Burma is a dirty place, especially in the cities. There is no such thing as CO2 regulations on vehicles, the air is noxious. The less time spent in Mandalay, the better.
There are little to no refuse collections and litter is strewn in most places – even around the most sacred sights (Saigang Hill for example). We saw children defecating in town centres, quite openly in public.
Having said that, I expect the same can be said of most third world and many developing countries.
Burma can also be a land of supreme, sublime beauty.
Rangoon with its historical, imperial grandeur and the unforgettable Shwedagon Pagoda.
Bago is worth an afternoon of your time, the Lonely Planet describes it as a ‘Disneyland for Buddhists’; so true.
The Golden Rock at Kyiaktiyo is worth the sweat of the hike to get there. Not mind-blowing, but an enjoyable day (or two-day) trip.
The prospect of visiting U Bein Bridge at Amarapura (near Mandalay) didn’t particularly excite me. We only went because it seemed like the thing to do. After all, a wooden bridge is a wooden bridge right?
Wrong, after visiting I can say U Bein Bridge is so much more than that.
This 1.2 kilometre, two hundred year old teak bridge is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen (Yes I know that sounds ridiculous, and I need to travel more) but it was one of the highlights of Burma for us. It’s as if you’ve entered a time warp, stepping back in time as monks relax, children play and fishermen fish (What?! Really?!) in a rather picturesque setting. Also we shouldn’t neglect to mention the presence of tourists like us, making a habit of getting in the way of locals and snapping lots of pictures.
Fortunately, Amarapura is not a tourist trap (yet) and there weren’t too many of us. Hopefully it will stay that way. It was a truly beautiful place.
Inle Lake was the most touristy place we visited. We stayed in a town called Nyaung Shwe. It was a bit like a European holiday resort, well… more of a Burmese equivalent.
Inle Lake itself was pleasant, but it was a small little village on its edge that stole my heart.
Mein Thauk blew my mind. There wasn’t a lot there, but it was quite simply stunning. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Next there’s Bagan. Bagan is Burmas answer to the Taj Mahal, The Great Wall and Angkor Wat. No trip to India, China or Cambodia is complete without a pilgrimage to these man-made wonders of the world. The same can be said of Bagan and Burma.
From the 9th to 13th centuries, the Kingdom of Bagan was the first to unify the regions that would later constitute modern-day Burma. During the kingdom’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed on the Bagan plains, of which the remains of over 2200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day.
Bagan today is different to, yet similar to Angkor – minus the crowds. Angkor is arguably more ornate with its largest temples possibly being more spectacular than those in Bagan. However, the sheer number and concentration of temples makes Bagan truly breath-taking.
As we cycled around roads were quiet, no tuk-tuks, no Korean tour groups (although there were a couple of French ones…) and we were alone most of the time. Atop the temples, views were at times spell bounding.
There were moments where I felt like Indiana Jones having just re-discovered some magical, ancient kingdom in a far-off exotic land. Of course that comparison is ridiculous to anyone that’s been, for plenty of foreign tourists can be found in and around Bagan. However, the tranquility, calmness and beauty on top of those temples was quite something.
For us, Bagan was a greater experience than Angkor. Having the majority of those awe-inspiring temples to ourselves was an experience that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Burma also has some pretty cool beaches. If you’re after full-moon parties, banana boats, bikini-clad gap year girls, ladyboys and nightlife in general then go to Thailand. If you want peace, a beach virtually to yourself (except for the locals) and to spend a few days in the closest I’ve come to paradise so far on my travels, then go to Burma. In particular the beach towns of Ngwe Saung and Chaung Tha. However, there is almost nothing here except for the beach, a tiny village and a few almost deserted hotels and resorts hidden from view by palm trees.
I realise this may seem like someone has paid me to promote Burma. That is not the case at all. I like to write about the good and bad I see in places, warts and all.
Burma is a country that most westerners consider dangerous, few have considered visiting and know little about. As word spreads and time passes, I’m sure that will change.