Myanmar: 10 Major Impressions, Our Route and Tips
Русская версия We spent only 5 days in Myanmar, and we are very sad about it: we should have taken more from our trip around Thailand. Myanmar is really great, not spoilt with tourists yet, very friendly and unusual. Further we will tell about those things which impressed us most in this country.
1. The name.
Even though the country has been officially named “Myanmar” in English since 1989, many still call it “Burma”, as it used to be named as an English colony. Both names are contradictory: “Burma” symbolizes the colonial past, while “Myanmar” as a purely Burmese name reflects the policy of domination of the ethnic Burman majority over the minorities. The regime changed the name of the country in English; it did not change the official name of the country in Burmese: this enhances the confusion too.
People are always the major impression – whether good or bad. When we were flying from Thailand to Myanmar, an American told us that people in Myanmar are extremely friendly. We objected saying that in Thailand people are nice too, but he insisted that Myanmar people will seem even more strikingly friendly. Indeed, it was already on the bus from the airport in Yangon that the conductor did not take the money from us. On the same day we had lunch, enjoyed the food a lot, and asked the waiter to tell the names of the dishes to us. The whole restaurant came up to us, and people started to translate the names in google translate: “mythological white noodle”, “pie forest”, etc. The guesthouse manager gave us a free ride to the airport. As soon as you ask a Myanmar person about something, he or she will do for you even more than you need.
3. The division into the white and the Burmese.
In Myanmar, it is still easy to follow the colonial track. The white were called “farangs” here, although nobody will call you like that into your face now. You may read a lot about this and other colonial developments in Myanmar in George Orwell’s book “Burmese Days”. Many things have certainly changed since the novel was written, but the division is in many ways the same. For instance, in many public places there are separate toilets for the locals and the foreigners: the former ones are just the holes in the floor, while the latter have clean lavatory pans. Being five days in Myanmar, we never saw a farang on a public bus: they go by taxies, since this is not expensive and not as “humiliating” as going by bus with the locals. The locals were very much surprised when seeing us on the bus. Also, there are separate guest houses for foreigners and locals – the foreigners’ ones are not much better, but much more expensive. The prices for transport (e.g. ferry) are sometimes higher for the foreigners as if they weigh more. The whole situation triggered by the feeling of superiority of the white resembles Africa, where “farangs” are called “mzungu”, but the division is the same.
4. Social policies.
This is another sad story of Myanmar. If you are poor, your children and further generation will hardly be able to become a middle-class. The education requires payments in Myanmar, on the average, 700 dollars per semester in the university. To compare: when we were at Inle lake we paid 25000 kyat or 20 dollars for a day boat trip. The boat driver got… 1000 kyat or less than a dollar – 4% for the whole day of work from it. We certainly left a tip for him, and he earns something else in the guesthouse where he works too, but still, with such an income – how can he give education to his only son? Moreover, he and his wife are not going to have more children: raising even one is a lot of money. For instance, the healthcare is not free too. If you do not have your own boat or education, it is difficult to survive.
5. Inle lake
is one of our favorite sights of Myanmar. People build their houses on water here, fish, and grow food. Having seen over 50 countries, we should admit that the whole landscape was novel and fascinating for us.
is our second favorite sight. Bagan is a town where more than 2200 Buddhist buildings are concentrated, erected more than a thousand years ago. The mustsee of Bagan are the sunset and sunrise.
Also, we recommend to rent an e-bike to see as many sights as possible. Renting e-bikes out is indeed a very efficient and ecologic solution for tourists, which stroke Victor even more that the sunrise or sunset. Moreover, you do not need a taxi driver now to see many wats in one day.
By the way, renting the real bike is prohibited for foreigners to prevent them from accidents.
What you really do not expect from Myanmar is some special food, in vain. We recommend noodle and the fermented tea salads, pies, cakes, and various carries served with rice. This is complemented with many kinds of fruits and descent coffee. Our favorite place was Khaing Khaing Kyaw in Yangon – this is a chain with several cafes in different parts of the capital.
8. Intercity buses.
In Myanmar we were riding the best buses in our lives. Unexpectedly, the night intercity buses were not just fine – they were luxurious. Although we have to admit that this luxury was available at one company only – JJ Express, on the way from Yangon to Inle (on the way back they provided the same bus, but without TVs). The photos from their websites are real, you may book the ticket by writing to them on FB, on the bus they offer snacks, and the staff is extremely polite.
Other buses also pretended to be luxurious, but were not so fancy as JJ Express.
In Myanmar, they accept dollars along with kyats, but American banknotes only after 2003, without any damage. Make sure you have new banknotes with you to survive.
10. Everyday life.
On the arrival, you will immediately see men wearing skirts – pieces of cloth around their tights. Women wear the same cloths, but put them on in a different way.
Moreover, both men and women put tanaka (or thanaka) – powder made from special wood – on their faces. It is yellowish, very useful for your skin, and protects you from the sun – that is why it is sold well a souvenir for the foreigners. For the Burmese, tanaka is a part of tradition: it is considered to be beautiful and whitening the skin.
Also, on your arrival in the airport you will immediately see red blots from betel nut spits. It is used as tobacco – to get tipsy and not to get sleepy; also, it is considered to refresh the breath. On the other hand, it is very harmful for the teeth and unpleasant aesthetically. The Myanmar government struggles against this habit with the help of public social announcements, and the Burmese we talked to also understand how unhealthy this is. Yet, not many give up.
These are the impressions we got from Myanmar. Within five days we visited:
1 Day. Yangon
2, 3 Day. Inle lake
4 Day. Bagan
5 Day. Yangon
On the whole, we recommend this country for a longer term. Myanmar seemed very safe. Also it is easy to move around: the buses are so comfortable, that after the whole nights you spend there, you may spend the whole days seeing the sights. And we will tell about the sights more…