I didn’t know what to expect the day we landed in Myanmar. My only initial impression was whoa the men wear skirts and there is lace on the car seats. Soon I will learn that all the men wear what’s called a longyi not a skirt and there was no explanation on the lace. Yangon felt very much so like any other city in the world: lots of traffic, buildings, pollution. I figured there had to be more to it than that and there was for sure. We were picked up at the airport by our guide named Sol. We aren’t normally tour type people but Myanmar is a bit confusing in regards to what you can do and can’t do so we figured having a guide and a driver would be best. Sol was our guide in Yangon. He looked to be about 18 but was actually 36. I doubt Sol gets to hang out that much with two 30 somethings because all day he was being teased by his friends and was blushing. He took us so many awesome places. The first was to see the second largest reclining Buddha. This was the first time we started to experience people taking our picture instead of us wanting to take theirs. I felt like a celebrity, it was pretty awesome. Sol explained that there are many people in Myanmar who have never seen a white person before or someone with blonde hair. So, just know your picture will be taken if you go to Burma. A lot. This Buddha is over 70 meters long to give you an idea of size. For those of you who have no idea what a meter is, it’s about 230 feet. Sol taught us about birthday corners and how it is important for Burmese Buddhists to know on which day of the week they were born, as this determines their planetary post. There are eight planetary posts, as Wednesday is split in two (for morning and afternoon). They are marked by animals that represent the day — garuda for Sunday (large bird), tiger for Monday, lion for Tuesday, tusked elephant for Wednesday morning, tuskless elephant for Wednesday afternoon, mouse for Thursday, guinea pig for Friday and nāga (part human, part cobra) for Saturday. Each planetary post has a Buddha image and devotees offer flowers and prayer flags and pour water on the image with a prayer and a wish. Emily and I were both born on a Monday so we blessed Monday once we had this all figured out. Sol said that many people come to the temple before a big test or exam or something going on at work. They have these rocks – that I am lifting in the right. They say if the rock feels heavy when you lift it, it is not going to be good, but if the rock is light, then things will turn out ok. I don’t know about you, but rocks are heavy. Especially big rocks like these. I would want there to be a stone option if I needed luck. Walking around the market we saw all kinds of things: century eggs, chewing tobacco being rolled up in leaves, women with yellow on their cheeks. The yellow stuff comes from a tree bark and has been used for over 2000 years. It was originally a mark of beauty but now it is used daily for sunscreen and skin health in general. Also, every single person in this country wears flip flops, Old Navy needs to get over there quick. Yangon was really awesome. I summed it up in my journal that all it needs is a fresh coat of paint to be absolutely beautiful. To end the day we went to the Shwedagon Pagoda. This was awesome. Also a giant complex like the Grand Palace in Bangkok but not quite as large. The photographer in me was very sad to see this gorgeous gleaming gold building I had seen so much before coming, covered in scaffolding, but the new gold had to be covered still. Literally no less than 2 weeks later I was seeing photos on instagram of this completely uncovered and beautiful. Jerks. It was still gorgeous, nonetheless. It just means I have to go back. We went at the most perfect time of day. The sun was setting and just sitting there watching everyone meditating with kids gleefully running around them, it gave me goosebumps despite 90 degree temps, thinking how incredible it was to be in such a beautiful place. The next day we woke up super early and went to the airport. Here marks the first time I have never showed anything to get on an airplane and I am not even sure there was any real security, it was pretty nuts. Or it is pretty nuts what we have come to expect at an airport as an American. They operated on the sticker system. They literally gave me a blue cartoon airplane sticker and said to make sure to wear it. That’s how they find you if you don’t get up to get on your flight. No joke. There aren’t really signs, just a guy who walks around saying your flight is leaving. Incredibly enough, we never missed a flight. And even more incredible, we never lost our bags! Seriously, there was no real tags on them or anything so when I saw it the morning we left Yangon to go to Bagan, I thought for sure that would be the last time I ever see it. Magically, we made it Bagan, and had a new guide, whose name I didn’t write down for whatever reason. I remember before going to bed in Yangon I had said I just want to go somewhere that feels different than anything I have ever experienced. Yangon was great and all and so was all of Thailand, but it wasn’t unlike anything I had seen before and sometimes I travel specifically to get that feeling. Enter Bagan. We arrived at sunrise and the day before the King’s 100th birthday. We went to a market. Lots of markets in Asia. We should get on board with that. I loved it. We then happened upon this really big festival for the King. Our guide thought it would be a good idea to make a stop even though it wasn’t planned. It was so cool! There everyone again wanted to take pictures of us and wanted us to participate in the festival itself. It is neat that these awesome peeps just want to immerse you right into whatever they are doing. So cool. We got a lot of hugs. I know that this lady is not smiling next to me but seconds before she was hugging me and wanting me to join the parade. We went to a mini Shwedgon Pagoda. It was way less crowded and still gleaming gold. Then the magic started happening. We left New Bagan and went to Old Bagan. I had never seen anything like it. All of the pagodas everywhere. Absolute quiet minus the low hum of a couple cars driving by or a couple people walking around the pagodas. It was so awesome. So magical that I don’t even know what to say about it. I thought the hot air balloons in Albuquerque were enchanting, well these took enchantment to a whole new level. I couldn’t think of anything but what this must have been like before it became Old.
We got to go back to our hotel for a bit and relax after an afternoon of taking everything in. We sat by the pool and read and wrote. After awhile our guide came back to take us to the pagodas again to watch the sunset. There are no hair dryers in Myanmar. That’s what this photo should be called.
The next day we woke up at the crack of dawn literally to get to the airport to be given a sticker for our next flight to a place even more different than Bagan: Lake Inle. Which, I’m not going to lie, it rivals the elephants for so many reasons as my favorite. I’m totally smitten with this place. We took a 45 minute car ride from the airport to our boat to take us around on a tour and lunch and then to our hotel. By boat what I really mean is a long canoe with mini adirondack chairs in single file in them and a motor. We went to this monastery with buddhist monks and wooden floors that creaked when you walked around, making you feel like it will collapse into the water with all this gold at any second.
Our boat took us to our hotel to drop off our stuff – Shwe Inn Tha Floating Hotel – I don’t care how much this costs, just stay there. It was perfect. Literally perfect. Then we headed out to lunch where Emily ate fish and she never eats fish! We got taken on a smaller boat ride around one of the communities on the lake. This lake is huge, guys. We watched people wash their hair in the lake, brush their teeth with lake water, 6 year olds on canoes by themselves (I didn’t even get a car until I was 16 but here 6 year olds get canoes, insanity). We discovered that while the people of Lake Inle are essentially pretty poor in some respects, they are rich in others. They have an amazing sense of community, their way of life while so different than ours, is perfect for them because it is all they know. I love that there are places that are like this still in the world. I’m positive that there are people we saw that have never heard of Apple or the internet and I love that. I love that they can live this way and be so truly authentic in these days.
We hired a taxi to take us out for sunset. Which rivals Africa as the best. The next morning was sad because it was time to head back to Yangon and soon onto the last part of our adventure: Vietnam. Which will be up on Monday!