As a former colony which fell into the hands of a military junta, it is surprising how much of this country still remains unspoiled. Culture, tradition and people’s smiles are, once again, stronger than politicians and guns. Farewell Myanmar, we have learnt so much from you!
Introducing some funny facts
There seems to be a pattern with countries ruled by some form of dictatorship: they all end up having some rather bizarre laws. We learned about it in Turkmenistan and Myanmar was no different.
The first one hits you even before you arrive:
We are going to Myanmar
Ah – I see
The government has changed the country’s name twice since 1989, something that other nations are reluctant to recognise. Wikipedia, as always, has a wonderful article explaining the whole thing.
As a former British colony, traffic used to operate on the left hand side of the road. But in 1970, General Ne Win directed traffic to switch sides, overnight. Depending on who you ask, it was an attempt to move away from the colonial times or a premonition he had on one of his dreams. The vast majority of the cars still have right hand steering though including public buses. Yes, the passengers door is on the wrong side. Safe, very safe indeed.
And then there is the story behind the capital city of Naypyidaw, explained in our post about Yangon. Speaking of which, there are no motorbikes in Yangon. Not a single one. Apparently, motorbikes were involved in too many accidents and linked with criminal activities and someone in power decided to banned them. But only in Yangon!?
How about the food?
Unlike Thailand or China, tourism has not arrived in big numbers here yet, which means that mid range options are thin on the ground. The pursuit for the real experience can sometimes be hit and miss.
Don’t get me wrong though, the food in Myanmar can be good, really good. Basic ingredients are combined in ways you would not have thought possible. Tea leaf salads and carrot salads were a pleasant discovery.
And then of course, the ubiquitous Shan Noodles. Not two bowls taste the same, but that is part of the fun.
Should I go to Myanmar?
It depends on what kind of traveler you are really. This country may not be everyone’s cup of tea. For example: overnight buses can be rough but the alternatives are even slower (train) or unreliable (planes). Accommodation is basic and perhaps not particularly cheap – for South East Asia standards. And food can sometimes feel too authentic. But if all that sounds ok and places like Yangon or Bagan look like your sort of place, then you are in for a good adventure.
There is character and tradition behind every corner. Time is taking its time in Myanmar and it does not look like its people are in a rush to change the way certain things are done.
But there are other things which are about to change. The NLD, led by nobel prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, recently won the general election, putting an end to decades of military rule. Looks like the people of Myanmar want something different.
Ah, the people. It is easy to get lost in words, so if I was to choose one that would be cheerful. And it is such a good feeling to be surrounded by cheerful people.
A sunrise for ever
The country currently hangs in a wonderful sweet spot: for the vast majority of time, it feels real, untouched and unspoiled by big multinationals. Yet the infrastructures have improved a lot in the last few years and roaming around the place and finding a hotel are now pretty straightforward. If you don’t mind slow journeys or basic rooms that is. The benefits of this sweet spot? Views like these are never too far away:
How long will this all last for? Not long. Myanmar is changing fast. No matter how remote you are, there will always be a TV on, showing Premier League games. There will be a cold coke in the fridge and with any luck, someone on the street will drive with the Venga Boys pumping on their stereo. Boom, boom, boom, boom!
Other things will, hopefully, remain the way they are. In the middle of writing this post I asked Paula to name the one thing that had made this trip so special. She did not hesitate.
The sunrise in Bagan.
Yes, we agree on that one. It was indeed something special.