Turning back time or traveling to future – what thrills you more? I’m definitely the “if I could turn back time” girl especially if it comes to travel. I often wonder how amazing would it be to find myself on a desert Thai island, live in Russia under the last Tsar or be the first one to discover Machu Picchu… I would love to see all my favourite places minus the hordes of tourists. Sweet dreams! Traveling’s changed a lot. The world’s changed. The way we travel has changed today’s world. I may dislike it, but it is what it is. It’s too late to be world next Columbus, Amundsen or Bingham. I’m just another random tourist. It took me a while to accept it. Then I traveled to Burma and guess what…
People who bragged that visiting Myanmar was like “traveling back in time” were damn right.
Some years ago Burma was a real terra incognita for travelers. The country opened its borders in 2011 but back then not many people were willing to visit. Whilst Thailand was literally being invaded by tourists, Myanmar wasn’t really on anyone’s radar yet. No basic tourist infrastructure, no English signs… only the most determined backpackers could survive that. 🙂 As we know the world belongs to those who dare so they were returning home enchanted, inspired and amazed.
They told the world Burma was one of the last authentic places in Asia.
Nowadays, 7 years and 2 million tourists later, Burma is one of the most popular travel destinations. The country has changed a lot and it is constantly transforming. Each year hundreds of new hotels, restaurants and travel agencies spring up like mushrooms. Poor Lonely Planet has to constantly update their book! 🙂
Travelling to Myanmar? Don’t bother about a meticulous research. Better think you are about to touch something that in couple of years will completely change. Little off-the-beaten track village already started to lose their identity and soon the locals will realize they can get way more money selling souvenirs than working on the field (she’s talking crap? Read THIS post from Sapa in Vietnam!). Carpe diem dear travelers. And Burma happens to be the best country to do so.
Yangon is not the prettiest Asian cities I’ve been to. It has rats. (Have you ever heard of maudam? Once every 50 years or so the region’s bamboo flowers, producing a fruit. The fruit attracts hordes of rats, which feed on its seeds). The landscape is dominated by the omnipresent tangled cables and wires and you are most likely to die from hunger after 10pm. There is no night life like you know it from Hanoi or Bangkok. I could not live in Yangon, but there is something I like and value about the city.
Yangon is proud. It won’t bow down to you. Once it did and now everyone calls the city center DOWNTOWN and the main promenade STRAND. The Brits wanted to replicate London in Asia with palm trees and elephants and so they did (anyway, Burma under the British rule, inhaling opium, with Orwell and traditional tea houses must have been an amazing place!). Yangon is definitely a place with character and wonderful history.
5 floors later and we finally get to our hostel. Our room is a small box without a window and there is no hot water in the bathroom. Traveler’s struggle. 🙂 Humble portion of rice for breakfast and we go… back to our room. Those jet lags are killing me!
The city is hot and muggy, it will rainy any time soon. Even though it’s hard to breathe no one is wearing shorts or skimpy tops. Burma is the most conservative country in South East Asia. Maxi – is the only acceptable length. Fortunately longhi, traditional long skirts widely worn by elegant Burmese women are so beautiful I can’t help but buy myself 4 of them during our trip.
I’m afraid my longhi doesn’t fit properly. I almost lost it while walking so I stop to tie it up in front making a knot. Now there you go. Much better! Even though I finally feel comfy I notice people started staring at me not to mention some local women giggling like crazy. Can someone tell me what the heck? Finally one of the street vendors points at my longhi saying – only men! It turns out that this way of tying up longhi is reserved for men only! What a faux-pas!
Longhi is a unisex uniform in Burma, but the patterns vary by gender. Men’s longyi is a thin plaid or woven stripe, tied by pulling the fabric tight against the back and tying an elegant knot in front and women’s is of all colorful patterns tied pulling all of the fabric to one side, folding back at the hip and tucking into the opposite side of the waist.
We’ve taken amazing pictures, we’ve enjoyed a super tasty curry and we’ve been to a massage parlour (it’s wasn’t as good as in Thailand so don’t bother). It’s time to face the biggest attraction – the famous golden temple – Shewedagon pagoda. It’s ridiculously big and insanely beautiful. Especially at night when its dazzling spikes look like a golden enchanted forest. They could easily compete with those few pale stars on the almost pitch black sky.
We walk around observing local people praying. Suddenly when we sit down to take a rest I notice two young boys with painted faces trying to take a picture with me (without me knowing!). I call them and we take a selfie together and then Mario takes a picture of the three of us. We had hundreds of similar situations during our trip. People in Burma are so sweet. I mean it. Unlike in other Asian countries we didn’t have a feeling they wanted to rip us off. And what if they did rip us off? Well then hats down – they are the masters of their craft!
It seemed to me that in Burma, one of the poorest Asian countries, things like trusting and respecting others are still highly appreciated.
Enough about Yangon. There is so much more to Burma! From pagoda hopping, through night buses adventures, to a destroyed moped and getting lost in Mandalay. It’s definitely worth adding Myanmar to your travel bucket list. Just make sure it’s on the top of it before the globalization ultimately kills its spirit! The best time to visit Burma was yesterday*.
*however you may still be on time if you book your tickets now 🙂