Come along for the journey!

Come along for the journey!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

FIRST IMPRESSIONS (Yangon, Burma / Myanmar)

It’s good to be back in Asia. The heat, the craziness, the toilets, the irresistible urge to buy tat. Burma, or Myanmar as it’s now referred, has some really unique things going on. It’s somewhere we’ve been fascinated with coming to for a long time, partly because of it’s natural beauty and amazing culture, but also because it’s so politically messed up and it pushes my social justice buttons. It’s been quite an insight touring around. 

A beautiful language, but not the most economic
Our first impressions were unexpected. We probably know more about Myanmar from the news than anywhere else - and that just seems to be all about rigged elections, Military Coups, people trafficking, fighting monks, and the plight of Aung Sung Sui Kyi, Myanmar’s big political hope. 
Well there wasn’t much sign of a Military presence or oppression - there are very few soldiers and police around. In fact, quite the opposite. The only recognisable groups on the streets are monks - thousands of them. Myanmar is a very religious place, and parts of the country feel like going back in time. There are shrines on every street corner, and beautiful pagodas pierce the skyline.
Myanmar is a very religious place - but definitely no Immortal materials allowed
Beautiful smiley people covered in Tanaka Face Paint, are shy but eager to greet you with waves and smiles, and less shy children run up to you with flowers. The country's borders opened to tourists just four years ago, and far from the slightly jaded relationship with tourists seen in other parts of SE Asia, people are in the early romance stage with Tourists and the West in general.

People are so kind and helpful, which is just as well because it is definitely harder going backpacking here than in other nearby countries - although not as tricky as we’d heard - you don’t need week’s supply of dollars to last you as ATM’s are plentiful (even if they steal your cards!) and they’ve upped their game for getting around. It’s just that the West has not fully landed yet - we’re grateful for that most of the time! Telltale (another sailing term I’ve learnt) signs of the West are scant - there are no MacDonald and Starbucks edifices. It’s pretty expensive here too - that was a surprise. But in the heart of the city, it feels very foreign. For a start, people speak very little English, conveniences like toilets and cold drinks seem impossible to find, and Yangon is HOT! In 45 degree heat and 80 percent humidity, it was quite a struggle to wander the streets for a safe bite to eat.

Yangon, previously Rangoon the old capital, boasts the largest Buddhist shrine in the world with the Swedagan Pagoda - an immense edifice in luxurious gold leaf, surrounded by a myriad of shrines, temples, and devotees. I lost Neko there and found her talking with a teacher and his students, helping field basic English questions. 
Shwedagon Pagoda
 Other than this ‘World Wonder’ of a sight, it was mainly all about walking the streets and soaking it all up. There are always weird and wonderful things to grab your attention.
Crouching Kitty, hidden Buddha??
Ceremonial sweeping

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