Myanmar – alluring and mysterious. Since it started to welcome visitors in 2012, it is a country that has experienced rapid change, yet there is still a lack of widespread infrastructure and Western comforts. This is part of it’s appeal to me. In December 2015, I was fortunate to spend 14 days travelling around this wonderful country. Here’s my travel story, and with so much to see, be warned, it’s in 3 parts!
Myanmar Meanderings – Part 1
Driving around the car-jammed M25, en route to Heathrow airport, I let out a little wee…. not that kind! – the “weeeeee” sound that meant “we’re off!” Myanmar (formally known as Burma) has been on my hit list for a while and now I was heading there with my favourite man, for Christmas and New Year. First to Bangkok, our transit point, and then onto Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, and it’s mix of colonial architecture, modern high-rises and gilded Buddhist pagodas.
We eventually arrived in Yangon at 9am where it took an hour to clear passport control, not because it was busy, it just takes a while as the people are so laid back. A 15km drive saw us at Hotel Esparado, where we dumped our backpacks (so incongruous, turning up at a luxury hotel with backpacks!) and took in the views from the shore of Kandawgyi nature lake. My first impression – gorgeous temples, lots of family gathering together, and the smell of incense everywhere. I love it here already.
A walk around Yangon assaulted our sensibilities. It has yet to be commercialised and so we only saw about 6 other tourists all day, making us feel like part of a well kept secret. The locals we met were so friendly, insisting on us taking their photographs and taking the time to talk.
I’d sum the city up as being high rise grandeur juxtaposed by slums. My photos don’t do the city any justice as they can’t convey the friendliness, the feeling of hustle and bustle and the smells. And the fact that I’ve never seen so many bananas!
Then as the sun sets, Chinese lanterns were lit in the trees along the streets – magical. By the time we got back to our hotel, the Shwedagon or Great Dagon or Golden Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, was lit up, the gold sparkling in the light. Just stunning.
Fact: The 325ft Zedi (the pointy-dome bit on top) is adorned with 27 metric tons of gold leaf, along with thousands of diamonds and other gems, and is believed to enshrine eight hairs of the Gautama Buddha as well as relics of three former Buddhas. (Lonely Planet: Myanmar)
The next morning saw us heading off to Bogyoke airport for an Asia Wings flight to Inle Lake. On arrival we had a little hairy ride … to the wrong hotel, partly because our driver didn’t speak or read English – should have learnt Burmese before we got here. The Amata Garden Lake hotel is divine even if the Wifi is very slow and intermittent. That’s OK, we’ll be just fine having a massage, cycling, going to the floating market, and boating on this enormous lake.
After a great sleep, we caught a boat to Nyaung Shwe, the gateway to Inle Lake. It’s a very busy town, the most touristy we’ve seen so far, but traditions still prevail with the locals getting on with their daily life undisturbed by us foreigners.
“Myanmar is very different to any SE Asian country I’ve been to. Another 5-10 years and I’m sure it will be very similar”
Arriving at Inle Lake was wonderful. After meeting our boatman Dewo, we headed out to the many villages by motor boat. Sitting in two wicker chairs plonked in the boat, moving from side to side and back and forth, added to the excitement! We saw so many fascinating sights – silk making, silver and gold designing, weaving, boat making, tool workshops. All was going swimmingly until Dewo went too fast through the mangroves and the boat engine conked out. We were a fair way from hotel and our call for help ended with us paddling most of the way back before another boat came to our rescue! We missed the floating market and fishing village but were greeted like royalty back at the shore – with the owner of hotel bringing cold towels and so many apologies that it didn’t matter in the end. All was rectified by a wonderful cocktails on the terrace watching the sunset. Bliss.
Back on dry land and at Nyaung Shwe (the main town at Inle Lake) we hired bikes to cycle to the Yan Aung Nan Aung Hsu Taung Pye Paya (don’t ask me to pronounce it) 26ft-high sitting Buddha. It was well worth the effort. I’m really falling for this country.
Join me next month for part two of my travels