A complex land steeped in tradition, scattered with gilded pagodas and with the most beautiful sunsets on earth, in my humble opinion, a trip to Myanmar will not disappoint.
Rudyard Kipling wrote:
“This is Burma. It will be quite unlike any land you know about”.
He happens to be right, even over a century later, a holiday to Myanmar really was unlike anything I had experienced before.
In the capital of Yangon there is the bustle of traffic, workers, school children and women with their Thanaka painted faces – I later learned this was for beauty as well as for sun protection. There is much poverty here juxtaposed between the golden stupa which stands as the head of the city.
The Shwedagon Paya was unlike anything I had experienced before, the sun glaring down and dazzling all who look upon her. The complex beneath her feet, a warren of locals and tourists roaming the prayer areas and rooms within. The locals were friendly and smiley, I must have seemed so strange to them a six-foot-tall, blonde, western woman, roasting in the glare of the Shwedagon’s golden heat. There were monks everywhere in the city, either on their way to prayer or to schooling, some as young as seven years old begin as novices.
We visited a local bakery, Yangon Bakehouse, where they had a program to help women from difficult backgrounds. The founder’s idea that as the country began to open, an opportunity existed for women in Myanmar to become more empowered through skills training and education. Making entrepreneurs and creating a community of sisters wherein they are economically empowered, educated, and active in society.
Myanmar can feel like you have stepped back into an older version of the world, where technology is not as prominent, it is a different type of life. You will encounter men wearing longyi, sarong-like cloth and chewing betel nut, spitting its blood-red juice on the ground. The simple pleasures of travel remain intact here, for example travelling to Bagan was an adventure itself with my mode of transport, an old-style propeller plane 2 seats to 2 seats inside, in fact I think we may have been the only travellers that day.
The view over the land was immense, lush green fields spread as far as the eye could see with the occasional stupa poking out amongst the oxbow lakes of the river. Bagan was a complete change of pace to Yangon, there was no bustle here. Just what seemed to me like complete and utter peace.
Across its plains lay over 4000 sacred stupas, a sight quite like nothing I had ever seen before. We climbed to the top of one to experience the sunset, as the mist of the evening seemed to draw in, the sky turned to fire with reds, oranges, golden light beams and absolute silence, expect for maybe the shutter of a camera. It took my breath away, the beauty of nature, the complexity of a landscape containing these structures which celebrated life, death, and rural traditional values.
I also experienced the ladies of the Kayan tribe in Bagan, who wear brass coils around their neck their entire lives in order to lengthen it. The belief is the longer the neck, the more beautiful the woman. These coils can weigh up to 20 kgs, making quite literal the saying beauty is pain, no matter what society you live in it seems.
Ngapali Beach! This quiet, still pristine beach was the final stop on our tour of Myanmar. Set along the blissful Bay of Bengal, I had never seen a place so untouched on my travels. The sand still white and soft underfoot, litter free and the water so turquoise and clear that when fishing, metres down you can still see the bait. The food is so fresh here, you can walk down the beach to the fishing village and see them bring in their catch. The cost to eat dinner out here is fair and has not been hit by tourism much yet so you can eat local and try out lots of different restaurants.
Walking along the beach at sunset was a real treat, the landscape giving us a picture-perfect finish to the day, with the crabs out in their numbers as they are mostly undisturbed. The perfect setting for a sundowner as I contemplated the immense sense of calm my experience in Myanmar had brought me. We heard cowbells in the distance and a slow shake in the ground when before us appeared oxen pulling a load along the beach. This time old tradition had not ended for them, their traditional rituals live on in present day and made me truly cherish my time in this land of golden wonders.