Oh Myanmar, why I am totally in love with you
Dear Myanmar, within the three weeks we spent together last year I had the honour to get to know you a little and I have to say I’m totally in love with you.
You are just magical with all your golden pagodas, your super-friendly people and adventures waiting on every corner. You are so rich in culture that I could travel endlessly in your lands and never get bored.
You know, I crossed from Thailand over on that little long-boat from Ranong to Kawthaung. And then when I was in your southernmost city in Kawthaung, I found out I wasn’t allowed to take the road up north towards Yangon.
But restrictions don’t limit me, they just make travelling more adventurous!
At that time you were still ruled by a military-backed government and travelling was quite restricted. Nonetheless that didn’t lower my curiosity in getting to know about you and your people, it just made travelling more adventurous.
There were just so many rules which your government came up with to control the tourists and make them not interact too much with your people.
So it was forbidden for tourists to stay with your people and they would never invite you to their homes because they didn’t want to get any trouble. Also camping was forbidden and when someone would see you on their land they would immediately call the police to avoid getting in trouble. So actually as a tourist every night you should stay in an overpriced hotel suitable for tourists.
Luckily all these rules didn’t apply to me since I’m not a tourist but a traveller. I had some difficulties explaining that to the immigration police, but more about that later on.
So I slept everywhere but in official hotels! I slept in trucks, got invited by locals, sneaked on a field at night and pitched my hammock, and many times I got invited by some nice monks to sleep in their monastery.
Myanmar, Myanmar, I must say I felt a little sorry for you and your population being suppressed by a military regime.
But I must tell you, I was pleasantly surprised how much you were opening up and how happy your people seemed to be. I was walking along the streets smiling at the people and I got such a golden smile from the bottom of their heart back from almost everyone. I learned to speak a little Burmese, just the basic phrases, but the people were so happy and thankful. When I walked into a local restaurant (one of these bamboo huts with benches serving some local dishes) and I greeted the people with “Minglabar!”, the people were joyfully greeting me back and offered me to join their group.
Oh, how much I enjoyed hitchhiking your roads!
You know what, I was really surprised when I started hitchhiking and saw how good it went on your roads.
I started hitchhiking in Myiek in the very South and was aiming for Yangon. The fist vehicle that stopped was a truck with a very friendly driver who offered me to take me to the next city. When I found out he was also going to Yangon he said, no problem he can take me there, it will take only three days. So three days I spent with this super-friendly truck driver in his truck on the road to Yangon. He kept inviting me and I invited him back and the nights he slept outside in a hammock so I could sleep in his cabin. So nice! And when we arrived in Yangon he offered me to sleep in the storage room of the company he’s working for.
Anyway, I didn’t spend too much time in your inofficial capitol in Yangon. I just applied for the Indian visa, left my passport at the Indian embassy and went right towards Kalaw at the famous Inle Lake. I took the cheapest bus up North which went to Mandalay, got off half the way and hitchhiked the rest of the way to Kalaw.
When I arrived in Kalaw I realized that it’s full of tourists all doing the same guided tour through the same villages hiking to Inle Lake. So I told myself, no I can’t do the same boring tourist stuff as everyone and decided to hitchhike down south to Loikaw in Kayah State.
Holy balls! That was probably the most adventurous route I ever hitchhiked. At first it seemed like an endless hike and no cars going on that dirt track of a road. But after a little hiking and a few rides on some tractors I made it half the way and stopped for some street noodles in Pinlaung.
Filled with new energy I continued hitchhiking and managed to stop one of these local truck buses which go between the cities. The driver offered me to take me for free, I just have to sit on the roof because it was so packed! What a ride! 😀
And then I got another ride on the back of a truck and just before evening set in a comfortable car taking me to Pekon not far from Loikaw.
Seriously? In your country about everyone is (or was at least) police, just not in uniform.
When we arrived in Pekon, the driver told me that there is a cheap hotel where I could stay the night. So we walked into the hotel and the guy at the reception immediately called the police when he saw me (later I found out the hotel wasn’t an official tourist hotel and there was non in town, so the guy didn’t know what to do with me and called the police).
When I realized that he’s calling the police, I ran off. Unfortunately I didn’t get far. At the market there was one guy who was waiving me towards him and I thought, oh a nice local, maybe he can help me. Well, I found out he was also police, just not in uniform. And then the most unfriendly immigration police lady appeared.
They took me to the police station and started asking many questions. Oh, this woman was so pissed off. When I told her that my passport is at Indian Embassy in Yangon and I can only give them a copy she told me, “You lie me!”. I told her that I want to go to Laikow. She told me, “It’s impossible for you to go to Laikow!”.
And after arguing a little with the police they took me to the bus station and told me, “You take the bus back to Pinlaung where you came from!”. So they waited two hours with me to make sure I get on the bus. While the bunch of police officers were waiting at the bus station, I sat down in a close-by restaurant and with my few phrases of Burmese I was entertaining the whole restaurant having lots of fun! 🙂
And when the bus came the immigration police lady told me, “You pay the bus now to Pinlaung and then you stay there the night in the official hotel”.
I told her that, I’m not going to pay for the bus. And she freaked out, “What!? You don’t have any money!? Are you crazy!? You have two options, either you pay for the bus, or you stay the night in jail.” So I calmed her down and bargained with the driver to take me there for half the price. When I left she went, “I’m not happy that I met you and I want to see you never again!”.
In Pinlaung I stayed the night in the official hotel and the next morning I just hitchhiked back to Pekon. Avoiding the police I hitched right through and made it to Laikow without a big deal.
In Laikow I met two Dutch travellers I joined for a beer and they showed me the Lonely Planet with a full page about the most unfriendly police lady. And I had the luck to run into her! 🙂
Myanmar, you are full of interesting tribes!
It fascinates me how many different ethnic groups are living in your country. All with their own very interesting history. From the Padaung tribe, a hill tribe famous for the golden rings stretching their neck unnaturally long to the Chin tribe with the women with distinctive facial tattoos.
After having a few beer with some nice local guys in Loikaw, they invited me to stay with them for the night. They thought it would be to dangerous for me to camp in the park. So I accepted thankfully.
The next day I hitchhiked to Demoso where I found a driver who would drive me through the hills to a village were the Padaung People are living.
They were performing and posing for me, expecting some money in exchange. Instead of just giving them money, I bought a hand crafted scarf and a bag from them.
They can also be found in Thailand, known as Kayan people. But they are refugees who fled from the civil war and are now in the tourist business in Thailand. Also on Inle Lake and Bagan there is a family each making money from tourists.
After Laikow and Demoso, I hitchhiked back again to Pekon and took a local long-boat up the Inle Lake to Nyaungshwe. It was a five hour long boat trip in the direct sun on the lake, but it was really interesting going with the locals sitting on the planks of the boat and going up North while all the tourists come from the opposite direction, sitting in their comfortable chairs mounted to the boats and you know they paid ten times the price you paid.
And then all the golden pagodas, stupas and temples.
Myanmar, you wouldn’t be what you are without the Buddhism, all the temples with their pagodas sparkling full of gold and the monks bringing all to life.
Several times I stood in amazement in front of a massive pagoda coated with loads of gold. The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, or the ancient Pagodas in Bagan are just stunning.
But what makes the temples special to me is the monks breathing life into the temples. Often I went to the monasteries to join the monks for their evening prayer. They always welcomed me and after the prayer I was sitting together with the monks over a chat and some chai. Many times they offered me food although they don’t eat anything themselves after noon.
And quite often I could even sleep in the monasteries. Anyway, it was always very delightful conversations with the monks and I learned a lot when they showed me around their temple or took me to some sacred sites.
But one thing really puts me off!
And that’s the fact that nearly everyone is chewing beetle nut. Your streets and your pavements are full of red spit from people spitting the beetle nut out. It happened several times that I walked along the road and then suddenly someone spits his red disgusting slime in front of me on the ground. Or I met a girl who appeared very beautiful, until she smiled at me and showed me her red teeth. I tried it once and found out that it tastes even more disgusting than it seems!
But all together I must say… Myanmar, you are just amazing and I’m so glad we met! I’m already looking forward on the next time we run into each other!