Imagine you’re sitting in the cinema and watch your favourite movie. Totally fascinated by the plot, the characters, the sound and images, you basically just wake up and drift back into reality, when they slowly turn on the lights again. But still you remain in your seat and stare at the screen, where the closing credit is running and you let it sink in, what you just saw and what this did to you.
For us, travelling through Myanmar was like watching a truly beautiful movie. We felt like entering a completely own world, where nature and people are still authentic and traditional. Men wear skirt-like longyi, women use typical thanakha every day (traditional make-up, which is also a sun-block) and betel-chewing grannies sit relaxed besides the streets. Just in the main cities, there are cars, otherwise people have scooters or still get around in trishaws and, in rural areas, horse and cart. There’s no McDonald’s, Starbucks in Myanmar yet, just Coca Cola made it already to the Golden Country. Surprisingly everybody owns a smart phone though, and games are popular with kids. However, they still seem to know, how to spend their time without any electronic device.
Especially during our three days-hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake it seemed that time stood still for a few years. It felt totally weird, but in these three days we were took back in time. We hiked 90 kilometres and passed five, six small villages, where people live completely self-sufficient, have their own typical clothes and even speak their own language. There are no paved roads, no electricity, Radio or TV, everybody seems to be farmer and three generations live under one roof. We stayed two nights at families and were offered to sleep in the living room. On the floor. The whole family – eleven people in one house – slept next door in their living rooms, but needed to pass this room when walking outside the house. It was funny to see, that especially the kids tried to respect our privacy, but of course couldn’t pull themselves together to not have a look at the foreigners. Maybe our moscito net confused them as well?
Myanmar people are quite shy, but very friendly. They seem to be balanced and happy, like the Indians appeared to us, but in a more calm and introverted way. This country is not so loud and overwhelming like other Asian countries, in contrast it’s very organised, structured and peaceful. The colours are bright, but not glaring. The nature is soft and warm. Myanmar is not a country with mind blowing landscapes, but it’s the cultural sights and its authenticity which is impressive. There are more than 4,000 sacred buildings all over the country, about 2,200 of them are located in Bagan. The ancient city was between the 9th and 13th century the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first unified region, which later would constitute the modern Myanmar. We spent three days in Bagan and explored the area with an e-bike, cruising from temple to temple from sunset to sunrise.
On our trip through former Burma everything went perfectly smoothly and easy. Actually exactly the opposite everybody predicted. We were prepared for the worst, but experienced the best organised and comfortable travelling of our Sabbatical so far. There were buses with complementary refreshing towels, biscuits, water and a private entertainment programs like on planes! Breakfast was included in the room rate (depending on your hotel level it’s basic or quite nice with fresh fruits) and there are no queuing lines at any booking office, restaurants or at popular sights.
We focused on the popular itinerary, which means Mandalay, Bagan, Kalaw, Inle Lake, Yangoon and just skipped the beaches of the south-east as they are quite expensive. One highlight followed the other. And with a blink of an eye, three weeks of travelling full of impressions were over far to soon.
Mandalay is not immediately beautiful, but we felt it has charm. We hired a taxi for one day and explored the many pagodas and temples of the area knowing that there’s much more waiting in Bagan of course. However it was a nice entree! In the evenings we ate with the locals in one of the many restaurants on the streets and enjoyed really tasty food with a cool Myanmar beer. Hotel 8 is a good place to stay!
Bagan is a natural beauty. The old temple town gives you the chance to forget our nervous buzzing world for a few days. Hire an e-bike and cruise through the sandy paths from pagoda to pagoda and imagine how different life was in the 11th century. It’s one of the main attractions of the country and about 300.000 visitors come each year. Compared to Angkor Wat in Cambodia (3 millions) that’s nothing and you’ll even find a pagoda, which is just yours for sunset or sunrise. We were happy staying at Shwe Na Di Guest House.
Kalaw was our starting point for a 3 days/2 nights trek to Inle Lake. The Nature Land Hotel was one of our best guesthouses so far (on our 3 month trip) and you can have a nice dinner at Thirigayha Restaurant (also known as 7 Sisters) otherwise there’s nothing to s
ee actually. Book your guide in advance, otherwise you’ll might have problems to start the next day. Go for ‘Best Smile’ travel agency or freelanced Phyu Phyu (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Inle Lake is huge and it’s cool to hire a long-tail boot and cruise half a day from village to village. We started early in Nyaungshwe to see the sunrise and fishermen at work, then headed south to Indigo and its many pagodas and visited afterwards a floating market and tomato gardens in the middle of the lake, monasteries and more pagodas, but most of all basically just enjoyed the ride itself.
Yagon, Myanmar’s former capital city is like most Asian metropoles just loud and busy. The impressive Shwedagon Paragode was the only thing we visited before our flight out to Bangkok.