Yangon, Myanmar

Last day in a wonderful country. Much like Bhutan it has its toe in the door of the modern world but unlike Bhutan, tradition and the old ways are not legislated. They are as they have progressed over time. To see this time warp is why we travel. Living and staying in one place and not venturing abroad, the perception is there is one way to do things. Of course, it is the best way. We, who live in the “modern” world, truly believe the way we live should be the way all live. Travel provides reflection and reveals there are many ways and many reasons not to follow the status quo.

All four of us watch from our traffic stalled taxi as 5 men sit in the gutter of the road with a cup of water and a scrub brush hand washing the curb to better reveal the red and white “No Parking” indicators. Primitive as this may seem, if a machine were to be purchased there would be many people out of work and not contributing to society, as well, they would be poor. I’m sure in time some well-meaning westerner will convince the municipal government they need a machine to do this job and life in Yangon will change once more.

The silly (only in jest) people at Asia Expeditions have planned a free day for us in Yangon and let the four of us loose on the town. WATCH OUT! We don’t stray far from the areas we walked yesterday but we only have a couple of hours and, again, it is stinking hot. I am truly amazed at how hot 32 C is here and our guides tell us in the hot season it can reach 40 C.

We are all trying to arrive at the airport with very few Kaht in our pockets. L has some shopping to do, R still has room in his suitcase and there is no use in returning home without Myanmar goods filling the space, so we stroll through the wholesale market looking for longgi. Few tourist come here, it’s not the kind of place for most. The aisles are literally a shoulder width wide and the traffic is two way. The goods are stacked solid 3 meters high in stalls the size of a typical market stall anywhere in the world (ie tiny!). The air is not moving at all and the sweat pours from us. Shopping is successful and R&L’s stash of Kaht is down a few more bills. After lunch and a taxi ride back to the hotel, R has 700 Kaht ($0.70) in his pocket and I have 1,000 Kaht ($1.00) in mine. Only what we need to adorn our scrap book.

An uneventful ride to the airport, check-in and it’s good bye Myanmar.

The people are the country as they say and the Mon and Burmese are super. I’m quite sure we did not meet one unfriendly person in the entire two weeks. They are very polite and are eager to help at every opportunity. Those who service the tourist industry are impeccably trained, a bit too much for me personally, but most will love it. Restaurant staff is super attentive but not as over bearing as the wait staff in North America are trained to be. The porters are at the tail gate of the van waiting for the bags before our feet hit the pavement. At Inle Lake the front desk clerk left her station to come to the dock to wish us farewell. All this will bode well when today’s traveller has a chance to relay their experience to other would be tourists.

The archeological sites have been serviced very well. 1,000 year old structures have withstood weather and war and are amazing to view. For all the bad press thrust upon the military backed previous government, our guide informed us it was at their instigation many of the phaya have be restored. We also learned that most of the restoration took place under the guidance of trained archeologists from around the world.

Inle Lake, MyanmarThe photographic opportunities of Myanmar are endless. Nature’s colours, the many greens, the golden rice, the colorful clothing of the traditional tribes and the early morn or late afternoon light all together allow the opportunity for stunning photos.

Kalaw, MyanmarThe folks have a pride in their space and surroundings. As more and more packaging, one of those bad western concepts, is introduced into their lives, they seem to have a handle on keeping the potential mess at bay. Most do their part, use the waste receptacles available and clean their “yard” or store space regularly.

Bit and Pieces

A very friendly crew these people.  When I walk towards them on the street I notice most do not avert their eyes and are perfectly happy to greet me with a Min Ga Lar Par or Hello

The street game of choice is a combination of hacky sack and volley ball played with a ball made of cane and a net. It’s called Chin Lone. No hands involved and each volley must be returned over the net for play to continue.

In addition to water, a complete necessity, the driver greets us with a towelette each time we return from an outing. If we are heading to a less frequented dustier phaya he hands us a towelette as we disembark so as to clean our sockless, shoeless feet soles. A very nice touch.

For a country so recently run by a military autocracy and still lead by a military majority in their parliament, there are surprizing few visible soldiers. As in all countries, we see the occasional green truck or military base, but there are no sentries with machine guns or overzealous displays of might to remind people to stay in line.

thanakaThe bark of the maccow (phonetically speaking) tree and a little elbow grease are combined to enable the Myanmar women to make themselves beautiful and to keep themselves cool. Every woman owns a small grinding stone and purchases small logs of the tree. The bark is ground on the stone with a little water and the resulting paste, called thanaka,  is smeared on their cheeks. Somewhat like rouge only a larger area, it can be just smeared with a finger, or a pattern can be introduced with a comb or brush. This creamy yellow applique is worn by almost 100% of the women and even some men.

Bagan, MyanmarModesty is still very much a part of Myanmar. Traditional dress is the clothing of choice but even in the big cities those that dress in western clothing are few and far between. We arrived in Mandalay via Bangkok and did not really notice the contrast in humility. We were then immersed in modesty for two weeks and within minutes of our return to Bangkok, we all commented on the legs, the high heels and the lack of clothing, most evident on the young women, but also on the young men.

Myanmar is worth a trip. We did meet one couple, I think well-travelled, that pined for more “infrastructure” in Myanmar. Even though I think they are well-travelled, they are maybe used to a little more pampering. If you are the type wanting to see a country squeezing into the 21st century, go now. Every year will see huge changes and the exact things you want to see will disappear. If you just wish to see a different part of the world in luxury, wait a few years. Either way, the scenery won’t change much and the people will hopefully retain their friendliness. It will be a great trip.

Every time we depart from a country it ranks high on the list of places travelled, but when asked if we will return, our answer has become “We are aging quickly and there are so many there places to see.” Given the right circumstances, I would return to Myanmar but it would be at the expense of a visit to another unexplored world.

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