When we went to Myanmar we had to have a guide with us there where three guides called Jo, Jo and Tante ( that’s how you say it not how you spell it, the iPad would tell us it’s wrong if we wrote how you really spell it)
We had to stay in more hotels than we usually do because the guides needed to stay in town, although they didn’t usually stay in the same hotel.
We went to loads of pagodas, we went to this giant lying down Buddha where a lady wanted a photo with me and she gave me her necklace. We saw her later on at the war cemetery and she was really happy to see us again. We went to loads more wats, my favourite was another lying down Buddha where there were 4 adorable kittens. I got them to chase my necklace they jumped up high to get it. One of them got their claws stuck in it and when I waggled it, it looked like she was shaking paws.
We went to a big gold rock that was said to be balanced on Buddha’s hair. Only men were allowed to touch it. Alisha said it looked like one push would send it toppling and send it toppling to squash loads of people but Jo told us that there had been an earthquake years before and it hadn’t even fallen then. We went below it and there was loads of paper fluttering down, it was the paper from the gold leaf that people had stuck on the rock. Then the wind blew and it started raining gold. We tried to collect but there wasn’t much gold when it was all squashed up.
We went to a lake, where we fed the seagulls and we saw fishermen paddling with their legs. It looked absurd but worked as the fisherman caught lots of fish. We went to a market where me and Alisha brought a silver fish, it was female because it wiggled up and down, and an old fashioned weighing scales. We went to a silver place where they were making a full moon biscuit and more fish out of silver – we bought Mummy a full moon for Christmas. We went to lots of places that day, my favourite place was the Jumping Cat Monastery but the cats weren’t jumping they were too busy having a nap but they were very cute.
Jo the guide, liked playing chase with me but he had to tuck his longhi up and make it into shorts but he never beat me. He was also very good at playing Uno but didn’t beat me again.
We left Myanmar with heavy hearts as we had to say goodbye to all the lovely people as we went up into the mountains to India. But not before Tante (our government minder) got one last photo with me, he loved taking photos and took photos of us wherever we went.
Myanmar was an interesting country. We had a guide for most of Myanmar which was kind of weird as we are used to driving on our own but it was useful for languages and rides to the tourist attractions (and of course so Lucy could have someone else to annoy who wasn’t me). But it was a bit annoying when in a town they would overtake all the vehicles in front of them and we would be behind six cars plus a hundred motorbikes and they were also a lot faster then us.
I wasn’t super keen on all the temples and it was a lot worse when Lucy was in a boisterous mood especially when it involved lots of standing on my toes and head- butting me. Burmese food isn’t as famous as let’s say Thai but it is good. It involves lots of curries for lunch and a stir-fry for dinner, all served with enough rice to out weigh an elephant. We read in our book that people in Myanmar eat 195 kg of rice a year and Europeans only eat 3 kg! Me and Lucy mostly ate fried rice for lunch by the end of Myanmar we had enough. I don’t think we will be eating that again any time soon.
In one of the temples daddy had to wear a longi he looked very silly, me and Lucy laughed and laughed. Men from Myanmar mostly wear longhis all the time and it looked good on them but strange on Daddy.
All in all I enjoyed Myanmar though it’s very difficult to enjoy a Bagan temple sunrise when someone is standing on your toes.
Sometimes changing countries isn’t too much of a surprise but as soon was we crossed the border from Thailand it felt like we had entered somewhere very different. As the girls and I waited for Steve to complete customs we watched ladies with a yellow paste on their faces; men in longhis (sarongs); and then a procession of maroon robed monks collecting their morning alms. Then the national anthem struck up and everyone stood to attention, at the end lots of the men saluted.
Thanaka is a light yellow paste made from a type of bark, it is both a cooling beauty cream and sunscreen. It Is worn by the majority of women, children and even some men. What delighted the girls and I was that everyone puts on their own design everyday. Ladies usually chose something elegant like circles, hearts, squiggles or even leaves on their cheeks, foreheads and chin. Much like I apply sunscreen to my girls, mums seem to slather it on their kids’ whole faces as we saw on the little ones on their way to school or draw a cute design on babies. You can buy ready made pots but most people prefer to grind their own on a special flat stone every morning. We noticed that portable thanaka stones were popular souvenirs for local pilgrims at the tourist spots. At one of the temples in Mandalay a girl kindly drew a leaf design on my cheeks, it felt lovely and cool.
Myanmar has gone through some very big political changes over the last year, with the Military Junta slowly relinquishing power to the democratically elected government. Our 3 year old guidebook warned that we shouldn’t talk to people about politics but people spoke to us openly about their support for the changes and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. They said people were happy with the changes and that things were very rapidly changing within the country. We did see a very alarming sign outside the Royal palace, which is in a military base, in Mandalay. Kyaw said that there are signs like this all over the country, the only difference here was it was written in English.
We found the people of Myanmar (the Burmese are only one group) very friendly and pleased to meet foreigners. For instance, one night we were just quietly deliberating if some pancakes from a roadside stall would make a good desert, when a guy also waiting, bought us a bag full. Blonde Lucy was a hit wherever we went with her, it was a bit like travelling with a minor royal, everywhere people wanted a photo with her. She gallantly smiled her way through hundreds of snaps, we often joined in too. Thantay, our government minder, was constantly taking photos and videos of us especially when we were enjoying the sights. His English was very limited so we never fully found out if it was just a hobby; he was showing his bosses that we weren’t up to mischief; or it was for the Tourism department’s PR. Maybe we’ll find ourselves stars of a visit Myanmar campaign in the future, we think it is definitely worth a visit.
It was strange to have a guide through Myanmar after all the Kms we had done by ourselves but we were really pleased to get such a great guide and driver. We were never very sure what the role of the representative from the Ministry of Tourism was but he was also very nice and helped out when there was some confusion. It was great to be able to transit Myanmar and also to see some of its wonderful sights. Bagan was very special especially at sunrise and the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon was amazing.
Myanmar feels different to the rest of South East Asia. In parts it felt more like India but as we came to know the country better I think it just has its own distinctive flavour. Tourism is still in its relative infancy and the country is still at the beginning of its development. Roads were still been built effectively by hand and we saw some children working both on the roads and in restaurants.
There were also a lot of contradictions in Myanmar. My favourite was the road system. In the 1960s the country switched to driving on the right hand side of the road (the European side) as the other side was a vestige of British colonialism. However most (90%) of their cars and some of the trucks are imported from Japan so have their steering wheels on the right hand (wrong) side. Overtaking is already challenging but this made it doubly so for the drivers. Bizarrely the toll booths are set up to accommodate the steering wheels that are on the wrong side and are also conveniently placed on the wrong side too.
Overall it was a great two weeks, certainly different for us but the guide and driver made sure everything went smoothly and took care of everything for us. It was quite a shock to arrive in India and have to start doing everything for ourselves again.