Saturday, April 14, 2018

Myanmar



It would take forever to say everything there is to say about Myanmar. There is a rich history there, rife with tragedy. But the country started to open up to the outside world a few years ago, and I jumped at the chance to buy relatively inexpensive tickets. Then a crisis began (or at least it started to see the light of international day) and the plight of the Rohingya became known. Considered non-citizens because they arrived after British colonialism fractured the region (even further in an area already brimming over with ethnic tensions), the Rohingya have been brutalized and forcefully relocated. It's frankly, not much different from what I'd heard about years before, as Kachin state was wracked with violent clashes between government forces and separatists. Nonetheless, I had a brief window, and we took the chance to see this incredible country for ourselves.
While I can't recommend it as a destination because of ongoing problems there, it was a wonderful trip I have no regrets about, and we were totally safe and were not exposed to any negativity or harassment during our time there. The Burmese people were incredibly friendly and welcoming.



Like so many other countries, there are folks in Myanmar with some strange stuff on their vehicles.


We got to Yangon at like 5 in the morning. We were tired. Caught a few hours of sleep at the hotel and then took a walk around the neighborhood, more or less downtown Yangon. There was already lots of street food, and plenty of activity early in the day. I'd learn later that because of the heat, it's common for people to be up and about at the crack of dawn.


We encountered plenty of friendly faces as we strolled about town.


While this place looked like a typical city, the presence of pagodas makes it unique as well. It didn't have the unfortunate smell of Bangkok, either.


Shwedagon Pagoda was naturally a primary destination; we headed there for our first sightseeing stop. It's pretty cheap to get in; a few bucks for foreigners and nearly free for locals. You have to take your shoes off, but the floor, ground, whatever, is clean.


It's a massive complex with many little structures and a few huge ones.




This monk was super friendly. Buddhists ask for alms so I gave him the equivalent of US $2, and he was really excited. He insisted I take some prayer beads.





We continued around the place; eventually, it was time to head onward.


Walking back to the hotel, we encountered more friendly faces. I bought some street food and had no small bills, once again giving up what is only a couple of dollars. But instead of getting change, I got an armload of food.




Both outside and in, the people of Myanmar like to snack.



The next day we took the circle train around the city. Clearly a tourist attraction, it's also used by plenty of locals who just need to get somewhere. It's really cheap and pretty entertaining. We did the full loop, which I think took about 3 hours. It seemed like it was very easy to hop off and hop back on, we easily bought our tickets at the main station.



There is plenty to see from the train, and many beautiful and ugly things are on full display.






There was unfortunately also a lot of trash in Myanmar, like everywhere else.









These trains, and their stops see a lot of action.



Later that day we headed back to the train station to move on to Bagan.


The sun set on another day, and we had about 17 hours before we'd be in Bagan.
I think the train was going around twenty miles an hour, and while the tracks were rickety, they weren't tossing people about the cars as I've read on some blog accounts of this ride. It was pleasant, and while I've had motion sickness before, I didn't get a hint of nausea. The worst thing about the train was a group of kids who were fresh out of high school, acting up all night.





It was really lovely though to see the countryside of Myanmar. The slow trip gave us a chance to see every bit.





We were beginning to get closer to Bagan.


Finally, we were there. We went out from our hotel - a nice place called Motel Zein - to get some food. 


Around the corner, there was a great little place selling pretty standard fare. We had fried rice and various plates of veggies. It was cheap, filling and delicious.


Then it was time to see some temples. We just walked down the street from our hotel, probably less than a mile away we already came upon them.



The sun was beginning to set and it was marking the end of another gorgeous day.




We strolled through the night market on the way back to the hotel.


In the morning we grabbed a scooter from a rental place down the street. Which meant we asked to rent a scooter for the day, they said ok, and we drove off.


We had too much fun on that thing.


We headed down to one of the main parts of town, the little waterfront. There was plenty of activity at that early hour. Guys getting boats ready, people fishing, and starting to ask for alms at the temple.



We moved on, checking out more temples. Built by families, some are huge, and some are more modest. There seem to be thousands, and the mystical atmosphere can be intoxicating - or maybe it's just the humidity...











We were treated to a tour inside of one of the temples by a really wonderful guy who sold us a painting.




My husband got a fried shrimp snack down by the waterfront, and we moved on again.



We decided to climb a few of the temples. While it's forbidden on some, and we'd read in the local news about a young tourist who had died just a few days earlier falling off of one, it's still ok to go up on some structures - at your own risk.



The views can be incredible. But there are some steep stairs.


There were also puppies. We had to spend some time petting them of course.


Later that evening we headed to the bus station for a slightly faster trip back to Yangon. For some reason, we stopped at the side of the road for like an hour. I think we were waiting for late passengers! My husband said in the middle of the night, the employees got off the bus and just started banging on the engine. One of those interesting things you'll never understand that happens to you overseas.. anyway we eventually made it.


We walked around the neighborhood on our last day in Myanmar. Now back in Yangon, we stayed in the city but near the airport. We also came upon this tiny neighborhood. Home to at least a few dozen families, people were living in straw huts on mud. It was one of the most poverty-stricken places I've ever seen. And still, the people there were so nice to us. I decided not to take pictures of them and instead we continued on.


One last stop at the market, we grabbed food for dinner. Our flight home was early the next day. Myanmar was truly an unforgettable place.



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