I really wish I could tell you about every place I visited in Myanmar but now as I am in the Indian Himalaya’s with a very limited supply of internet I am going to have to do a long story short here. Myanmar was an incredible experience not only for its immense scenery and dramatic temples and monuments, but for the people who were all very inquisitive, humorous and kind hearted. Tourism is still a pretty new thing in Myanmar since it opened itself up to the rest of the world again in 1992 with only 2 million tourists visiting in 2013.
So people are genuinely interested to meet and chat to us strangers. They are also genuine with there pricing too. I always paid the local price. It would seem tourism is so new they have not yet discovered the old inflated tourist price bollocks that every other country I have visited uses.
Buddhism is visibly the dominating religion philosophy power at be or whatever you want to call it. Buddhism basically rules here. It is impossible to miss the streams of monks and nuns in their red and purple robes wandering the streets. In the morning for their breakfast you will see the town or cities entire monasteries walking barefoot through the streets in long lines accepting offerings from the local buddhist followers. Then you have the endless Stupas and Gompas that hold sacred Buddhist artefacts and are often white or gold or both. They come in assorts of sizes the biggest being 114 meters in Bago.
There is also a huge number of Indians who live in Myanamr and have done for generations. There were so many Indians living here that it was possible to order genuine Indian food everywhere I went. The more I looked at the people you could see that Myanmar was a real mix of nationalities. With such a big Indian community Hinduism was also a big player which took me by surprise when I saw a very colourful Hindu Temple down a residential street. Islam was also prevalent with the minarets of mosques poking through the cityscape and the sound of the call to prayer. I have read a lot of bad press about the relationship between Buddhist and Muslims but I could not see any friction at all in my time here.
When I arrived in Bagan and started looking at the mind blowing amount of ancient buddhist temples that were built from 1000 AD there were also hindu gods on some of the temples showing the relationship between Hinduism and Buddhism and how before borders were drawn up Myanamr and India were very likely the same country.
Myanmar actually felt a lot like India to me, the peoples attitudes, beaming smiles and inquisitiveness were just like I remembered when I was last in India. The only thing that separated them is a line on a map and the inability of the people of Myanmar to see you as a human cash cow.
I have been left with some amazing and lasting memories from Myanmar: Waking up to find a scorpion siting on my door mat. Having my sandals stolen from a monastery only to get them back again by talking to the local street kids who helped us catch the culprit. Taking endless bus journeys where 70% of the passengers end up chucking bags of sick from the windows. Meeting the cool local people some of which spoke good english and became my unofficial translator and guide. Helping me meet and talk to so many of the villagers. Learning to cope with daily temperatures of 47ºC. Watching the streets of Yangon become raging torrents of water after the biggest monsoon storm I have ever witnessed. The breathtaking view of the temples of Bagan and the incredible evening skies.
I felt Myanmar had so much more to offer but the limitation of a 28 day visa and hideous road conditions made it a little difficult to get the full experience of the country. From what I did experience I know I have to return as it is hard to stay away from such a welcoming inspiring and fascinating country. I just hope I don’t leave it to late and tourism changes its character forever.