The True Land of Smiles


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Asia » Burma
January 13th 2012
Published: January 13th 2012
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Myanmar is an amazing country. At first glance it's hard to miss the countless smiles filling the faces of the Burmese people. This place may spoil me for the duration of my trip. Trusting people is easy as everyone wants to help you find your way. “Mingalaba” - Hello; “Jesu timbadeh” - Thank you. Since my first day here I have been striving to learn the language. Yes, if you don't speak the language you are fine, but when the people see you're trying, going outside of the normal hello and goodbye, that's when they want to know more about you. “Twe yada wan ta pa te” - Nice to meet you; “Baykarlay” - Where are you from?

Flying into Myanmar from the air you immediately get the feeling that this is going to be something different. Pagodas (Temples) fill the landscape like flowers in a bed of grass. Glistening in gold they fly higher than anything else. Pictures really cannot do them justice and any words I use to describe them fall short. You really just have to be here to experience it.

My travels here started in Yangon, the countries capital city. Between Yangon and any other city in Asia, you can quickly see the difference. There are little to no motorbikes as they are illegal in the capital.

Also, just to note for those of you that don't know. There are no credit card or ATM machines in Myanmar. For money, you must come with enough cash to last your entire trip. Only crisp, new US Dollars and Euros post 2006 are accepted for exchange. No one wants to be stuck here with no money. One of my hundred dollar bills have already been turned away. Its real money, just not good enough for them.

Two days of wandering the streets of Yangon we found our way down alleyways and up through markets. Always happening upon a Pagoda we take off our sandals and proceed in awe. The Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the most intense so far. Celebrating its 2,600th anniversary this year it towers above everything else. Spend a minute at a Pagoda or let alone in Myanmar and you will more likely than not be approached by a monk wanting to practice his English. Its a pretty heady time speaking with a monk. Everyone here wants to learn English.

I found my way through the streets of Yangon stumbling upon a game of “Chinlon”. Similar to footbag, Chinlon involves a bamboo wooven ball that is kicked around in a circle. “Baytochin” is another game similar to footbag net. I was able to play both of these with a handful of different Burmese.

I opted to spend only two days in Yangon as I would be returning there to fly back to Thailand. I hopped on the overnight bus and took the road to Mandalay arriving at 5am. With a newly made friend we found our way to a hotel where we checked in for the day.

A two hour power-nap and I was back at it. Meeting up with some friends from Yangon we decided to spend the day riding bicycles around the city visiting the many Pagodas. I can tell you this – riding around the streets of Mandalay takes some balls. No traffic lights, no stop signs, and massive amounts of motorbike traffic. Oh yea, and of course bicycles from the 1940's - it was a great day.

Today was my second day in Mandalay. We hopped on a local pick-up truck and made our way to the town of Amarapura. Known for its massive teak bridge we made our way through the local market using our Burmese to speak with the locals. Again, I can't begin to describe just how kind and warm the Burmese people are. We were invited into the house of a man whose family makes the traditional skirts for women. They fed us bananas and watermelon, and gave us water. They introduced us to their entire family and showed us around their home.

On the teak bridge tourist buses emptied and throngs of people found their way across. I found that the locals don't like tourist buses. Many of them pass through the villages with no interaction with locals, and all the money goes straight the the Burmese Government. Still, amid the masses we were able to find peace of mind with some of the students from a nearby Burmese University.

Wanting to practice their English, students inundated us with questions. While seeming scripted at times because of their lack of knowledge of the language, we spoke in English and Burmese helping each other progress. The day was truly amazing. Tonight and tomorrow I plan to take it easy and explore the nearby streets. I also need to buy a boat ticket to get to Bagan on Sunday.

One last thing. There is something amazing about sharing the back of a pick-up truck with a Buddhist Monk. Its a daily occurrence here, and one that I do not think I'll ever get over any time soon.



“Nak Tooy May” - See you soon


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