Thailand     More Thailand


2/9/08 - 2/22/08

Our first impression of Myanmar was as anticipated. The very modern Yangon International Airport was utterly empty, from the tarmac to 747 docking bays to immigration. Each of the three times we used the airport, we were the only plane in operation to be seen. Then we prepared to face the taxi touts that attack when you exit baggage claim. Well... there weren't any. Just one guy who turned out to be helpful and friendly. Tthen our taxi driver spoke fine English and had plenty to say. It was an unexpectedly fine start to a new land.
The trip largely continued in this fashion. Myanmar is a beautiful place full of wonderful people. It's heart and soul are strong and not yet sold out to tourism. The natural and cultural features are beautiful, fascinating and largely accessible. Infrastructure is a challenge. Roads are terrible, tourist services are low, internet is heavily censored/nonfunctional and power is highly unstable even in the big cities. But that's why we come to places like this. Although I still do like the option of a hot shower...
But there is plenty working against Myanmar including quite a large debate about the ethics of even traveling there with claims that tourism only supports the brutal and corrupt junta that is running the country and it's people into the ground. This argument only intensified after the September 2007 conflict between monks and the government and tourism has all but disappeared for now.
We certainly can't say much after such a short visit, but for whatever drop in the bucket our tourism dollars did for the government, it was very apparent that our presence was greatly appreciated by the many people we met whose livelyhoods depend on tourism. But what did we see? Well, not much. In fact, in 2005 the government packed everything up and moved the capital from Yangon to a newly created secret city, Naypyidaw, that we're not allowed to see... For the rest, it does sound like the government is a real problem. But people seem to know what to expect and are largely getting by in spite of the corruption.


It was like stepping back into Africa. Constantly fluctuating power, low availability of consumer items, narrow dining options. But I found Yangon very quaint. People were pretty friendly and not too pushy. The street food was ok and Chinatown comes alive at night. Better yet, we were in town the first weekend after Chinese New Year and so we got to see several dragon and lion dances bringing good luck to businesses. The big sight in Yangon is the Shwedegon temple complex. Holy smokes, it is truly Buddha-Disney. Dozens of temples, shrines, pagodas and stupas surround the giant golden central stupa. It's just incredible. More incredibly, locals outnumber tourists. In fact, we only saw 8 foreigners in the 5 hours we spent there.

photo album

Lake Inle

Haven't we seen enough of life on the waterways? Nope. And Inle does it well. The big lake is surrounded by villages built on stilts, 'floating' farms, towns lining twisty canals and even a manmade island retreat in the middle. There's a lively daily market that rotates between a handful of towns and plenty of monasteries and temples to keep you busy for a long time. We based ourselves in the main town of Nyuangshwe where we found good pizza and chocolate-covered banana pancakes. Between hiking, biking and motoring on the lake, we watched monks have lunch, taught nuns English, visited an orphanage and ate fresh sugar cane bars.

photo album


Hate to be negative, but Mandalay is a pit. The smog and soot devoured the viewpoints and covered us in a layer of sludge after even a short walk. Especially considering the state of tourism in Myanmar, Mandalay has possibly less stable electricity than even remote Inle (ok, that's a slight exaggeration). Mandalay itself is only a couple hundred years old, so the sights are largely very modern displays of piety. But just outside town are a handful of interesting sights with marginally more breathable air. The ancient cities of Inwa and Amurapura offer up temples and rural scenery while the modern temple complex at Sagaing offers a glimpse into the lives of the modern pilgrim.

photo album


The thousands of temples littering the plains of Bagan make it the number one tourist draw in Myanmar. The temples are anywhere from 20' to over 100' high and from 1000 years old to brand spanking new. Built by the rich and powerful to encourage good karma, the stupas and temples of Bagan are sprinkled as far as the eye can see. We spent a couple days bicycling through dirt, sand and farmlands to discover more Buddhas and gilded spires than we could handle. Oddly, we took surprisingly few photos, possibly because the view looks the same in every direction: stupa upon stupa upon gilded temple upon temple....

photo album