A glimpse inside Myanmar (Burma)

Myanmar is located in Southeast Asia and borders Thailand, Laos, China, India, and Bangladesh. Many places in Myanmar are closed off to foreigners and us as foreigners can only see what they want us to see. As I traveled throughout this country I tried to see in between the lines. Not what was just what was put in front of us to see. It’s hard to do that when no one would say much about what was going on in the country. Only back in 2011 did the Burmese people gain some freedom of press. It only makes sense that Burmese people didn’t like talking about it.

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First twenty-four hours of nine days traveling around Myanmar started with a two-hour flight from Hanoi to Yangon international airport. After leaving Yangon airport we headed to the bus station to wait for our bus but the taxi driver said, “The bus station is closed now and not to wait there.” So he brought us to a hotel right outside the bus station. The price was quite high for a few hours of sleep. So we decided to go across the street at what looks like a trucker stop and order some food while we waited. We heard the smacking of lips togeather to get the waitress attention and the slurping of tea throughout the early morning. Yes the smacking of lips together is normal in Yangon to get the waitress attention. My goal was to try to stay awake until I reached the bus. When we finally arrived at the bus I was quite happy to see the big comfortable seats they had! Nine hours later with a total of twenty-four hours of traveling since we left Hanoi we arrive In Bagan.

 

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Bagan

 

 

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School in Bagan

 

Day one:

Woke up early to rent E-bikes (Not allowed to rent motorbikes here) to find a temple with a great view of the sunrise. There are so many temples around to choose from. The “roads” around the temples, I mean more like dirt paths that have loose sand. Beware, the E-bikes will have a mind of their own sometimes. The beautiful sunrise over the flat ground with temples in every direction and the fog hovering low is breathtaking, to say the least. After watching the sunrise we explored around the area some more looking at other temples. We came across a village wich one of the locals showed us around. It was a bit of a tourist trap but still very interesting. One of the local women there showed us how they roll the big hand made cigars. The cigars are not strong with tobacco and mixed with other filler. The leaf is made of corn husk. They also hold an ashtray the whole time to prevent ash falling on their clothing. Took it easy in the afternoon to rest a bit then headed back out to find another temple to watch the sunset. The sunset was beautiful but the sunrise was even better.

 

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Night shoot in Bagan

 

 

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Herding in Bagan

 

Day two:

This day was set aside for a long fourteen-hour bus ride from Bagan to Inle lake. When we arrived we went down to the river to seek out a boat driver for the following day. For around 18,000 Kyat (13USD) we had a private boat for around six hours.

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Fisherman in Inle Lake

 

day three:

The early morning started with a chill in the air. A sweater or a jacket was a must. We rented bikes from the guesthouse which felt like they were going to fall apart by the time we made it down to the river. Our departure time was at 06:45. The air became crisp as we headed out down the river. Luckily the captain provided blankets for us on the boat.  As soon as the river ends it open up to the lake with the sunrise coming up from behind the mountains. Our first stop was the local market. The market was full of fresh fish, meat along with coffee, tea, clothing, trinkets, cigars and so on.After exploring the market and having coffee we continued to the floating village. It’s quite impressive to see. People live in these houses and the only way to leave is by boat. In the village, we learned how they took the fibers from the lotus flower and turned the fibers into thread. After we left the floating village to see the fishermen out on the water using their traditional nets. While they’re fishing they perform a balancing act with their foot and ore. I’ve never seen anything like it before. The way they move around is more like a dance performance. We then headed back to the dock to finish our tour around the lake. We then felt confident that we should leave Inle lake that afternoon to have more time in Hsipaw for trekking. We then left around three in the afternoon and arrived in Hsipaw about five am.

 

 

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Lady selling fabric at the market in Inle Lake
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Gathering fibers from the lotus flower for thread

 

Day four:

From the long bus ride the night before we decided to sleep in this morning. renting bikes was next on the agenda. We decided to ride our bikes around the city and around the Shan village. We were told about a hot spring that we should go to. Yes, there was a hot spring but nothing that we would have expected. The hot spring was deep enough to put your hand and the river was cold. The river was refreshing after biking on a bumpy trail with the old bikes and no suspension. Headed back after cooling off in the river and decided that we had enough time to book a two day one night trek throughout the mountains and villages on the outskirts of Hsipaw.

 

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Hsipaw train station 

 

 

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Group of school kids with a flat tire

 

Day five:

We left the guest house a little before nine AM to start our trek. Our guide was quite informative about the area. Although he would not speak about the conflicts going on in nearby states. He did mention that there was a lot of silver in the area protected by armed guards that will shoot on sight. The town is rich in silver resources. Our first stop was at a local village called Palaung village. Here we had some tea and cookies to give us some energy until out next stop. No matter where I’ve been in Myanmar everyone seems to have a genuine smile on their face even though this country has been through a lot. The next stop was tea stop on the side of a mountain overlooking the valley below. Here we had some more tea with cookies, also I was able to try the tea leaf salad. A variation of nuts with tea leafs and a light sauce. I definitely had trouble putting down the spoon after I tried it. The next village we entered was quite. One young boy sat outside the school studying. Our guide then pointed in the direction of a burned down building and said, “See that building over there? That was once the police station for this village. Most likely the military burned it down.”

I then replied, “Why would they do that?”

The guide said, “Most likely the policeman was corrupt but the military is corrupt too.”

 

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Abandon school room 

 

We then continued on our trek to the next village. By this time the sun started setting behind the mountains. We could see the village that we were staying the night in the distance. As we walked across the field we can see horses running freely and water buffalos walking down the street of the entrance of the village. I’ve been told the water buffalo can be aggressive so I stood my distance. Children ran from their houses to wave hi to us as we walked down the road. The children loved having their photo taken and seeing the photo after. It always put a smile on their faces. The homestay we were at had an amazing vegetarian dinner. One of the dishes was tree bark. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds like.The showers well…. let’s just say it involves a bowl, small room, and a tank filled with cold water. I’ll let your imagination do the rest. After dinner, we had a fire in the back to relax and talk about the day. The kids were trying to teach us how to count in Burmese. Sleeping arrangement was one room with several beds for the six of us and one other couple from another group.

Day six:

Morning starting off with tea before breakfast was served. Then we started on the last part of our trek.The last part of our trek was pretty simple hiking, none the less still beautiful. Seeing that we did 27Km(16.77Miles) the fist day and going to finish 17Km(10.5Miles) the last day I was quite happy that the path was not that hilly. When we finished the trek we were told we were going to a hot spring. I shouldn’t have been surprised when we got there but it was an ugly gray cement tub filled with half-naked Chinese men. So we all decided to skip that part. The rest of the night we took it easy and just relaxed.

 

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Boy putting on thanaka, traditional face mask

 

 

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Boy outside the homestay in the morning

 

 

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This old man had a lot of tattoos and seemed like he had a great story to tell. If only we were able to communicate. 

 

Day seven:

As it goes for almost every morning another early day. This day we were going on the train that crossed Goteik Viaduct bridge. The Goteik Viaduct bridge is the highest railroad bridge in Myanmar. So about 0930 we head off from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin. The train is quite old and the tracks and rails are in need of repairs. This is the bumpiest and most wobbly train I have ever been on. Feels like taking a step back in time while on the train and well, in Myanmar too. Locals are selling food and drinks up and down the train in case hunger or thirst sets in. When we arrived at our stop and waited a few hours for our bus to head down to Yangon.

 

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Ticket counter in Hsipaw
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Goteik Viaduct Bridge

 

Day eight:

Our last full day in Myanmar we decided to take it easy. We went to the Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s the most impressive pagoda that I have seen. Everything is covered in gold and its massive. After the Pagoda, we went back to the hotel for a bit of rest before heading to the china town area. On 19th street also know as the BBQ street has restaurants everywhere serving up some delicious BBQ. Nothing like some BBQ, beer, and a little bit of whiskey to celebrate your last night in Myanmar.

 

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Shwedagon Pagoda

 

day nine:

Nothing more than heading to the airport for our departure back to Hanoi. The trip was fast but interesting and enjoyable. I can show you pictures but pictures can only go so far. It’s a country people need to experience for them self. You can see behind every smile there is joy in their mind. Which is hard to believe with all of the relocation movements and genocides.

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