Guest post by Anthony Mahé.
Now, it’s name is Myanmar but it is still well known as Burma. It has drawn my attention and woken up my curiosity for a long time. This country even became a long-awaited destination for me. When travellers often disagree talking about the countries they visit, Burma seems to leave only wonderment for travellers who have been there. So why so much interest for this country now? To understand, we have to focus on the political story of Burma. This old British colony has just opened the borders in 2010. Finally, a new change is going on in a country. I first realized it when I came to Yangon. Surrounded by old buildings from the British colony period, many new constructions are happening and in the streets, the sidewalk are full of packages containing TV screens and household appliances while teenagers walk holding smartphones.
The most surprising for me was the kindness of the Burmese. They look at me and when I turn back they give me a shy smile. They are not used to see many foreigners yet and they are very curious, like a man in Shwedagon Pagoda who came to me just to speak and say he was thankful I came to visit his country! And it is in the countryside where I met Burmese even more curious about foreigners. I remember this moment in a cigar factory of Bago town when I was trying to speak Burmese with the few words I know… it just caused a moment of crazy laughter. Nobody could stop laughing!
Thanks to these moments, I decided to keep exploring the countryside. Trekking from Kalaw to the famous Inle Lake, I crossed many colourful fields where Burmese grow different veggies. They still work with old and traditional tools and it feels to travel back in time. In the villages, life conditions are tough but the smile doesn’t leave their face. Everything seems to be so simple for them.
Life on Inle Lake was supposed to be as peaceful as here in the countryside but sadly, mass tourism changes a lot of things. Some fishermen are now taking group of tourists around the lake. Hotel and luxury resorts appear everywhere. I imagine local life has changed radically with that. I hope Burmese will know how to preserve this place before it becomes crowded. Under development, Burma still has many challenges to undertake.
As many countries in Asia, Burma has a lot of ethnic minorities. Meet them is often not easy, especially because the access to some areas is forbidden or require a special permit. However, the town of Hsipaw, allows people to trek in Shan Estate where Shan and Padaung minorities live. With a local guide, I walked to the mountains where people speak Shan or Padaung dialects. In this case, my guide was very helpful to get in touch with locals. They are not used to see a lot of tourists neither.
When you travel in Burma, you also have to experience local transport. Buses are not too bad but it’s another story when you talk about trains or boats. The good thing is you can travel closer to locals. Being in 3rd class of a wooden train and shaking like a leaf or on a slow boat supplying the small villages along the Irrawaddy River before arriving to the famous valley of Bagan, are memories I won’t forget.
More than 3,000 temples and stupas are still there in Bagan. Most of them are left abandoned giving you the feeling of an explorer being the first one to come in. But to really enjoy Bagan, you have to wake up early to see the sun rising over all the temples with balloons in the background.
A magic moment of my trip in Burma with a last meeting: I remember I was a bit lost next to a stupa in Sagaing, looking for my way, when I ended up in a monastery where I met some monks. Five minutes later, I was sitting around a table with them and locals enjoying some yummy local food! An unexpected moment that definitely made me love Burma. Usually, I don’t like to compare the different countries where I have been and choose my favourites, but if I had to do a list, Burma would be in good position for sure…
– Anthony Mahé: Having always been passionate by travel, Anthony started to experience it a few years ago in Europe and Argentina where he felt in love with Patagonia. Since these experiences, his others travels took him from Asia to South America through Oceania. For Anthony, travelling is about being connected with nature and meeting people. Check out his blog One World to See
Watch Anthony’s amazing video of Myanmar. Beautiful images and great music that will make you want to come and visit Myanmar!
“Smiles and kindness of Burmese are memories I will never forget. One of the most incredible country I’ve been so far”