Myanmar – People, Places, and Pagodas

To hear some general thoughts on Myanmar, head to this blog post. Below is a bit more detail on what we did and who we met – the pics above should give you a good idea of what I’m talking about.

People – Burmese people are nice. Beyond nice. They bow, they smile, they walk with you when you ask for directions. Basically all of the stereotypes you hear about the Burmese people being friendly are true. Since Naveen and I came to Myanmar blindly, without a guidebook or much knowledge of the country, we learned on the go. And thankfully, Burmese people were more than happy to teach.  We learned about the oppressive government from the taxi driver and his opinion that it’s human rights violations aren’t getting better, just getting quieter. Everywhere we went we saw unyielding support for Aung San Suu Kyi (a Burmese freedom fighter, prisonaer, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient),  and heard pretty much universal disgust for the police and military. We learned that sim cards were extremely expensive up until about a year ago, and now observed a cell phone store on every street and everyone from monks to children using one. We were instructed on which foods to eat, which to avoid, and laughed at when we thought we could eat anything, “ha ha ha, that food isn’t for white stomachs” (seriously, this guy laughed about this for a solid 10 minutes). Lastly, we observed and listened to people talk about their troubles finding jobs and educating their children. Later, I began to read more about the history and learned that Burmese people used to have nearly extremely high literacy. In fact, there was massive immigration from India because Myanmar didn’t have enough people willing to do unskilled labor.  They also had an abundance of natural resources (gold, teak wood, jewels, oil), and an advanced economy. They still have a lot of these resources, but they also have one of the widest income gaps in the world and the majority of the country lives in poverty. The story of how and why the country severely backslid in growth over the last hundred years is for another time (hint, it has something to do with Britain) but I will say, that regardless of their bad luck and hardships, I found every person I might to be dignified and full of compassion, not the least bit bitter. That’s enough generalizations for one blog post though, so moving on!

Places – We visited Mandalay, Bagan, Inlé Lake, and Yagon. Mandalay is the second biggest city and last capital of Royal Burma. Highlights there were climbing Mandalay Hill and visiting the teak bridge at sunset (the oldest and longest standing teak bridge in the world). In all, it was an interesting place for history, but not the most beautiful city. Bagan is an ancient city that is on the tourist trail due to it’s minor 2,200 temples and pagodas sprinkled throughout it’s plains. During the kingdom’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed but most have since disappeared. Most of the ones that are left are in terrible disrepair, crumbing and being overtaken by growth. This sort of adds to the wonder of the place though. It truly feels like you are in another time. My pictures from this part of the trip are terrible, but when you have a minute, google “Bagan” and take a look at the ridiculousness of this place. 

Moving on, we spent 3 days around Inlé Lake, which is set in the green mountains. There are a series of villages around the lake, many of them on the water itself with no access to roads. The villages all work together, roating daily markets, sharing festival expenses, etc in order to survive. We spent our time riding bikes, speeding along in boats, visiting markets, taking a cooking class, and even checking out a winery! Lastly, we headed for Yagon, the capital of Myanmar. We were only there half a day, so didn’t do much besides see the insane Shwedagon Pagoda, but more on that below. 

Pagodas, Stupas, and Temples – I felt like I couldn’t write a general blog post on Myanmar, without temples getting a mention. Myanmar is a primarily Buddhist country, and everywhere you look, there are places to worship. Because of the countries riches, these are not humble places of worships either. Never in my life have I seen so much gold and as big of jewels as I did in Myanmar. Shwedagon Pagoda wins for most outrageous with 60 tons of gold- here’s a picture from Naveen’s Instagram – but it wasn’t the only golden temple. They were everywhere. We climbed to them in Mandalay, biked through them, in Bagan, and witnessed a festival on a floating one in Inlé. They aren’t just for show either. They are full of locals praying, eating, or napping. It’s safe to say we’ve seen our share of pagodas for a while, so I won’t bore you with the photos of them all, but there are a few up there for your viewing pleasure!

This post ended up being really long, guess I had a lot to say about Myanmar. Overall, it’s a fascinating place. While not “empty of tourists” like so many people mentioned before I went, it certainly has a very healthy share of surprises and adventures.

Leave a reply