More of my photos from Myanmar


Myanmar Archives

June 3, 2006

my first day in myanmar

myanmar (the country formerly known as burma) had been sitting on my list of places that nobody i knew had been to, but sounded interesting and a potentially good place to visit. after arriving in thailand, i spent some time researching some of the pro-tourism and pro-tourism-boycott opinions on visiting myanmar, and decided that the net impact of my visit would hopefully be a slight positive or at least near-zero impact on the lives of the people of myanmar, and made my plans to visit.

the day after receiving my visa where i was declared an F.I.T. (Foreign Independent Traveller), i was flying into myanmar's capital city of yangon (aka. rangoon), piercing the cloud cover on descent and seeing a green-and-brown patchwork of farms with a large muddy-brown river meandering between them. dense forests are surprisingly close to the city, interspersed with buildings. arriving at an international airport with a single baggage claim that was backed up with at least 3 prior flights' worth of baggage. but this turned out to be a great conversation starter with the (few) other independent tourists who were also waiting for their luggage at the airport.

in myanmar, unofficial currency exchanges with random people (the very pale shade of gray market) are the only way to exchange money at a reasonable rate, since the country's one "official" exchange booth at the airport gives rates 30% of what is standard. this means i ended up first changing money at a t-shirt shop negotiating rates over the screen of an oversized casio calculator. ironically, most major transactions are still paid for in US Dollars, and 1 USD can replace 1000 myanmar kyats in almost any transaction (although you get closer to 1,200 kyats to the dollar by exchanging USD into kyats).

with my newfound kayts in hand, i then promptly headed to the outdoor market next to t-shirt store to purchase a tasty lunch of noodle soup and bbq pig entrails. mmm... slices of pig intestines!

a friend from the hostel and i were out at the night markets later that evening, enjoying some tasty samosas, and stumbled across one of myanmar's many "beer stations" -- the country's equivalent of the western bar/pub. they're basically small restaurants that have beer banners hanging in front of them, and people are there drinking late into the night. the USD $0.40 cost of a glass of myanmar draft was an excellent price, and we ended up having many drinks with the manager and working on chatting in a mishmash of english, myanmar, and chinese.

the highlight of the evening was our return from the hostel -- we'd unknowingly made a wrong turn, and were having trouble finding our way home. suddenly a myanmar local stopped us, started urgently pointing in the other direction, and pantomiming the name of our guest house. he then walked us back several blocks to the hostel, and refused to accept any gratuity for his help until we insisted several times.

this amazing hospitality from individuals was repeated many more times during my short stay in myanmar. in most countries, getting stopped by a stranger in the street means that they're preparing to run you through some sort of scam (and we did have a few people try that in yangon, but only a few). in myanmar, it usually means that they honestly do want to help you... amazing.

June 7, 2006

ferry trip to pakokku

i lay in bed this morning after waking up early, listening to the loud clicking of the ceiling fan in my room speed up (with power surges) or slow down and stop (with power failures). the room also had AC, but it was switched on and off according to a pattern that i never understood.

it's amazing to still see ox-carts in general service within a town like this. the river's water is a very muddy brown, clotted with trash on the edge of the boat landing. after a quick stroll down the slope, the usual game of "walk-the-plank" to get myself and my gear onto the boat without falling into the water, and i'm on.

hopefully the festival (pwe) i heard about in pakokku is still happening, because like the ferry there, no concrete written evidence of its schedule was available, and verbal reports were conflicted about whether or not it was happening today, whether the pwe lasts a month, or whether day would be a good day to go. luckily my own schedule is

it's has just struck me that this fairly rickety ferry has no safety equipment or life jackets of any sort, and we're on a fairly choppy river. this thought came into my head as a smaller boat just cut right across our bow, almost hitting us, prompting outraged honking from our captain, and indifference from the passengers. but like the cars of southeast asia, with their occasional seat belts but never the receptacle to actually plug the seat belt into, safety is a tertiary concern at best.

it's funny the mix of reactions i get here -- sometimes my arrival is ignored, sometimes it seems like the biggest event for blocks around. but for the first time in a long time i don't mind being the focus of attention, because of the friendlinerss of the people of myanmar. sometimes a wave or a smile to a staring stranger is greeted with an even bigger one in return, or occasionally i get a stone-faced stare in return. (i've gotten both reactions on this boat) best of all, quite often a "hello" from someone is simply that, or a request to chat and practice their english (honestly!), and only a few times is it the opening to a sales pitch.

there is no other country in the world where people are like this.

in pakokku

this place is definitely the real deal. i believe i'm the only tourist in the town - crowds of curious kids surrounded me when i got off the ferry (along with hordes of horsecart and trishaw drivers). i got a trishaw over to the hotel, and for the 20-minute journey i was the subject of fascinated attention from the locals, along with frequent "hello!"s from the children.

arrived at the inn where the innkeeper said he would "treat me as his son", and take me to the pwe (festival) planned for tonight, show me where the restaurants are, and generally help me understand a town that occupies only a few paragraphs (and no map) in my lonely planet myanmar book.

as i lie in my room, smelling the slightly sweet smoke from the burning mosquito coils, i think i'm going to take laos out of my itinerary so i can extend my time in myanmar and vietnam instead. moving too fast is hard, and i definitely am starting to feel like i'm pushing it a bit.

naptime now, then off to dinner and the festival.

June 9, 2006

coolest movie poster ever

as seen on the side of a mandalay movie theater in myanmar. this was a hand-painted poster, an art form which i didn't realize still existed.

About Myanmar

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to gone living in the Myanmar category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Mongolia is the previous category.

Nepal is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.