Summer 2012. Myanmar.
It was my first travel to Asia, and it remains the most magical one. Knowing little about the country kind of help because at the time, my curiosity was sent through the roof! Now 3 years later, I genuinely believed that it was the most amazing trip of my entire (little) life!
I will share with you some of the reason why I fall in love with the Burmese landscape and why you should no wait any longer and head to Myanmar.
I was first skeptical, back in 2012, Myanmar was sadly more famous for its political instability rather than its tourism industry.
I saw a few pictures online that made me reconsidered my narrow judgement, I have to admit, there is some kind of mystery around the country that mesmerized me.
∴ Paris – Bangkok – Yangon.
Yangon is an hour flight away from Bangkok airport.
On day 1, after a smooth check in into a local guesthouse, I decided to explore Yangon by night, camera in hand, with an itinerary more or less laid out in advance.
Beginning and ending in Yangoon, the trip took me to all the classic locations for which Myanmar is rightfully famed: Yangon (Rangoon), Inle Lake, Mandalay and Bagan.
First impression. Yangon comes across as a sprawling city with a relatively small downtown area. The British colonial influence is still evident. Yangon remains a semi-rural city, with dirt roads and old downtown buildings. In 1989, the current military junta who runs the country, changed the city’s name to “Yangon”, however many have not accepted the changes.
On my day 2, I visited the awe glorious Shwedagon Pagoda, “the crown jewel of Burma.” Magic. This world famous temple is Myanmar’s most sacred site.
Rudyard Kipling on his brief visit to Burma in 1889 describe it as the “The winking wonder”. There is was standing in front of me! You quickly realized how a beautiful building can move a person but a building that has been said to be covered in more gold than in all the vaults in England can take your breath away!
The following days, I ventured through the the chaotic Yangon Riverbank and the crowded street markets of Chinatown with its tiny lanes crowded with local food stalls and young children in pyjamas tucking into a pre bedtime snack on the street.
It was unthinkable to me that a day could pass me by without heading out to explore some of the remotest regions of this beautiful country.
∴ The land of smiles
Rather, with a smile and hello spoken in Burmese (min-ga-la-ba), faces light up radiantly.
More naturally friendly people are hard to find. If other countries proclaim that they are the land of smiles, Myanmar is surely the land of the BIG smile.
Mandalay is the second biggest city and the former capital of Myanmar. The most interesting part is probably the taxi ride up in an open cart up a windy road.
Arrived at Mandalay hills, I was courageous enough take the south gate and walk 1729 stairs up to the top.
Fascinating and spiritual climb.One of the best aspects was talking to people on the way up. They practised English and I learnt about the culture and history of the Hill and the old palace. In this wonderful old building, constructed in the traditional style, were several very young students being taught by a senior monk in a most reverential and timeless way.
The entrance to the stairway is protected by two Chinthes, huge leogryphs that often guard temples or pagodas in Southeast Asia. The Chinthe is also on the Kyat, Burma’s official currency.
→ Bagan, a bicycle ride away
More than 3,500 religious buildings, temples, pagodas, monasteries and halls have survived the centuries and earthquakes. A mystic vibe surrounded the 40 sq km of plain.
Wandering around the area and discovering these buildings was an exceptionally rewarding.
Picture credit: TWJ