Myanmar/Burma

Jan 30-Feb 10, 2019

Going to Myanmar, I was still pretty nervous about travelling. I knew that Myanmar would be the least set up for tourists and I wondered how “rough” it was going to be. Rough being not being able to get around, no one understanding us, transportation might be sketchy… all these things went through my mind.

Mandalay

We arrived in Mandalay and it was a bit of a culture shock. Myanmar has so much garbage and was so hot. The garbage was really incredible. I wondered why people would just throw so much of their trash on the side of the road. Then I remembered it was like this in Turkey and also a bit in Thailand. I reflected to Luc and he said that they probably don’t have any way of cleaning up their garbage. No trucks come by and get it. So what do you do but throw it away or burn it? It was my first taste a real shock and realizing how good we have it in Canada.

We got to the hotel and went up to our room. Nice enough place but it smelled like kerosene or gas. I was worried about mosquitos as this was a malaria zone and we didn’t have any pills for malaria. It’s a bit of a long story but I should have got them before we left Canada but we didn’t know how long we would be in the Malaria Zones so I didn’t want to over buy as the pills are really expensive. I thought we could get some before we left Switzerland. And then I completely forgot when we were in Switzerland and of course you couldn’t find the pills that I wanted anywhere. There are other pills but one makes you light sensitive (not great in Asia) and the other can cause psychosis.

Luc of course wanted to go out and explore immediately. Me on the other hand just needed to get my bearings. This would be a common theme when travelling from place to place. Luc immediately wanted to explore and me wanting to take an hour or the rest of the day (depending on how long we travelled) to just gather myself. Neither is right or wrong, but it certainly adds to differences and conflicts in what we want to do. What he ended up doing is going outside and hopping on the back of a scooter and riding around Mandalay.

The next morning we changed rooms. I couldn’t sleep because of the smell and Luc thought he saw a bed bug. The we hired a driver who didn’t speak hardly any English and burped all day while driving us around to the sites. Driving through intersections was INSANITY.

We went to the Mandalay Royal Palace which was beautiful, the top of Mandalay hill where there was another temple, Kuthodaw Pagoda that houses the worlds largest book, Shwenandaw Monastery, we had a delicious and huge lunch that is typical Myanmar style with many many dishes to choose from and finally to U Being bridge where there seemed to be hundreds of people there to see the sunset. It was a long day.

The next day we climbed aboard a boat to take us down the Irrawaddy River. It was a wonderful day. What a great way to travel. Smooth, slow, watching the day go by, it was really beautiful. It wasn’t until the end when shit went waaaaaaay sideways.

The boat didn’t have some easy plank you could walk to get off it… it was essentially 1 piece of wood over the river about 50m long with railings that were sometimes on the right, sometimes on the left, sometimes none, sometimes too far away to reach. I lost my shit. First things first, I needed to change my shoes. Which essentially put me as the last tourist to disembark. I think I might have had an anxiety attack. I was crying, and just couldn’t bring myself to walk on this shitty plank. I finally did it but could only take about 4 steps before I started sobbing. It was just too much. By the end of it I was hating the people who drove the boat, hating Myanmar, hating that I had to do this, hating everything about it. Of course Luc, on the other hand saw the plank and thought “what fun!” I’m telling you, sometimes I just can’t handle it.

Walking the plank
One of the worst moments in South East Asia

We hiked up the hill after and someone was waiting there with a car to take us to the hotel. Small miracles. And then we got stopped as we needed to pay some fee before entering into Bagan. Which broke the bank for us and we had no idea about.

Bagan

We checked into our hotel again and I broke down crying. The hotel seemed like it could house bugs of all kinds. I think after all the bed bug incidents, I’m suffering from PTSD a bit because bugs just really creep me out now. I wondered why we had come here. So far I was NOT having a good time.

We slept and were awoken by either a dog fight, a rooster crowing, or birds that were landing on our tin roof. I was feeling sick like the beginnings of a cold so we totally stopped for that day and just chilled out. Luc couldn’t (of course) so he rented an ebike (electric scooter) and cruised around to different places. We watched the sunset and then took in a puppet show which is a thing in Myanmar to see.

Two things we learned while there: when two dogs are stuck together (because we saw this twice) and about the monks of Myanmar as they are everywhere. This also led to learning about Buddhism too.

The next morning we rented ebikes and it was sooooo fun! I was of course a bit scared to go at first but after a while it was so wonderful to be able to see all the temples in Bagan by bike. There really is no other way that gives you that freedom to just go at your own pace and see everything you want to see. I adored the ebike. It reminded me of when I was on the Camino and rented a bike and just got to go and be free.

The next morning we walked to a temple to watch the sunrise and see the hot air balloons over Bagan. What a sight to see. One of the highlights of the trip to see this gorgeous view. On the way back we were assaulted with the smell of burning plastic everywhere we went. It was revolting. I wasn’t sure at this point if it was the burning that was causing my cough or a cold but I continued to have it for a few weeks after Bagan.

Yangon

We took the longest bus we took the whole trip which was 12 hours this day. It was long but not too bad. A ton of garbage all along the side of the road. We lost a few things getting off this bus as I think we felt a bit rushed and it was dark and we were tired. We got to the train station and so many people trying to get you to take their taxi. It all becomes quite a lot to deal with after such a long day. So we didn’t have GRAB yet, so we were forced to go with the taxi queue to get to our hotel. The taxi didn’t have seat belts and it was really terrible. When it would stop, the car would fill up with smoke and I would choke and cough. It was terrible. After such a long trip, I was done.

Then we had about 6 days in Yangon. It was nice to just slow down and take things easy. I think Luc thought that it was entirely too long to be in one place.

The hotel was nice and the breakfast was pretty good. We started using GRAB to go everywhere and GRAB is just amazing. We don’t have Uber in Victoria, but it’s similar and soooo cheap.

The things we did: walked around the lake that was there, visited a beautiful garden, did a walking tour (on our own) in Yangon, visited a French patisserie, went to a super cold mall (oh the relief!), visited more temples and almost got scammed by a guy who wanted $20/gold leaf that we put on a tree (one for Jaedyn too of course). We ended up giving him $5 as he told us some interesting things as we moved around the temple. I think he was pretty disappointed.

We also took a train that was supposed to take us on a circular route but it was broken somewhere along the track so we could only go out and back. We really got to see some of the poverty stricken parts of Yangon on this train. Also on the train they sold everything you could possibly want.

Something that I wasn’t prepared for was what the locals eat. I thought it was chewing tobacco but it’s something called a Betel Nut Chew. They chew these leaf things that turn their mouth and teeth red. It’s a source of pride for them but for me, it was actually really hard to look at them with these crazy red mouths. At first I thought it was a drug that they put inside the chews, but after doing some research, I realized it makes them feel like they’ve had a couple of cups of coffee.

We ended our stay with an Italian feast at the Italian Embassy. What a thing to find! Food was delicious and so was the wine!

We had one night at a place with a pool before heading back to Thailand.

Reactions:

We had many mixed reactions about us going to Myanmar. Some people were nervous for us while others told us we shouldn’t miss out. We had one person say that they wouldn’t give their tourist money given the recent history of the country. It definitely was the country that I’ve had the most unsettling feeling in. I don’t really need to go back and see Myanmar again.

We decided not to go to the Philippines given some of the unrest that’s happening there.

I think Vivi might have had the hardest time there because everyone seemed to want to touch her and take photos with her and she really doesn’t like being touched by strangers. We have been practicing asking people not to touch her and saying no with the photo taking. This experience has given her a lot of practice telling people not to touch her and by the time she’s grown up she will be very well versed in saying what’s ok and what’s not ok for her.

Click to watch video of our Myanmar Trip
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Linda
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Linda

1980s Bolivia also had a lot of garbage around, maybe not as much as you saw. In our village we took care of our garbage by composting (really eaten by animals), burning our excess paper (and the neighbours asked if we were cooking!!) and burying (our few items, like my nurse roommate’s needles – wondering what someone would think in the future if they found them). In the city, in a later trip, I did see a garbage truck in an outlying poorer neighbourhood. One large dump truck and 9 people. 2 men on either side throwing bags of garbage… Read more »

Greg Jonuk
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Greg Jonuk

I’ve been reading all of your posts, living vicariously though your travel tales. Sorry I haven’t commented recently. I don’t know how I would react to a razor thin plank-walk or bedbugs. I can’t say I’ve experienced either yet. My kryptonite is cliff diving, I would make a terrible spy/action hero. For some reason, while reading your Myanmar fun, I was thinking of a challenging day we spent in Tangiers. Right from the ferry landing we were constantly approached by young and old looking for a slice of our good fortune. I can’t fault them for asking, and at the… Read more »