Mingalabaaaaa (hello in Myanmar language) my dear “Into the wild” family!!!!
Reporting from Sri Lanka. We are back to the civilization!!!! And I don’t know if that is good or bad. We had such a great time in Myanmar (Burma) that it will be hard to top that one and I will definitely miss Myanmar (I already do).
25 wonderful days in Myanmar (the most buddhist country in the world with thousands and thousands of temples, buddha statues, pagodas, stupas…) went by very fast and I can not express myself enough in this post about what this country has to offer. It was such an intensive mixture of nature, culture, food and people that we are still mentally recovering from it. All this I mean in a positive way. Specially regarding the people who impressed us the most. Myanmar people are still so innocent, friendly, happy, kind, generous and cheerful (with occasional exceptions naturally) that I literally got back hope for humanity. Myanmar showed me that there is still society out there that doesn’t just care about money, house, car, clothes… but actually cares how their neighbor is doing, how they can improve family relationships, how the society can be better, how they can make you happy… There is just one thing that bothered me – they are a machist society. Woman has less importance than man (but show me one society that is different) but they are saying that slowly even that is improving – specially with the new educational reform.
What I am afraid of is that in 2-3 year time white people will change all this and the point of going to Myanmar with it. You go to Myanmar for the people and not for the food, beaches or sightseeing (although all this is very impressive as well) and I can already see how the things are changing at the touristic areas. Some tourist, that we met on the way and were visiting Myanmar few years ago, told us that it already changed a lot (I wish I visited it back than), so I guess in few years it will become Cambodia or Vietnam or Laos. Don’t get me wrong, those 3 countries are amazing and people as well – but they already know the concept of capitalism that puts personal interest before common good. Well I hope Myanmar won’t be that case. Will definitely go back one day and will let you know the difference 🙂
I will write about Myanmar in two parts, since there are 25 days of experiences to tell you and I know you don’t like to read too much at once. Today’s post covers around 2700 km from Siem Reap (point A – still Cambodia) where last post finished, to Bangkok (point B – we took 45 min flight, won’t talk about it since we just went there to arrange visa for Myanmar) than capital of Myanmar Yangon (point C – 1 h flight from Bangkok). Next stop was cute little town Hpa-an (point D – 8 h bus drive), than Bago (point E – 7 h bus drive) and last stop of todays post Bagan (point F – 10 h bus drive).
Yangon, formerly Rangoon, was the capital of Myanmar until November 2005. Today, with a population of over 5 million people, it remains the largest city and main economic hub of Myanmar.
We stayed in Yangon 3 nights, which is more than enough to see all the “must see” places and do all the “must do” things. The city, compare to other SE Asian cities, is not so nice, but still has a special soul and atmosphere worth while a few days visit.
We did and see quite a lot of things in Yangon. 3 h circle train drive around Yangon that takes you through slums and suburbs of the city, walk through the markets and busy streets of china town and indian district, visiting numerous pagodas and stupas, strolls through parks… but there are actually two things I would like to point out in Yangon.
2,500 years old Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred and impressive Buddhist site for the people of Myanmar. From a humble beginning of 8.2 meters, the Shwedagon Pagoda today stands close to 110 meters. It is covered with hundreds of gold plates and the top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds; the largest of which is a 72 carat diamond. It is clearly one of the wonders of the religious world and also a repository of the best Myanmar’s heritage – architecture, sculpture and arts – with hundreds colorful temples, stupas, and statues.
Here I had experienced one of the highlights of my stay in Myanmar: meeting a buddhist monk who was explaining me the concepts of buddhism and then offering me a meditation session which I gladly accepted. Would go into how I felt during this session, but some stuff I just want to keep for myself 🙂
In the night Chinatown – especially 19th street with its restaurants – turns into a colourful night market, full of food stalls with steaming dishes, snacks like fried insects, vegetables and fruits as mangoes, durians, mangosteens, pomelos, apples, tangerines, grapes, lichees, rambutan and banana, where you can have a really cheap and good meal.
8 h bus drive to the east of Yangon lies cute little town Hpa-an. But the real highlights of the Hpa-an area are all scattered around the divine rural countryside out of town. While most of these sights are accessible by public transport you need to devote several days to them and be prepared to give your leg muscles a workout.
Almost everyone takes tours organized by the Soe Brothers Guesthouse, stopping at all the main sights. We stayed 3 nights in Soe Brothers and the things that we would recommend the most are two tours which we took with this guesthouse. First one is to the tallest of several limestone mountains surrounding the town – Mt Zwegabin. It’s a demanding two-hour hike to the summit – up more steps than you’d care to count (around 2000 they say) – but once at the top the rewards are staggering views, a small monastery and a stupa. Second – half day tour, is visiting several caves with impresive Buddha statues and religious images inside of them. Very nice tour, but would be even nicer if it didn’t rain almost the whole day 🙂
I would also like to mention at this point that Hpa-an was also very nice place to meet several backpacker with whom we than share most of the days in Myanmar. Big hugs to Gal, Andrea, Oliver, Emily, Verity … We miss you and hope to see you soon.
Bago was for us just a short stop on the way further north to Bagan. We stayed in the town only for a few hours which was more than enough to see all its sites: reclining budda, monastery together with a primary school, couple of temples and stupas.
One of Myanmar’s top attractions, the area known as Bagan, located on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, is home to the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. The shape and construction of each building is highly significant in Buddhism with each component part taking on spiritual meaning.
We stayed 3 nights in Bagan and man it was totally worth it. One of the most amazing places on earth I have ever seen – I finally understand “Angkor What” phrase 🙂 Still relatively safe from massive tourism Bagan with its 3000 temples is a crown jewel of Myanmar.
You have several options how to see this huge area covered with so many temples and stupas. First of all you need min 2 days in our opinion. You can visit it by following means of transports: hire a driver, car rental, horse carriage, motor bike, e-bike, bicycle or walk (order by price range). We decided for e-bike and bicycle, but I would not recommend bicycle, since there are many temples off the main roads and harder to reach. Plus it’s around 40 C all year long which doesn’t make it easier. The best option is an e-bike (5-6 $ per day), which lasts for about 45 km if the battery is full (got empty in our case twice), otherwise you will have to push it all the way back.
Despite the majesty and importance of Bagan, UNESCO did not include it on its World Heritage Site, because it says some temples were rebuilt in an un-historic way. Nonetheless, the site is arguably as impressive as the Pyramids of Egypt, Angkor Wat, Chinese wall….
I need to mention also a full moon festival that takes place in Pakkoku, a village close to Bagan. It lasts the whole June and we found out about it by coincidence from our friend Gal. Since it’s not a place where white people usually go, we said why not and we rented a jeep to take us there. What a great surprise it was! It was a local fare but the real attraction were us, 6 white people. Guess we gave locals the time of their life. We participated in, what at first looked as a spiritual performance and dance by few old ladies, but ended up to be a smoking and drinking and laughing rave party with us in the middle. The other unbelievable experience was a kind of big wheel ride that was pushed not by machine but by man – monkey jumping kids that spin the wheel with their weight – you need to see it to believe it and understand it 🙂 Man what a crazy and amazing afternoon!
Well family that would be it for this part of Myanmar traveling. In next part I will tell you all about 60 km tracking we did from Kalaw to Innle lake, how we hired two fisherman just to do famous photos on the Innle lake, half day hike in Hisipaw and amazing time we had in Mandalay.
As I told you I am writing you from Sri Lanka where Maja’s mother and uncle joined us and in few h my father should show up as well.
Love each other, don’t take everything for granted and laugh a lot!!!
Love Maja & Andrej