Myanmar is one of the regions most overlooked countries in southeast Asia. Formerly know as Burma, Myanmar is famous for its Instagram worthy pictures located in Old Bagan, to trekking muddy trails in Kalaw and Inle lake. Personally for me, Myanmar was almost a missed opportunity. However, with a spontaneous flight bought and a visa application hastily pushed through, I was in Yangon!
Landing in the capital of Myanmar, you are greeted by the familiar sights of east Asian culture, the busy streets and food vendors, to the lights and sounds of local pubstreets. However, one thing to mention about the local Burmese people is that their second language is English. So conversation and communicating with the locals here is easy.
Yangon is a city large and vibrant. Due to the history of Burma its unsurprising that tourism has been thin over the past few decades. One thing is clear now though, Myanmar is ready for a huge influx of tourists, which is all the more reason to see this beautiful city. My time here was short, staying in one of the many hotels lightly populated. My adventure took me to the shwedagon pagoda. After seeing many temples in asia it is hard to appreciate the beauty sometimes. Not here though, the towering 100 meter golden temple is definitely one to not forget.
My next stop was a bus ride to Mandalay, however; and one of the very few times I have been sick on my travels, I came down with a stomach bug from a fellow traveler. With the bus ride averted and a flight ticket bought. I eventually made it to Mandalay. The second largest city in Myanmar, you are greeted again with familiar sights. Here though however, there were two things on my list. Mandalay Hill and the U Bien Bridge. Mandalay hill, a temple overlooking the city is a hot spot for tourists, although not many to be exact. The views are incredible, and the charming local students looking to practice their English are also a delight, often expressing that the temple is a pilgrimage site for Buddhists There are two main ways to reach the temple, driving or walking up one too many steps. After my experience in Yangon, i was keen to drive.
Myanmar has many treasures hidden in its beautiful landscape and one that i seeked out to reach was the U Bien bridge. The significance of this bridge is not only its size spanning a kilometer across the Taung Tha Man Lake, or that it is possibly the largest wooden bridge of its size. For me it was the impressive fact construction began in 1849, and is still standing today. Admittedly, this wasn’t such a hidden gem, as the many tourists dictate along with the souvenirs to match. One thing to mention is that there are many young students often wanting to practice english as was with Mandalay hill, adorable but often time consuming.
Southwest of Mandalay, my adventure took me to the most beautiful landscape I had ever seen in south east Asia (before witnessing Halong bay in Vietnam). Welcome to old Bagan! As mentioned before the thought of going to another temple often draws the response of “seen one, seen them all”, especially when I heard there was 4000 of them here in old Bagan. Thankfully however, I went, with a little resentment on myself to go back and enjoy a nice cold Myanmar beer, I was about to witness some of the real beauty this country has to offer. Going to see these temples is easy, there are plenty of electric bike to hire specifically for the purpose of seeing these temples. Leaving at the crack of dawn I made my way through the small muddy paths. Often easy to get lost, I was surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of Pagodas. Not recommended but you should try to get as high as you can to see the vast landscape. Once looking out and having the sun slowly rise, you are greeted by towering silhouettes. A moment of my trip I would never forget.
The final leg of the trip was a trek from Kalaw to Inle lake. There are various options ranging from three days to one. I decided to take the two day trip and rest up in a nearby village for the night. Kalaw itself is a small quaint town, filled with mist and cooler temperatures and for me this place holds a story of an eventful dinner (for another time). The trek itself was not so intense, a word of warning though, wear appropriate hiking boots. Due to the rainy nature of the season along with the muddy/clay trail, any and all trainers will get ruined, just ask my Nikes. The views on the hike itself were amazing, slow rolling hills filled with rice terraces and crop land in accompanied by gentle fog rolling in.
Stopping of at the village for the night, it was eye opening to see how some of the locals live within the jungle, often running their lights on just a car battery. We were greeted with smiling faces and plenty of food, it was nice to know that the village was often used as a hiking rest bite. The most interesting aspect of this town was that it’s only produce was to produce chillies, as one who has a taste for hot dishes I was keen to see the spice levels these little green bastards had. With a warning from the guide asking if I had a strong stomach I hastefully ate one…..never again.
The next day we continued our trek to Inle lake, much like the day before, rain and mud, accompanied by beautiful views of the countryside. Arriving at Inle lake, we were to take a boat across to the main town. Jumping into an old armchair squeezed into a long boat it was time to relax and drift pass the incredible floating gardens, a wonderful end to a wonderful trip.
My whole experience in Myanmar was one that i’ll never forget, the locals are wonderful and the food is spicy. There is a lot of culture and history to learn here, Myanmar is definitely an experience that one should never pass up.