Just the journey to Myanmar was eventful. With my foot still in a cast, I had three flights from South India to Myanmar. Some airlines were more accommodating than others. IndiGo win hands down with their efficient and helpful service! The ground staff at Bangkok however, wanted me to hop up the steps to the plane. On the last step I slipped -but thankfully the person behind me had my back when I lost my balance, which stopped me sending myself and forty people tumbling down the stairs!
After arriving and getting some much needed sleep, I went out and ordered dumplings as I was staying in China town. This was ridiculously exciting as I had been missing Chinese food since leaving China. The street food there was really tasty…obviously I can’t comment on the meat options, but you can take a look for yourselves.
The first few days were spent in Yangon, exploring the city and visiting sights such as the incredible Shwedagon Pagoda (below) and Bogyoke Aung San Market. One of the problems with visiting these places in the height of summer is that you have to remove your shoes and socks (if for some strange reason you are wearing socks when it is 40 degrees). The floor is boiling hot so I think I would have needed a wheelchair for that reason alone, even if I hadn’t had my cast!
The Burmese people are extremely friendly and welcoming and they want to help where they can. Unexpectedly, this proved pretty problematic whilst I was using my crutches. I would be approaching a cafe or restaurant and staff would come rushing out enthusiastically and despite my reassurances that I’d got this (it had now been over a month after all), they still felt it necessary to place their hands on the top parts of my arms and lift them up whilst I was still moving. Given that in order to use crutches you have to put all your weight on them in order to swing forward, this caused a lot of wobbling and near falls! They never seemed to understand how they weren’t helping…
In many countries in Asia they have the same types of shops together which is very handy when you know what you are looking for. There is no jumping around other parts of town to compare prices – they are all lined up next to each other (it’s like a real life Amazon). If you want lights, you’ll find 15-20 shops all lined up next to each other selling them. In Yangon I found the street where all the printing shops were as I needed to print out my postal voting form. As useful as having them next to each other is, it still proves problematic when none have the ability to print off the internet! I was starting to understand that the level of technical advancement was low, despite appearances.
A road trip to the Golden Rock
The next stop was The Golden Rock. Which is literally a large golden rock. The reason it’s so interesting is that it is precariously balanced on the edge of a hill. Having seen pictures I was really eager to go, but it was 160 miles out of the city and with dubious reviews of the bus route there, I wasn’t about to chance it. So two of us got a driver for two days, meaning we were able to see surrounding areas too. Our driver was lovely and accommodating, but when he wanted to overtake in our right-hand drive car, (they drive on the right-hand side of the road, so just think about that for a second), our driver would just turn the A/C off for some extra oomph and pull straight out apparently hoping for the best!
If that wasn’t enough adrenaline for the day, in order to get to the top of the mountain to see the Golden Rock, you have to get in a truck with about 40 other people. Everyone has to sit quashed into rows in the open rear. I’d suggest googling ‘golden rock myanmar truck’ if you would like to get a better idea. This was absolutely terrifying…and I was in the cab with the driver! Apart from hurtling up very steep hills and tight corners, you honestly feel like the thing is going to overturn any second!
When I got out of the truck, I was asked if I wanted to be carried up to the Golden Rock by four porters, on a throne. It was over 40 degrees, very humid and normally about a half an hour walk up a hill with steps. But I was determined to do it – so I said no. This did not deter them though, they just continued next to me the whole way just waiting for me to give up! For every 5-10 minutes I hobbled, they would drop the price. After about 20 minutes (I was nearly drowning in my own sweat) they said they would take me the rest of the way for free and then I would only have to pay to come back down. I think they felt sorry for me, so I reluctantly agreed. To say it was embarrassing to be sat on a throne, like some egotistical tourist above their station, is a complete understatement! To top it all off bus loads of people arrived at a similar time and were all taking photos of me…I was not a happy bunny!
During the rest of our tour we went past a lot of washing lines with sheets on. Not material sheets though, they were sheets of rubber as we were near large rubber tree plantations. They were there to dry in the sun before being sold on.
When we arrived at another stop the guide told us we were going to see a famous snake that was 126 years old. I am not a zoo person, so was not overly excited or impressed with this, but we were already there and I was still a little bemused by the fact that this 19 foot snake was apparently free to roam anywhere in the room and we were going to walk right up to it, with no barrier. Well, it really was a 19 foot snake with no barrier between us and I was so close I could have reached out and touched its head. It wasn’t even sleeping! For those who may be concerned that the snake has no privacy, I’m pleased to report that when it goes to its bathroom area (the room is set up like a small studio flat for a snake), everyone must leave the room. At least the snake can have some self-respect whilst showering.
Other monuments we visited along the way included the Kanbawzathadi Golden Palace and many, many pagodas. Myanmar is full of beautiful, tall, golden pagodas and buddhas.
Those who have been, or know about Myanmar will realise that there are some key places I didn’t go to and thats because I spontaneously booked a flight home. I believe you have to follow your intuition and as out of the blue as my idea came, I went with it! Within a day of coming up with the idea, I had a flight booked for two days time. #justhowiroll.
Tourism in Myanmar
Whilst on my travels many people have talked about Myanmar and how you must visit there before tourism really takes off. I personally am a little confused by this because it seemed pretty touristy to me at times. There are many hostels in Yangon, and you won’t struggle to see non-Burmese people. On one occasion we went to visit a monastery and bus loads of Chinese Tours turned up. I appreciate that there are many different levels, but I think the real time for discovering non-touristy Myanmar is over, at least in the main cities. There is still the more traditional way of life in more rural areas that has clearly not changed, with many shacks built on sticks and straw huts.
The people are lovely and there are some great places to explore. I hope I get to return one day to finish off exploring (without a driver or cast) and get myself over to Bagan’s 2000 plus temples and pagodas!
Myanmar mash-up video: