Without any particular reason I’ve been really excited to finally make my way to Myanmar. I never really knew what to expect from Myanmar but people told me that tourism hasn’t conquered it yet and I really wanted to explore this country before this changes. And I am so happy I did!
After traveling for two month in pretty the same way I’ve spent my backpacking trips before, I decided to change this now. Coming to Myanmar wasn’t only about a new country but my first volunteering experiences as well so I was even more excited to start this new adventure at the beginning of January.
Two weeks of volunteering
I contacted a couple of volunteer places in Myanmar and finally ended up spending 5 days at a meditation center close to Yangon and 10 days at a lovely hostel at the west coast of Myanmar. Those two volunteer experiences couldn’t been more unlike but actually that’s exactly what made the days there so special. Starting my trip in Myanmar by spending time with locals in totally different ways made me connected to the country and the people in another, new way. While traveling through Myanmar after the first two weeks I’ve found myself quite often in situations I made use of the knowledge and experiences I’ve earned while volunteering. More details about my volunteering time in Myanmar are following in a separate post.
Back on the Backpacker road
Especially after spending 10 days volunteering at one place I realized how much I needed to slow down a bit and to relax for a while. My travel pace during the first two months had been quite fast and it has been time to recharge the batteries. It felt amazing to start exploring Myanmar afterwards and I noticed how much more I could appreciate the new impressions and places. The longer I travel the more I appreciate to spend appropriate time in one place without rushing through a bucket list. The more I see the more I allow myself to close my eyes from time to time to fully enjoy the places and adventures.
Although tourism in Myanmar is not a big business yet you’ll find a ‚typical route‘ and ‚must-sees‘ anyway. But even those touristy places are not really busy with foreigners so that it’s mostly possible to enjoy your time without crowds. Actually I had only 14 days left to travel through the country so I decided quite soon to overstay my visa and still could only follow the most common spots in Myanmar. Of course I managed to see beautiful places, enjoyed breathtaking countrysides and met amazing people along my way but I wished I could have stayed longer.
Not there yet…
Due to the relatively small amount of tourists in Myanmar a lot of ordinary things are not really up-to-date yet. I really tried to take more time for my blog and to upload pictures etc. but it turned out to be almost impossible to find reliable wifi all over the country. Luckily the local SIM cards in Myanmar are super cheap as well so that only my MacBook has been forced to take an involuntarily break.
The infrastructure and especially the road network are still quite simple so that almost every trip seems to take forever. There are a couple of routes that can be taken by train which is even slower than the buses. Therefore the buses are most common as transportation and even the VIP Buses which are quite comfortable for night rides are definitely affordable. Usually those buses provide a big seat (can be adjusted into an almost lying position), water, small snacks and a blanket. A full package for a good price.
And finally: the trash. I’ve seen mountains of rubbish in every single asian country. Sometimes quite small and hidden, sometimes just visible everywhere you may look. Actually the trash was not as much and everywhere apparent as I’ve expected it to be but still it’s a really dirty, trashed country. Especially around Yangon I’ve seen so much rubbish and watching the locals throwing their trash literally everywhere as it is totally fine and normal to do so is really hard to handle. But this is just one part of the different mentalities experiences.
A country full of authenticity
Although I was not always totally thrilled by it, Myanmar is definitely still a country full of authenticity. The locals are living their everyday life mostly still untouched by the foreigners. Everywhere outside the bigger cities the people keep looking at you, observing what you are doing. Many of them haven’t seen any western person before and especially the kids are not really sure what to think about you. A smile most likely helped to make them more comfortable and to overcome doubts, fear and uncertainty. As much as we as travelers take pictures of them, they love to take pictures of us as well. It didn’t happen too often to me as I have dark hair, dark eyes and quite dark skin already but every time I’ve been with blond people they got stopped to take a selfie with them.
In Hpa-An we met a group of young monks at the top of Mount Zwegabin. They kept giggling for a while and finally we ended up taking pictures from each other and with each other. Sometimes we forget that we are at least as interesting for them as they are for us.
Fell in love
Myanmar definitely kept a piece of my heart when I left. It’s hard to describe but feeling so comfortable in a country makes it feel weird, yes even kind of wrong, to leave after spending five weeks there. I will be back, my dear!
Good to know
Although the tourist visa is valid for 28 days it can easily been overstayed. As the visa is non-extendable only a 3 $/day fee will be charged when leaving the country.
Paan alias ‚The red spittle‘
Wondering what all the red spots on the ground are? Spittle from people who are chewing the so called Paan. It is chewed in many asian countries and honestly Myanmar has been the first country I’ve seen it myself. To put it simple Paan is a special composed chewing tobacco with varying ingredients. Locals consuming Paan usually have red or even almost black teeth, gum, tongue and stuffed cheeks. It is super unhealthy and actually totally disgusting. It is definitely a cultural thing and you will barely see a women chewing Paan. But: to each his own!
Thanaka is mostly used by women and children as a cosmetic paste. Besides the beauty aspect they also put it in their face and on their arms to protect themselves from sunburn as well as mosquitos. It is worth a try especially if a kind local lady offers you a beautiful leave out of Thanaka on your cheek.
Most important fact: Super cheap!!! A big bottle of local rum usually only costs about 3000 Kats (1,80€).
Kyats or Dollar?!
More than once I’ve been surprised to see prices in Dollar. The Burmese currency is called Kyat (pronounced: Tschat) but especially in the touristy places the locals tend to use Dollar which is usually more expensive.
Within 5 weeks in Myanmar I’ve been walking more barefoot than in my entire life. At all the pagodas, temples and sacred monuments shoes are most likely forbidden. No matter if you are entering a cave, a pagoda or a monastery: always be ready to take off your shoes to show respect.