10 days spent in a country locked off from the world for generations, visiting two cities; the old and new, lending me a glimpse into Myanmar’s troubled yet deeply rich history. 10 days wasn’t enough.
Highs & Lows
Sunrise in Bagan
Covid-19 forcing me home
Unbeknownst to me at the time, from the moment I flew into Yangon airport on the 8th March 2020, the clock was ticking before a covid-sized timebomb would send shockwaves around the world and me back home.
I would spend only 10 days in this sleeping giant of South East Asia, but the two capitals I would visit: Bagan and Yangon, bridged the gap between the kingdoms of the past its present day rebirth.
I’m a sucker for a sunrise. Many times have I marveled at the sun dragging itself from beneath the horizon. Yet few have taken me aback like the ones in Bagan. With a mist caping the landscape of thousands of pagoda’s, eagerly anticipating the suns gaze, it felt indicative of a country marooned in global isolation for generations: shrowded in mystery, yet ready to reveal its beauty to those who seek it.
There is an option of a hot air balloon ride to watch this spectacle, but equally spectacular was watching the balloons soar into days break from the Sulanami hill viewpoint, one of many available.
To get to such a viewpoint you really need a mo-ped. It’s the best way to travel around Bagan. They’re cheap - $8 a day, and as long as your safe, great fun. Weaving in and amongst the dusty tracks connecting you to the temples is a true highlight of my traveling life.
There’s an obvious hustle about Yangon from the moment you step inside. Its bustling street markets, disordered traffic and ever-present noise everyday life create an energy that at first can be daunting, but eventually you will come to admire. Given that Myanmar was only made open for your average traveler (like myself) in 2012, the application of its people to create a strong service culture is incredible, they really want to take care of you and show you the best of their city. Of such delights is their cuisine, be sure to try Mohinga and especially the Shan Noodles.
Yangon is not a pretty city, but the warmth and generosity of its people is both genuine and heartfelt. They want you to be there. They’ve spent so long in isolation from the world and now they want to be seen.
Q & A
What would you have changed?The Myanmar visa lasts 30 days, so I had just under 3 week left to explore the country. The main two place I would’ve liked to spend time at were Inle Lake and the Dawei Peninsula. I feel at home near bodies of water so I would’ve wanted some time spent both at the colossal lake and the stunning sandy beaches of the south.
Anything go wrong during the trip?Covid! The pandemic sent me home!!
Tips you would give a friend?Embrace the chaos. Although not as manic as some Indian cities, Yangon in particular can be overwhelming but it’s just normal life for them, so throw yourself in and see what comes out the other side!
Packing tips?I went in January which was hot and sticky, so if you do the same then be sure to pack light clothing and plenty of sun cream!
Transportation Tips?The transportation is generally very good for a South East Asian country. My 9 hour night bus from Yangon-Bagan was around $15 and was relatively comfortable. However there were plenty of other bus options ranging from the cheap but uncomfortable, to a more expensive option with sleeping cabins. Aside from buses you have two other choices. The scenic, slow but very affordable train, to the quickest option, a plane (only if you have the money of course).
Any surprises?Then genuine kindness of the people. I’d heard that the people of Myanmar were hospitable, but to see how kind they were in spite of the difficulty they’d experienced through the generations, truly warmed my soul.
Booking details?This is the sad part. There is currently civil unrest and armed conflict in Myanmar which makes travel dangerous. Travel visa’s are now being issued but be sure to do a risk assessment before you travel.