I’ve been back for two months now so this is really late. Coming back from travelling is always emotionally hard, so I guess I couldn’t get my self around to go through Myanmar and Lao photos in April hah.
The last time I wrote something was in Bagan I think. All the cities we visited were totally different. Our first stop, Yangon was colorful, dirty, loud, fantastic and full of life. The streets of downtown Yangon are what you’d expect in any major city in any part of Asia. Completely crowded. Street food can be bought everywhere and varies from little fried crickets sold from a basket, to actual little eateries with the same little tables and chairs you can find in a lot of places in Asia. This food thing in Myanmar seems to be a little similar to India. Eating is like talking. You just do it all day every day. We wanted to stay safe and not get sick in the short time we had there and stuck to inside restaurants.
Yangon (and the whole country) has a LOT of pagodas, Buddhist temples. In Yangon the one go-to Pagoda, is the Shwedagon Pagoda. If possible I’d go during sunset, the pagoda is beautifully light up and the whole golden temple area is really beautiful in the light of setting sun. Most of the pagodas are free but this one costs about 8-10USD but is totally worth it. It is one of the only sights you really need to see in the city.
Beware when visiting temples. Myanmar people are really friendly and nice. Usually you could trust your life with them and there’s not many scams but unfortunately one is really common and easy to fall into to. You are visiting a temple, are approached by a very friendly man who starts telling you the history of the temple/Buddhism/blabla, tells you he studies in the monastery near the temple and takes you around to different places in the temple and monastery. When he’s done, he asks for a donation around 10-15USD for the monastery and the poor tourist gets disconnected from his money again. Remember that you DON’T have to talk to anyone in the temple. Be polite and nod. Act as if you wouldn’t understand what they are saying. They’ll leave you alone. All the places he takes you to, can be visited without him if you really want to do that.
Moving around in Yangon is easy as hell. The city is relatively small in size so in the downtown area walking anywhere is not difficult. The streets are numbered and neatly organized so with a map it’s really easy to go around. Also people are helpful and a lot of them speak English. The only time we took a taxi was to Shwedagon Pagoda and airport/bus. Also every time you take a taxi you donate money towards the government.
Mandalay is very different from Yangon. It is a big city, yes, but it kind of reminds me of Jaipur, low buildings but widely spread. Mandalay also is easy to walk around in but the sights in Mandalay are widely spread around the city so easiest way to see everything is definitely renting a bicycle. If you’re in Myanmar with a 25-year old friend who doesn’t know how to drive a bicycle, the easiest option is to pay a cute old man to drive you around on his bicycle. The first two days we went around to the main sights. Day with a trickshaw would cost you around 10-15USD depending on your bargaining skills. In order to see a lot of the historic sights, you’d have to buy a ticket for 10USD that is valid for all the major sights. They wouldn’t ask for it every where, but you can judge for yourself if it’s a risk worth taking.
If you have more than a day in Mandalay I recommend you take a trip to the ancient cities around Mandalay. It takes about 10-12 hours to do all three of them with a driver and is well worth it. Taxi would cost you around 35-45USD and a moto around 15-20USD. I didn’t go, because I’m a dick and lost my ticket the first day. Oops. Didn’t want to spend on getting a new one being so late into my travels (much of my funds already spent) and having to have money to come back to the motherland still. My friend did it though and the photos from there look pretty incredible. So don’t be a fool and lose your ticket, go do this.
One night we went to theatre. We were kind of in between seeing the Mustache Brothers (look it up, I’m sure they’re worth seeing) or this traditional Myanmar theatre. I’ve seen theatre in India before and that was pretty amazing and a lot of culture in Myanmar comes from India/Bangladesh SO we decided to go see that. It was ok, but I was maybe expecting a little more. The show was only on for an hour and it just seemed to be a little homespun. Worth a look if you have nothing else to do, tickets are 8USD. I feel sorry we didn’t see the Mustache Brothers.
Oh Bagan. Go take a walk, rent a bicycle, rent a moto, rent an electric bike, hire a horse cart just go around as much as you can. Visit the smaller quiet temples. Visit the big ones, climb to the rooftop if it’s possible. Do it as many times as you can, the sight never get’s old. Do it during sunset and sunrise. Listen to the singing coming from the distance. Let you eyes rest. Bagan is an absolute Narnia. I think we were laughing the all of day one being so astonished by the place. There’s Pagodas as far as the eye can see. There are over 4000 pagodas all over the place. The city is really modest and purely built for tourism so I’m not going to write much about it. Decent food and wifi can be found pretty much anywhere. Don’t put too much effort into deciding which side of the city you’re going to stay. You can go for the cheapest option for everything is pretty close by and driving around on a bicycle would be really easy I reckon. Before entering Bagan you have to pay 10USD for a ticket to the city. You should have it with you at all times but I don’t remember anyone ever asking for it.
If you don’t want to go around on your own but decide to get a horse cart (way more fun than a car) a full day of going around to the major Pagodas and see the sunrise&sunset would cost around 30USD. If you want to take a car, it might be a little bit more expensive.
DO’S/DON’TS IN MYANMAR
You can find 15000 lists like this on the internet and on travel guides. Read them all. These are just things on top of my head. Things we found to be important.
Talk to people. Tell them where you’re from. They probably “have a friend in Finland” or say “yes, yes very beautiful country” and have absolutely no idea where you’re from. Even though understandably not everyone is super excited of rich tourists coming to Burma to spend them money on the government, I feel that most people are happy to have visitors. Be respectful of these people. I think they are very happy to not be forgotten. Burmese people are very friendly and can strike a good conversation.
Spend money on the streets. When looking for something fun to take home, try to get it from the streets. Just traveling to Myanmar, you obviously have to spend some money that goes to the government but you can try to do as little of that as you can. Be smart with what you spend on. Stay away from tourist shops/info’s for anything but advice. If you’re left with some kyats when you leave, go buy a few locks or something on the street. Leave your money with the people.
Keep your guard up. Myanmar people are very friendly and I’d say I’ve never felt as safe anywhere outside Europe. But there’s always people who want to do bad things. I was left alone but my blond friend was bombarded with people with questions, wanting to take photos and that all the time. Kind of similar to being a western person in India. One time a man came to talk to us. He was with his family and started going on and on about his church. He obviously was excited to find westerners (Christians) in a country where 98% people are Buddhist. But he was very interested on what we do for work and if we are going to do business in the country. This is a big no no so we were just trying to tell him we work as cashiers and are not business owners of any kind. He wanted to have our full names and know exactly where we’re from and all that. I have no idea why this happened but we felt a little weird about it so we just decided to politely leave the conversation.
Read. Buy books about Myanmar in English. Read them and leave them behind. Don’t go without preparing yourself and knowing a little about the history/present day.
Do not touch the monks. Do not touch them. Especially their head.
I’m just going to give you the same advice a local gave us. When you go inside a temple “you don’t talk anymore”. You don’t have to buy anything. Leave donations to the temples. If you feel uncomfortable, you can always smile, nod and sod off.
Cover up. This is a country with strict moral values and traditions. Don’t be disrespectful with the way you dress. Cover your knees, shoulders and everything in between.
Take your shoes off before entering a temple. Every time. Socks too. Remember to not point towards the Buddha statues or monks with your feet.
Be a man – buy a longuy. Traditional Burmese wear for men and women is a long skirt. I’m sure it’s a lot more comfortable for everyone than a pair of jeans.
Smile. So does everyone else.
I still have about 300 Lao photos to deal with so I’m just going to make Lao and Oslo in to one separate post from this one.