Day #136 Authentic Myanmar
After a drastic goodbye from our friends through the gate windows at the Bangkok airport, we were back to being just the two of us. Our next destination was Myanmar and we would fly directly to Yangon.
When we got there it was already late so we decided to take refugee in our room in a nice central hostel called Baobabed. We had decided to take it easy the next day as we needed to plan our next steps, make sure we got some writing done and that I prepared for my coaching sessions. With long-term traveling, there is always planning to do: flights, hostels, places to visit, budget, visas, which days to wash your clothes so they have time to dry, how to pack so you meet the airline requirements etc. A never-ending list of tasks that is hard to grasp. I have to say that neither Antonio nor me like to do this considering we also want to dedicate our time to other projects such as the website or coaching. But each time we ignore this duty it costs us a lot so we try to never fall behind too much. In that sense, traveling really teaches you discipline.
Still, on our first day we went out for lunch and had a walk around Yangon’s China town. It was a great opportunity to get a sense of the city and soak in some of the country’s habits, faces and customs. Men mostly used “longyis”, a type of long skirt for men, and the women were dressed with beautiful coloured long skirts and had their faces covered with a golden paste called Thanaka. We learned that Thanaka comes from ground bark and has been used for many years as a cosmetic by both women and men. Therefore everyone goes around with their faces painted gold. China town was really authentic. It is quite a busy area: chinese decorations suggested the Chinese New Year was approaching, food stalls offered all types of local street food dishes and the streets were crammed with people. We felt Burmese were more curious about foreigners but also very genuine and kind. Somehow, it reminded us a lot like India because of the evident poverty. The buildings were dirty and falling to ruins. Although cleaner, the streets offer that same smell of tras mixed with food and people and everything was ridiculously cheap. We had lunch at a street food stand both for 1,5€ although it was maybe not our best choice as street food in Myanmar is not as clean as in Thailand.
We found that the best way to visit Yangon was to pay a cycle rickshaw to show us around the old city center. It was really quiet and the driver told us about the culture of Myanmar, politics and shared some impressions about all the Muslim massacres that were happening next to the borders of Myanmar. Rohingya people are being persecuted by the military regime because of their ancestry. It is really sad to realize that situations of genocide such as what we had in Europe with Jews still exist around the world. We hope these massacres will soon come to its end now that the UN has intervened. On a more positive note, we ended our day in the beautiful Shwedagon pagoda of Yangon. It is one of the most sacred sites in Myanmar for Buddhism because is contains relics from four ancient Buddhas, including eights hairs from the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. The pagoda is charged with spiritual symbols and we found it even more magical at night as we sang along with 30 different adorers at candlelight.
Our next stop was the indescribable Inle Lake. Antonio’s mother had told us it was one of the most beautiful places she had ever been. I have been to several lakes before so I couldn’t really understand why. This was until we got there. We were dropped off at 4.30am at the bus stop. It was freezing and we had to find a boat to take us to our hotel that was situated in the middle of the lake. As we finally set off on our boat ride covered in blankets, the soft light of dusk started to appear. With it, a mysterious fog softly came to kiss the lake surface and the marvellous landscape started unravelling before our eyes. The beautiful range of oranges and yellows kept intensifying, as the sun was about to show its face. Still, the magnificence of the view came from the vast reflection on the lake’s surface, the unbreakable silence and the sight of the first hopeful sunrays breaking through the mist. It was nature in its purest form. Soon in the horizon, we spotted some fisherman canoes and had the opportunity to see their traditional and popular fishing techniques at sunrise. Both Antonio and me felt blessed to witness that sunrise in such an authentic place. The rest of our stay at Inle Lake did not fall behind. All the hotels, restaurants and houses are floating in this massive lake. They even have floating gardens, abundant in all types of tomatoes! We went crazy with all the types of artisan products: clothes, jewellery, tobacco, etc. Probably because it all felt so authentic that we couldn’t say no :) We spent 3 days here and had a great time living the life of “the lake” and resting in this safe haven.
In Myanmar, we still visited Bagan and Mandalay with its thousand pagodas. Bagan in particular, was really impressive for its archaeological history and pagoda ruins. The landscape really reminded us of Hampi in India. Instead of Hindu ruins lost in the middle of a wide landscape filled with bouldering rocks, Bagan offers a sandy landscape with hundreds of Buddhist pagoda ruins. Although from different religions, both places are living evidence of the power and beauty of ancient kingdoms.
We leave Myanmar positively impressed with its kind and hardworking people, with its cultural richness and with its natural treasures. We would definitely recommend it to anyone thinking of a trip to South East Asia. We are heading to Laos next :)