Myanmar aka Burma is one amongst those rare virgin travel destinations where everything is offbeat. During my fast-paced travel across Bagan, Inle Lake and Yangon, I was totally bowled over by various hues, shades and nuances. With its time defying beauty, its architecture, its rawness, its stagnant history and its tussle with mundane modernity, Myanmar is a volcano which once when erupts, would be the shining star of travel landscape.
When in Myanmar, you would find yourself in a whirl of transformation called modernization. Juxtaposition of contrasting imageries is omnipresent here. Shades of grey dominates mundane fabric of everyday’s life. Haphazardly and hurriedly, the country is trying to catch up with the world and in doing so fighting hard to preserve its lost glory. Everything here is in between, be it political system which hangs somewhere between democracy and army rule, be it social structure which is struggling between modernity and deeply rooted tradition or be it travel landscape which lies somewhere between ages old sites and commercialized (read westernized) ecosystem. It could be the only place where Buddhist monk in saffron rob walks hand in hand with a lady in superficially dressed western attire.
The aim of this blog post is to inspire you to go Myanmar and explore it now before its beauty is exploited and its culture is commercialized. Today, you can experience its rawness, feel its real essence and touch its true fabric at your pace on your will. So, here goes top reasons which inspired me to visit the Land of Golden Pagoras and I hope they will inspire you too.
Myanmar gives you reason to be you
Traveling around Myanmar is hassle free and yet to be commercialized travel scene let you be your own guide. It offers many corners where you can sit idle while assimilating your thoughts and seeing the world with fresh perspective. It will take you back in time when things were simple yet profound and embrace you tight yet do not disturb your deliberate seclusion.
You feel this many times at many places: At the top of Pagoras in Bagan; while hoping on bike across Bagan finding your own Pagoras; while taking a boat ride in Inle Lake in search of Intha people; while meditating inside a pagora; while walking From Sule Pagora to Swesadagon Pagora on the streets of Yangon. It’s a paradise for solo and slow travelers for it gives you reason to be you.
Myanmar is raw & classic
It is what Thailand or Malayasia must have been in 1970s. Due to political turmoil, Myanmar was literally cut off from the outer world for many decades and this ensured that country retained its old-world classic imagery. Natives and locals take pride in exhibiting their culture and follow their traditions. Streets offer innumerable opportunity to capture candid shots which exude charm of a time defying civilization. Its building and architecture showcase the layers of evolution and echo the lost glory.
Myanmar is a melting pot of cultures
Sandwiched between China and India, Myanmar is a true melting pot of South East Asia where influence of two greatest civilization i.e. Indian and Chinese have co-existed for centuries. Language is derived from ancient Indian language; architecture is heavily influenced by India; trade and commerce were once ruled by Indians and still runs the same way as Indian do business; food is one where Chinese influence is quite visible with a mix of Thai food. Thailand has also immensely added its own version into everything and under Britishers, Myanmar tasted earlier form of westernization; during Japanese occupation during World War II, Myanmar was exposed to Japanese way of living which is still visibile in some aspects. Further, Myanmar has more than hundred different ethnic groups, each with its own history, rituals, culture and native language that makes is distinct and unique.
Myanmar has thriving Tribal life
Due to closed door policy adopted by Myanmar, more than 100 ethnic and tribal groups could practice their rituals and live life in old ways. If ethnic tourism or tribal life is something that gives you kick, Myanmar is the place to go now.
Here you would be mesmerized by the cultural traits and traditions of these native tribal groups. Intha Tribe around Inle Lake possess unique style of rowing with one leg and they love to show their skills with openness. Long neck women of Karen tribe might be the most photographed tribal women from Myanmar. In Moken people of Bo Cho Island, you would meet Sea Hunters who live life by sea. Along Indian borders, lives Chin Tribe who are known for distorting the face of their women to protect them from other tribes. Myanmar is filled with many more such exclusive experiences. Such well preserved and still thriving old and archaic traditions of native tribes tell us the story how our humanity has evolved. Their closeness to nature tell us how nature can still nurture us. Unfortunately many of these traditions are dying due to forced assimilation into modern society which makes Myanmar a must visit place now.
Myanmar is truly offbeat
This is Burma and it is quite unlike any land you know about.Rudyar Kipling, 1889
Rudyard Kipling felt this during his 3 days visit to Maynamr in 1889 and it still hold so true till date. Indeed, I can vouch for this after my 7 days trip to Myanmar. I was mesmerized by the captivating beauty of Inle Lake and enchanting landscapes of Bagan. They were far better than any of their photographs every clicked. Gold gilded Pagoras from Bagan to Mandaley to Yangon exhibit the glorious past of this golden part of earth. Girls with Thanaka Paste is ubiquitous scene and an unifying factor among women across races and of all ages. Different poses and colors of Buddhas such as sleeping Buddha, Meditating Buddha, Golden Buddha, Maroon Buddha, Standing Buddha etc. keep you on toes for more unexpected things to follow. Sunrises and Sunset experience in Bagan from the top of your secret Pagora which you have finally found make it a personal experience.
Various such experiences are unique and distinct to Myanmar which make it a truly offbeat place which is yet to be explored. It is yet to get its due on the travel map. Rudyard Kipling was so emamoured with the charm of erstwhile Burma that in one letter to his friend, he wished to die as a Burman.
When I die, I will be a Burman, with twenty yards of real King’s silk, that has been made in Mandalay, about my body, and a succession of cigarettes between my lips. I will wave the cigarette to emphasise my conversation, which shall be full of jest and repartee, and I will always walk about with a pretty almond-coloured girl who shall laugh and jest too, as a young maiden ought. She shall not pull a sari over her head when a man looks at her and glare suggestively from behind it, nor shall she tramp behind me when I walk: for these are the customs of India. She shall look all the world between the eyes, in honesty and good fellowship, and I will teach her not to defile her pretty mouth with chopped tobacco in a cabbage leaf, but to inhale good cigarettes of Egypt’s best brand.Rudyard Kipling, 1889
Myanmar is a paradise for slow and solo travelers
If you are one of those you love to pace your travel as per your mood and believe in absorbing the place and feel it intrinsically, Myanmar is the land to experience. Between Tropical south and Burmese Himalaya in the north, it has Buddhist centric heartland filled with history and heritage, It has natural wonders and little understood tribal lands all around.
During my solo travel to Bagan, I hired a e-bike and explored the this old capital at my wish. I literally got lost twice while hopping from one Pagora to other. I explore the multi-layered landscape at 4 in the morning and at 9 in the evening just to feel the place. No body cared for the way i was exploring their ancient city.
In Inle lake, I hopped on a boat and went deep inside the Lake. Fortunate was I, for I landed there when natives were celebrating most famous festival of Inle Lake i.e. Annual Paung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival when Inle Lake attains its full glory. Later, i biked around the city to feel the town of Nyaungshwe. People everywhere were very supportive and hospitable. They wanted to interact and show their world with full openess.
Yangon is another place which gives best experience of slow travel. I walked around the downtown and loved to find the Indian Influence and presence everywhere. Walk from Sule Pagora to the Tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafer and further to Shwedagon Pagoda was walk of my life. I also hired a distinct Cycle Rickshaw and took a slow paced tour across Yangon. Rickshaw puller of Indian origin was my de facto guide and took me through lanes and bylanes of Yangon Downtown. Yangon offers some great frames for street photography with a lot heritage worthy backgrounds. The vibrancy and mix of life, which is simple and sober, is rare to find elsewhere could be find in abundance here.
Out of all my travel stories, Myanmar is the crowning glory and I feel so fortunate and blessed for getting the opportunity to see it now. fiveIt is an enigma that I again and again want to explore. Myanmar still preserves what we have lost otherwise. It still exhibits what we have stopped visualizing otherwise. It still practices what we never heard of before. Its old world charm and slow pace of modernization make it a ultimate bucket list worthy travel destination where when you go, you would ultimately come back with hand full of memories filled with around humanity, kindness, spirituality and simplicity.
If you feel motivated, please share this blog post with your loved ones so that they can break the mundane cycle of everyday life and explore the world. Myanmar is waiting for you. Go Myanamr.