Yangon fills your thirst

Water of life

You can refill you water bottle almost anywhere, leave your belongings unguarded and trust the words spoken. You can also practice hackling, negotiating and skepticism or even distrust but it doesn’t seem to be part of the culture. Myanmar, as many kept telling me “is not corrupted by tourism, yet”. The leaders and military might act differently but I met none of them. On the streets there is trust.
Water in a clay pot
Water in a clay pot

Booming city with Indian and Western influence

Foreign money is pouring into the country and not just from the pockets of travelers wanting to see beautiful sunsets and pagodas but from big corporations and governments wanting to invest. Yet Yangon is still a chaotic city where skyscrapers are kept at bay by street vendors selling fake smart phones and 20 cent milk tea. Downtown is full of markets, temples and people spitting excessive beetle juice from their mouths. Walking anywhere feels safe and smiles are returned from strangers.

Man leaning to a tree
Man leaning to a tree
Meat markets smell the same everywhere
Meat markets smell the same everywhere
Tea-man
Tea-man
Talkative man who liked taking selfies with foreigners
Talkative man who liked taking selfies with foreigners
Construction worker
Construction worker
Sneak peak to a closed street behind the guest house
Sneak peak to a closed street behind the guest house
Ferry crossing over the Yangon river
Ferry crossing over the Yangon river
Man cooking lunch
Man cooking lunch
2 boys next to Kandawgyi lake in Yangon
2 boys next to Kandawgyi lake in Yangon
3 young mechanichs
Kick volleyball / chin lone / Sepak takraw
Kick volleyball / chin lone / Sepak takraw
Boom box monk
Boom box monk
Streets of Yangon at night
Streets of Yangon at night

Temples of Bagan like seen on guide books

Guide books will list you plenty of things to do in Myanmar. No doubt ‘Get in, see, do, eat, sleep & get out’ -sections will keep you busy. But what if you just got lost and stopped planning what it is that you want to happen next? Well, that was kind of my approach to exploring Myanmar. Maybe I was too lazy to do my homework or didn’t want to plan too much. Either way for me ‘not knowing’ is the exciting part.

I had arrived to Bagan bus station at 2 a.m. It was 6 km to the town. The taxi drivers were few and they knew the power they had. I could tell the guy talking to me was full of boloney so I decided to walk.

4 a.m I was sitting in hotel reception. No need to sleep tonight. 40 cents for a rent bike and I was of to see the pagodas, ruins and temples. Apparently the sunrises were nice here.

Renting an e-bike would have made things less sweaty but it was nice to move the body a little. The distances are long in Bagan so I ended up doing a loop that made my legs a bit shaky.

Early morning sunrise in Pagan with few hundred fellow humans
Early morning sunrise in Pagan with few hundred fellow humans
Yes, the sunrise was beautiful and it took some effort which makes the prize always nicer. Lack of sleep gave a nice overall buzz for the whole experience which was mostly amusing.

The receptionist had recommended an pagoda to see. It ended up being full of people who had woken up too early, skipped their breakfast and coffee to capture something unique for their Instagrams (here is mine).

Amusing part was that I felt like I had surrounded myself with people who had climbed up the stairs of the pagoda to see something life changing. I tried finding eye contact with people around me and greet them but only got suspicious looks.

These people had travelled half way across the world because someone said it would be amazing to sit on top of an old building and watch the sunrise and hot air-balloons.

The view was nice but it was also funny. It was funny because none of us were there alone yet we tried to ignore the fact and definitely not document it. It was funny because the air balloon floating in the distance were full of people paying 350 dollars each for 30 minutes of fresh air above old building before heading back to the airport. It was funny because you, a lovely woman, looked at me like I was crazy when I offer you my tripod so at least few of your photos might be sharp.

I give my respect for the past generations that build these monuments and apologies for the living ones for sneaking down from the side of the pagoda so I wouldn’t have to pay the entrance fee. That saved me enough money to travel one day longer.

The backroad took me further into the plantations filled with smaller payas, pagodas and temples. Don’t ask me about the differences. I know there is one but I doubt anyone really cares anymore.

From the distance I saw the hot air balloons and started cycling towards them. Maybe there would be something on the way.
It was 8 a.m and I was getting hungry. It was going to be a long day.
That night I would sleep in a real bed.
Beautiful.
Oh and the sunsets were nice too.

 

Run for the Myanmar border

Big two part mural inside a restaurant close to all the embassies in Yangon
Big two part mural inside a restaurant close to all the embassies in Yangon

Getting to Myanmar was a bit of a race against time. Border crossings are getting easier each year and acquiring an E-visa is a simple procedure for many nationalities. Nevertheless out-dated information can cause some headache.

I was in Pai, North Thailand and my initial plan was to cross the border from Mae Sai to Tachileik. I had two days of visa left when during breakfast someone told me that from that part of Myanmar you could not travel to other parts of the country. Roads would be closed for foreigners. Internet seemed to agree with him. Later I found out he was wrong.

After finishing my breakfast I thanked him for the info, changed my plan and started hitchhiking over the mountains down south. Same man warned me that two days was not enough with the route I had chosen.

3 pick-ups and one bus later I made it to the border 30 hours to spare in my visa.

Big two part mural inside a restaurant close to all the embassies in Yangon
Big two part mural inside a restaurant close to all the embassies in Yangon

First Impression

6 a.m. It was a short walk across the bordering bridge from Mae Sot to Myawaddy yet in the dark I could already see I was entering a different reality. Mothers with young children were sitting on the bridge. They were not begging with their words so much as with their presence.

5 minutes of friendly custom formalities and I was free to go. 10 minutes from that I was sitting in a family wagon with 4 local men heading to Hpa-An. With no idea if the price was right (it was) or any common language we set out on the 130 km journey that would take about 3 hours.

Early hours in Myawaddy. The first of the markets starts at 2 a.m.
Early hours in Myawaddy. The first of the markets in Myanmar can start as early as 2 a.m.

The driver stopped to fill up the tank from some local man with his own pump system. Right next to us was a newly build gasoline station empty of customers. After filling the tank the man gave the driver a bottle of water. An hour later our driver saw a car on the side of the road with it’s hood open. He slowed down and handed them the water bottle. No words were exchanged.

We stopped few times to say hi to a friend, wash the car and buy fruits. I was dropped in front of the bus that goes to Yangon. 7 hours later the bus reached the outskirts of the city. Taxis and motorbikes kept asking: “Where you go?” but left me alone after telling them “I don’t know”.

On the side of the highway a man told me to take the same minivan with him. It  would take us to the centre. An hour later he showed me a good hotel and wished me all the best. Thanks to the help of many people on the way I had arrived to a place where I could take a shower and sleep.