36. When your stomach says “No!”. Myanmar.

All right… Myanmar 🙂 I could say loads but I’ll say one thing: it’s surely an unforgettable experience. I’m sure tourists coming to Burma through Yangon airport and travel to Bagan or Mandalay in comfortable buses have slightly different experience than us. Definitely less stressful. But at least ours was real and authentic and no aircon buses or 5-star hotels could replace the experience we gained after 1 month of travelling in Myanmar, even if it was fucking hard.

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What a traffic…

So, where to start. Ah, roads. Or, I’d rather say, their absence. Not everywhere, obviously, but you should definitely forget about fast transportation on the west where travelling will remind you more of an off-road. Paradoxally, there are no cars there but once you enter the city you’re immediately stuck in a traffic where 40 km/h is a maximum speed. As people are truly curious and helpful, hitchhiking is quite easy if you find a road with more than 1 car an hour. Couchsurfing? Forget it. Even if there are few hosts in Mandalay or Yangon most probably they won’t invite you as they don’t have a permit to host tourists. Exactly the same thing is with the hotels which have been separated for those for locals and the ‘exclusive’ ones for tourists. The best option we found- $6 per person, no less. So even though food and transportation is cheap, accommodation takes most of your budget. Oh, The Food. My biggest nightmare even now, when I’m eating juicy burgers in northern Thailand. From the beginning till the end- I hated it. Disgusting smell, lots of suspiciously looking meat and dried fish, omnipresent rice served with absolutely everything. We found some great restaurants in Bagan and Ngapali but they were influenced by Europe so it doesn’t count. Anyway, I don’t judge and I’m sure some dishes are delicious (if I just knew which ones…?) but after first days of Myanmar trip we gave up with experimenting. Maybe it makes me an ignorant… but not a masochist. Avoiding local food didn’t save us from food poisoning anyway so the last days in Burma we spent dealing with our diarrhea.

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Typical roads on the west of the country
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Burmese food… This was actually pretty good!

The heat is another travellers’ nightmare. Here I understood what a DRY season is. The landscape reminds more of an Asian desert and the temperature doesn’t go below 35°C. Fine if you stay in an air-conditioned hotel room but not when you hitchhike at noon or trek from Kalaw to Inle. The Burmese hygiene leaves a lot to be desired but that’s not the most annoying thing. Everywhere you look you see dogs. All of them of the same race, all of them ill or suffering from lice. Some of them are aggressive or make your sleep a nightmare when they decide to howl in the middle of the night. I also can’t understand why so many kids work (sometimes really hard!) since they are very young. They help their parents, many families are still very poor, it just makes me sad they can’t enjoy their carefree childhood as they should. Another thing is fashion. In terms of the hairstyle Burma reminds me of Nepal but Burmese are definitely more creative. While the girls are completely natural, the boys (even little ones!) dye their hair like crazy. Mostly blond but I’ve seen green, blue and red as well. I was told they just wanna look cool but I’m not sure who should be blamed for such taste, the kids or their parents…

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Kids at work
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Colourful shags of Burmese boys

In Myanmar we finally felt a different vibe than in the previous, Indian-influenced countries. Different religion, different cuisine (…), different culture. In terms of the lifestyle, I liked it more than India. As Buddhism is pretty liberal, people have more freedom and dress more like Europeans. But there is one identification – a skirt. Worn by both males and females, sometimes elegant, sometimes fanciful, but it’s always there. Another secret of Burmese people is Thanaka. Covering faces of the locals at all times, a white cream made of Thanaka wood protects them from the sun. They are clearly bored of traditional cream mask though, so they usually cover their cheeks with different, clowny shapes. A stimulant, reserved mostly for men (but not always!) and filling their mouth with a red liquid, is paan, a mix of betel leaf and areca nut, chewed by every man in Myanmar. I’m not sure if it’s not a cause of their terrible teeth but they don’t care much, that’s for sure. I mentioned about the food already but I didn’t mention about sugar. I’m not a healthy lifestyle freak but here sugar is really the basis of the Burmese diet. Shops are filled with sweets, packaged, sugary food and it’s difficult to find something normal to eat. Forget about traditional bread, every kind is sweet. If they don’t add sugar to your meal (once I had it in my omelet) they will add half a litre of oil. Diabetes paradise.

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Thanaka sunscreen
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Paan, available on every street corner

The religion, like everywhere in Asia, is very important. People here are very religious and incredibly generous. Not only towards redemption purposes but towards everyone, that’s the rule of karma. There are definitely too many pagodas, though. Even in Nepal there wasn’t as big accumulation of white and gold pointed temples as I’ve seen here. Houston, overwarming! Not many people speak English but they try their best. The ones who know the basics are happy to practice and talk to tourists, monks especially. Although I tried to learn some Burmese they seem to be very sensitive about the proper pronunciation so after repeating 10 times “…..” (omelet) and finally getting a response: “Aaaaah, ……!” (which was exactly what I said) I simply gave up. There are so many places in Myanmar worth visiting but the ones I remembered the most were incredible Inle lake, Ngapali beach and Hpa-an with its gorgeous landscape. Most of the areas, at least outside of the major cities, are really poor. Bamboo is the usual building material and farming is usually the major income. If you go a little off-beaten track you’ll see the life you can’t see in Europe anymore: simple, quiet and harmonised with nature. People work hard and have never heard about the machines we have in Europe. Time has stopped here and only Iphones carried by the youth reminded us we were in the XXI century.

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Hard work never stops, even when they are old
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“Monk is your best friend” 🙂

Myanmar is definitely not a place where I want to become old but it’s a place that will always stay in my heart. You usually remember well the best or the worst moments of your life and here all of them were extreme. But the most important are always the people. I’ve probably never seen purer hearts and as smilling and loving people as I’ve seen here. All the locals always welcome you with a wide smile and genuine curiosity (no selfies, that’s important). Tourism here is still not well developed so the honesty and innocence of the local people is still there and I hope money will not change it one day. Besides touristy spots like Bagan or Mandalay, there are still many authentic and quiet ones and that’s probably the best thing about Myanmar. Buddhism is quite useful religion, at least for poor backpackers who have no place to sleep. Amount of temples in this case helps and monks happen to be your saviours, inviting you to their monastery, offering food or even sharing their life stories. Myanmar is a great place for those interested in Buddhism and meditation or those who simply want to change something in their life. Burmese can be the best example of how to live happily despite all the life difficulties or political situation. How to smile no matter what, treat the others with respect, love and hospitality. How to be generous even if you don’t have much. We could all learn a lot from you, Myanmar. I surely did!

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The most beautiful smiles in the world! 😀

 

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burma
Our route in Myanmar
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