You might hear Burma more than Myanmar when talking about the country Myanmar itself. Myanmar is the official name since 1989, replacing its old name of Burma. When traveling to the country, we realized that Myanmar people still call their country Burma and their culture Burmese.
I went to Myanmar in a completely unprepared trip, thinking that I would not see anything but temple, thinking that I would have much quite time for meditation. Unexpectedly, my unprepared trip turned out to be amazing with many things discovered about Burmese cultures and people.
- Myanmar is catching the developing tide
The military government of Myanmar has just decided to open its door to the world in the early of 2010s. I had imagined a poor country with out of date infrastructure and bad public services. It is true that Myanmar has not yet had such modern train stations like Thailand, or huge shopping malls like Singapore. However, things are changing in Myanmar – from the variety of services to its quality. Just an examples – we rent a 3G router from the airport which provided us with unlimited data plan for 4 people to use at the same time. Believe me, it was real 3G – high speed and stable connection. Tourism, the currently focused area of Myanmar, has achieved a decent level that gives tourists, myself particularly, a wow.
- Yangon – the old capital
Yangon was the old capital of Myanmar, before it is moved to Naypyidaw in 2006. City hall of Yangon is surrounded by a Pagoda, a Muslim Temple and a Catholic Church. Isn’t it the sign for the national union, regardless of their ethnics and religions?
Motorbikes are forbidden in this city since 2003 because of traffic and safety reasons. The number of cars on the street is, thus, enormous. Traffic starts in Yangoon since 8am until late. You will be surprised to see how crowded the street is. Cars in Myanmar are imported from many countries without much consideration, I guess. There were cars with steerings on the right, and others on the left. But don’t be confused, people drive on the right side.
There are a lot of construction going on in Yangon right now. In the matter of no time, Yangon, the commercial center of Myanmar will be filled up by office building and complex.
- Bus and bus station
We booked the bus from Yangon to Bagan and vice versa on Facebook – can you believe that? Payment was then made via Paypal. We used a normal bus, expecting some kind of crazily racing bus at night like ones in Vietnam. However, what we got is a surprisingly good service bus. Snack, water, blanket and pillow were provided. My friends used JJ Express bus and they felt like traveling by airplane on the road. There were private seat-back TV screen!
I do not have one particular word to describe bus station in Yangon. We got into the bus to Bagan in a very dirty area. But we got off the bus from Bagan in a very organized and clean platform. Bus station in Bagan was in chaos with loud noise from the speaker. Taxi drivers and horse wagon drivers surrounded us to offer their service. That was very annoying to me as they did not seem to give up until you picked one. Remember to bargain – very hard – when using any kind of service.
I have a very good impression of Burmese people.
Not all Burmese people can speak English. But those who can, they speak it fairly decent. We were very comfortable with the tour guides, taxi drivers and horse wagon driver.
True story of us – my friend left his camera on the taxi on our drive to the airport leaving the country. As there was no official taxi carrier in Yangon, we considered losing his camera. What we did not expect was that after a while waiting in the airport, we saw somebody knocking hard on the glass to catch our attention. It was him, the taxi driver. He came back home, found the camera hung on the seat, drove all the way back with his wife and kid. He could not get inside the platform, thus, tried to do something in order to return to us what could bring him some hundreds of dollars if selling in the market. In this buddhist land, people are raised to be honest and kind.
Thanaka is a distinctive culture of Myanmar. You see it on the face of almost all ladies in the country. Thanaka is the cosmetics taken by scuffing the thank bark on a flat rock surface with water. The substance is then put on the skin to keep it from pimples, sunlights and also to provide supplement for a smooth skin. Thanaka wood can be found everywhere in the market, or the tourist destination. They are also available as compressed powder or processed cosmetics.
After 3 days of using thanaka, I do confirm its effect on my skin. I should have bought some and brought back home for usage.
- Tourist destinations
Talking about Myanmar is not only about Buddhism, but also about the priceless monuments and architectural ensemble that were left behind from the peak time of Buddhism in Myanmar.
It is not fair to brief summarize my feeling when visiting Shwedagon pagoda and Bagan area in this blog post. They are the highlights of my trip to Myanmar, and will be told in details later.