The first two weeks of my travel I spend in Myanmar, still an undiscovered and untouched country since the borders are open for only four years now. The government has still a lot of power and you can see that everywhere. No bad word about the government and some websites are not available. Tourists have to register themselves everywhere, although getting a Visa is quite easily (at the Embassy of Myanmar in Bangkok). The Moustache Brothers (Mandalay) are the living example, one of the comedians was put in prison, because of their jokes and satire about the government and the king. The country is worth to visit, there are many cultural things to see and people are very friendly. Don’t expect any nightlife; the streets are totally empty after 10 pm.
In two weeks I travelled from Yangon (south of Myanmar) to Bagan, well known of their many temples which are impressive to see, even with sunrise the temples are very popular. After Bagan I went to Kalaw to do a two day hiking tour to Inle Lake, a whole town built on the lake. The fisherman’s have excellent ‘one leg skills’, to peddle with one leg and hold the fishnet with the other leg, quite impressive to see. The lake was beautiful and calm, the daily life is only a bit ruined by the many tourist. Hsipaw was a more relaxing place with a lot of backpackers. Lay down, chilling and a visit to a natural hot spring were the daily events. Finally I arrived in Mandalay, a living city with a lot of top sights to see (a teak wooden bridge and a sun set hill).
During my journey it was very easy to meet new people, especially in the night busses to new cities. You chat a bit with the other backpackers and afterwards you decide to share a taxi our room which is quite common to do. Traveling from city to city is not that easy and takes hours. Most common way to travel is by night bus, but the roads are very bad. Even worse are the trains, I took the daily train from Hsipaw to Mandelay which is around 300km. By train it is about 12 hours, which gives an average speed of 30 km/h because of the bad rails. Catching the train is a whole event, the train shakes and people are carrying everything in the train; from bamboo sticks to goats. Even an owl flew in the train, everybody was laughing. Comparable is renting a bike (I did in Mandalay), you really have to time the moment to cross the road, otherwise you will be hit by a crazy driving Tuc Tuc (taxi).
I felt everywhere very welcome, and people want to know thing about Europe and our culture. Because there are few tourists, for Myanmar people it is still special to see/meet a tourist. To illustrate, children are waving to you when passing by (especially in the countryside), warm to see. Unfortunately, the number of hotels and guesthouses increases enormous, in few years Myanmar will lose their charms and become similar as Thailand. During the hiking in Kalaw our guide told an unbelievable story. A woman in a particular tribe can choose ‘her own man’, the man can’t refuse this, the woman can decide. In return, she works whole her life on the field (which is very hard work). We even met a woman of 90 years old, still working on the fields, which is ridiculous and inconceivable.
Buddhism is the main religion in the country and you can see that everywhere, especially in the number of pagodas which you can find on ‘each corner’. To explain in more detail; pagodas are very beautiful religious golden temples and the reason why Myanmar is called: ‘The Golden Land’. Almost everyone goes to the pagoda to pray for Buddha. What is fascinating about the Buddhism is that is very peach full and open for foreigners. The Monks have a special way of life; they live in a monastery for all their life. Their life is so different than our lives. I met several Monks and we spoke about their habitats. Around 3 a.m. they wake up to pray at one of the pagodas, afterwards they have breakfast and start to meditate for couple of hours. In the afternoon they study (Monks are very smart and study a lot). Everything is based on their religion. In one of the tours I made we slept in a monastery, a special experience.
Myanmar is a very special destination, with a lot of different but friendly people. The county has still his own culture and charms, but for how long it will be untouched by tourist and the rapid changing world of technology? In the next couple of weeks I will travel to Laos, with wild jungles and beautiful landscapes.