Ever since I went to a pop up photography exhibition five years ago and saw a picture of Myanmar, a place I'd never heard of before, I’ve had the strongest desire to go and explore this magical country. I found a German word the other day that resonated: ‘Fernweh’ – which translates to ‘feeling homesick for a place you have never been to’. So following a booked ticket, jabs, research, learning the words for thank you (jeh-zu-ding-bah-deh) and hello (mingalaba!) in Burmese, travel blog reading and suncream buying, I hopped on the plane with a little trepidation and a lot of excitement to start my adventure.
After 23 hours of travelling and a stopover in the super busy airport of Beijing I arrived in Yangon, one of the many ex-capitals of Myanmar (there have been many capitals in recent history as a result of the rulings of the military government). Thank goodness my lovely taxi driver was still waiting for me despite the delayed flight because it was 2.30am and I would’ve been lost without him. It was the middle of the night but it was HOT - temperatures were as high as 40 degrees during the day.
Yangon is busy with people, cars and bicycles and was my introduction to the food, the chaos, the poverty and the huge number of golden Buddhist pagodas and temples that make up the country. It was also a welcome to the smiling and kind people: I’ve never been anywhere before where people smile at you so freely and with all their heart. It is very important to acknowledge that there is a great deal of tension in Myanmar brought about by the ruling government. Just the week before I went there was an uprising in the western state as a result of ethnic tension. Please know that the human rights record in Myanmar is amongst the worst in the world which is just another reason why the smiling nature of the people is such an incredible thing.
Buddhism is practised by nearly 90% of the country so there are many monks wearing dark red robes and nuns in beautiful bright pink robes. Children may also enter the monastery as novice monks/nuns for periods of up to three months. The enormous gleaming golden Shwedagon Pagoda in the city is one of the most important and sacred places for Buddhists and I spent some time nun watching and experiencing the sunset. Notice the LED lights that give the buddhas a bit of psychedelic disco aura. Would you just look at the gorgeous little nuns too:
From my three days in Yangon I learnt that prayers are broadcast loudly across the city at 4.30am so people can prepare food offerings for monks. I saw the generosity of the people despite the poverty they live in. I sampled avocado and condensed milk drink (delicious) and fish broth soup for breakfast (also delicious). I had my photo taken by many curious Burmese at the pagoda - there are still small numbers of tourists in Myanmar and a Westerner will draw many inquisitive stares even in the cities. I learnt that in Buddhism there is an animal assigned to every day of the week and two on Wednesdays (the elephant with tusks and the elephant without), and so eight corners in the pagodas to represent this. That you perch on small colourful plastic chairs when stopping off for street food where there is a constant supply of green tea in the middle of every table. I learnt that to get the attention of a waiter you have to make a kissing noise which feels totally alien, and that traditional Myanmar sun/beauty cream worn on the faces of many is made by grinding up a certain type of wood with water. Both men and women wear longyi's, a loop of material that's tied around the waist similar to a sarong with the men tying it in a knot at the front, and the women at the side.
After Yangon I had my first experience of the Myanmar night buses...
Hold tight! I have so much more to tell you ♡