible to walk around without a genuine grin on your face. Everyone greets you with such kindness and no ulterior motives. Everyone nods, waves, smiles, says “Mingala-ba” (a warmer, more welcoming version of hello).
In the afternoon we went to Kandawgyi Lake which was a good few kilometres walk in the boiling 38 degree sun but it was worth the trip. The man-made lake covered in water lilies is surrounded by a beautiful park. We spent hours wandering around and crossing to different parts over extremely dodgy wooden plank bridges. It was like a Tom and Jerry sketch where you put weight on one edge of the planking and it smacks up the other side (we opted to walk single file). We found a lovely garden restaurant in the park for dinner, or rather we thought it was lovely until later that night when Dave got projectile vomiting food poisoning…
We walked to the Shwedagon Pagoda for sunset, climbing the long, steep, staircase leading to it (we later discovered there was an escalator on the opposite side). We were glad we heeded advice to go at sunset as shoes must be removed right at the bottom and the floor can get pretty hot. The Pagoda was genuinely magnificent, we’ve seen a lot of temples in the short time we’ve been travelling so far, but this Buddhist one was my favourite. The gold plating is illuminated once the sun sets and it it just looks like treasure. I think I liked it as well because it didn’t feel like a tourist attraction but rather a place of true worship for the people of Myanmar. I’d approximate only 5% of the people there were tourists.
As we sat down to admire the glistening golden Pagoda, two young lads came and sat right next to us. The skepitism seemingly ingrained in our brains made us cautious but the boys only wanted to practice their English! They were students studying English by day and then in the evening they said they often came to the Pagoda to try and practice their English with foreigners. We had a great chat and were able to ask them some of our burning questions; mainly, what was on everyone’s face in Yangon?! Everywhere we went, locals had what looked like cream coloured clay on their cheeks. We tried to ask a few people earlier in the day but the language barrier prevented us from understanding. It turns out that it is Thanaka: a natural sunscreen made from ground bark!
On our last day in Yangon, we took it easy as Dave had had a rough night. We only ventured out to get noodles (a humiliating experience trying to eat sticky noodle soup with chopsticks but an accomplishment nonetheless). We booked an overnight bus North to Inle lake. The mode of transport is definitely buses in Myanmar, apparently the trains are extremely old and are actually slower. We were told it would be 8 hours, turns out it was 12. The seats on the bus were like rows of tightly packed dentists’ chairs, they were even that awkward not cream but not brown dentist chair colour too. We have so much to say about Inle lake so that will be its own post next!
Thanks for reading,
Sophie & Dave