Mingalabar Myanmar

Trip Start Mar 10, 2005
1
13
Trip End Ongoing


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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Apart from the map pin entry going very askew, all is going pretty well and am safe and sound in Bangkok after a month in Burma (actually Myanmar as its known by the locals.)

Myanmar - think no fast food shops, traditional clothing (longys), no Western brands, no foreign books or magazines, horse drawn carriages, rickshaws...and behind the scenes, enforced by the military junta dictating the country... forced labour, censored media, villages burned, forbidden tourist travel zones...and all still happening in the 21st century.

Yangon - the first impression of Myanmar was bleak - the place felt like a hollow desolate shell of a city disintegrating buildings, potholed side streets and everything a dull grey/brown stain which seemed indicative of the desperate situation the country is in with the miltiary junta stifiling as much colour and light that tries to filter in. After a couple of days in Yangon while discovering the great Indian food, Shwedagon Pagoda (golden sprawl of beauty) and the tea shop culture (jasmine/chinese tea on side street tables, orders of tea/coffee (always teeth clenchingly sweet) and a range of greasy to yum samosas or cake like snacks) the sun finally fought its way through the clouds and transformed the place.

There is a real mix of people here in Myanmar - a lot look Indian and are very dark although some are distintinctly Chinese or a mixture. Their open friendliness is something that strikes me again and again in each place throughout Myanmar. The same openness and 'touch-feely-ness' that I'd imagine India to be like - only on a calmer scale. One incident on the first day in a teashop really highlights the difference between the Western and Asian cultures and still makes me smile when I think of it. A plate of mini samosas and snacks arrived with the tea - I asked how much the snacks were and the waiter promptly grabbed a samosa with his hands "What this one?", he fingered the samosa some more before replying " Yes, for this one, 25 kyat" and returned the samosa neatly to the plate and smiled innocently.

Pyay - there is a big buddha here - 10 storeys high. Mmmm thats all really.

Bagan - Not really comparable to anywhere else I have been - Bagan is a spread of different types of pagodas that sprawl across four tiny villages and all the overgrown countryside and ploughed fields in between. I took a horese drawn carriage around the sights which was a perfect way to get them all done in one day. A really beautiful sight - from smaller simple stone stupas to huge terraced red or white/grey pagodas housing Angkor Wat style sculptures, the obligatory buddha - some in gold leaf and lavishly decorated, and paintings in others (these along with a lot of other relics are being eroded by time, bats, light etc and according to one of the temple gate keepers the paintings are no longer being cleaned as the UN has withdrawn the supply of donated ammonium peroxide ). Many countries sanction Myanmar and large companies and organisations have pulled out to put pressure on the government who remain largely unaffected as they are supplied by China - it is the people who suffer from lack of jobs etc.

Mandalay
"Get thee to Mandalay!" so I did, and found a really fantastic Indian teashop where the ordering and waiting is transformed to a pavement spectacle with the noise and bustle of calling orders and slamming down teas and airing chapatis. Most waiters in the tea shops tend to be 6 - 10 years old and keep this little place like a well run ship!

PyinU Lwin - Unimpressive hill station with nothing to indicate its relevance or beauty really until you get on a bike and cycle outside the town where colonnial style buildings line the streets with well tended gardens that reminded me of Kenya. Beautiful flowerbeds, tropical plants and everyone cycling or walking home after work shouting "Hello!" as I cycled past.
Train from Pyin U Lwin to Hsipaw in the north - pleasing wooden seats made up the economy class reminding me of thai trains 6 years ago (now the transport in Thailand is so slick especially modern trains with sleeping berths and sheets etc that although more comfortable, the rural rustic charm has somewhat disappeared. This remains throughout Myanmar - the product of sanctions against the country that has insulated it from the growing westernisation of South East Asia.

Inle Lake - sigh. Lovely landscape - a valley indented with a huge lake with lillys and lotus flowers. The locals have used the lake for tourism - floating markets draw the crowds, as well as their home - many stilted houses and workshops cluster in certain parts of the lake. Parts have even been turned into vegetable patches which has receded the lake but still adds to the amazing diversity and beauty of the place. More in photos ...

And with that....Im now off to China with a craving for dim sum and a fear of getting spat on! Will try getting some more cheesy shots with the next batch. Till then xx
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