I just returned earlier this week from a trip to Myanmar. After a disappointing summer where I had to cancel all my China travel plans due to aggravating my foot, I was glad to finally be able to do some traveling, the quitting-my-job kind. Myanmar, formerly Burma, is a country in Southeast Asia that has a mystical reputation due to its sudden opening up a few years ago politically. This means that it went from being one of the world’s most closed and repressive nations to a burgeoning democracy (elections will be in November) and another potential SE Asian tourism hotspot.
I had mixed thoughts about Myanmar, where I went to Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay.
First, the positives – the people, especially service staff, are very polite, the streets felt safe as pickpocketing is not a problem (especially for tourists), and the public toilets were generally clean, which was very surprising and a big positive (the worse one was comparable to an average toilet in Beijing). Interestingly, food places were also clean, whether it be restaurants or roadside stalls, though I noticed the streets often had litter and I saw people toss things like food wrappers onto the ground. As it was the rainy season and very hot, there were hardly any tourists, even in Bagan, and there was a lack of Chinese tour groups. I saw two NLD (National League of Democracy, the opposition party that Aung San Suu Kyi leads) processions as well as numerous cars with NLD stickers and scarves, a nice sign of political liberalization.
However, there were a few negatives. It was very hot and the sun was devastating (I got very dark sunburn on my arms and face), sometimes I got glares from people (the drawback of it being the low season for tourists), and whilst the people are courteous, I experienced a few dishonest and irritating interactions towards the end. The worst was being ripped off by a taxi driver at the Yangon bus terminal after I arrived on the overnight bus at 6am who lied by claiming it was more expensive since it was in the morning, and another annoying one was being charged for a bottled water at a restaurant which I thought was free. Also, while it was amusing when it happened and looking back at it now, being hassled by vendors and “guides” at every temple I stopped at in Bagan was really annoying. I was really polite, perhaps too polite, and perhaps I could have ignored them.
There were good and bad things about the places I went to, but I’ll touch on them in specific posts.
All in all, I found Myanmar, especially Yangon, to be quite interesting. It was more bustling than Cambodia and the people in general had decent English ability, especially taxi drivers. Bagan was just as impressive as Angkor, which it is sometimes compared to. However, I didn’t “fall in love” with the country like some people do, and I didn’t like it as much as Vietnam which still remains my favorite SE Asian country.
I flew from Taipei to Kuala Lumpur, then flew from there to Yangon, formerly Rangoon and the former capital, then flew to Bagan and spent 3 full days there, moved on to Mandalay by minibus. I did a daytrip to places around Mandalay like Sagaing and Inwa and spent a further half-day going around Mandalay itself. I then took an overnight bus back to Yangon again.
-the numerous British colonial-era buildings and diverse places of worship including churches, mosques and Hindu temples
-Shwedagon Paya, the country’s most impressive and sacred Buddhist site featuring a giant golden stupa
-the surrounding places like Inwa, Amarapura and Sagaing, which feature religious sites, a teak bridge, and rural villages
-Mandalay Hill, which gives you a great 360-degree view of the city, the neighboring Irrawaddy River, and the mountains in the distance