Key Country Facts
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma has a population of ~ 54 million and its official language is Burmese. Although Myanmar is multi-religious, it is dominated heavily by Theravada Buddhism and Buddhism plays a big role in Burmese culture. The top exports are petroleum gas, precious stones, dried legumes, tin ores, and pearl products.
Some unique facts about Myanmar is that the traditional clothing style is the longyi, a wraparound skirt worn by both women and men. Myanmar has its own sport called chinlone, a mixture of soccer-style playing mixed with dancing. There is no opposing team; the goal is to keep the chinlone ball in the air for as long as possible using any body part except for hands.
A unique place to visit is the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, a sacred religious site that is beautiful lit at nighttime. Another religious site to explore are the Bagan Temples; Bagan has thousands of pagodas and stupas to explore and features 10th and 11th century wall murals still in good condition for visitors to see. This is a truly historic place that travelers can spend hours exploring.
Myanmar has only, realistically, been actively promoting tourism since 2010, so now is the time to go before throngs of Europeans discover this jewel of a country.
Arrived in Yangon and flew straight to Bagan, which is one of my top 10 cities. I loved this city because it reminds me of Siem Reap in Cambodia with about 1/1000th of the visitors.
I’ve been to markets all over this planet, but this one is to die for. There is a little bit of everything here in the “Nyaung U” market, including all types of fruits and vegetables, home-made concoctions, hearty Mohinga soups betelnut “chews, to home-made “sunscreens” that virtually all Myanmese women have spread on their faces (it is said to be a sunscreen, but the truth is this culture values light skinned people, and thanaka is used as make up). They have a wide selection of herbal remedies and the shampoo made from the acacia tree and lemon juice was a popular product at today’s market. There is a tourist section and bargaining a 50% reduction in the price is the norm. As I travel lightly, I don’t buy much, but there were some cool things I hadn’t seen before, including wooden masks with moving tongues ($6) and wicker hacky-sack balls ($1-2).
I did something in Bagan i hadn’t done before while traveling – I got my hair cut at a funky barber shop. Have to say it was the best $.75 haircut I’ve ever had! After having a tea, I decided to try out betelnut.
Bagan’s stupas are fantastic. There are 1500 of them in a 3 mile radius, but they are woefully under-kept and many are in disrepair. Oh what could (and will likely) be. This place could reap the benefits of becoming a world-class tourist attraction like Siem Reap, but I have to say, that it’s exciting to have been here before it becomes so, as it feels like I’m one of the lucky few who’ve laid eyes on this place.
Stayed in FANTASTIC hotel Thiripyitsaya. Went to a monastery where I sponsored lunch for 150 or so monks
Took a stroll through a small village outside of the city and got to see what life is like for the average person in these parts. Most houses were made out of wood, bamboo panelling and tin roofs. I happened upon an elderly couple who were using their yak to grind sesame seeds and peanuts into cooking oil, and of course I asked if I could help. This was awesome!
The following day we took a short 1-hour flight to East Myanmar, in the Inle Lake region. We road a speed boat into the lake and then took an 8 mile walk through villages in the middle of nowhere. We were so “nowhere” that people stared when they saw me and school kids looked at me with amazement.
The following day we took a boat to look for the floating market, which happened to be on-land at the large temple. Wow, what a market, totally devoid of tourists. I got to speak with some ladies from the Kayan tribe, who claim to be descendants of dragons. They adorn themselves with rings on their arms, legs and necks to look more like dragons.
We returned to Myanmar’s capital city of Yangon and I was given a “send off” by the entire Asia Transpacific Tours staff at The Winking Pagoda that Rudyard Kipling coined the finest in the entire world. They coordinated a lighting ceremony at sunset and it was spectacular. The staff and I lit hundreds of candles to impart good luck and wisdom.
The following day I bid farewell to my guide Zau Zau who was absolutely fantastic, a knowledgeable and kind-hearted ambassador for this wonderful country.