Myanmar: Arriving in the Land of Smiles

Myanmar, or Burma in the old days, is a country I have been longing to visit for quite some time. While traveling through other parts of Asia, fellow travelers repeatedly commented on the uniqueness of the place – the most welcoming and friendly people, a place set back in time where life runs at a much slower pace, a buddhist nation living their faith, a beautiful countryside complete with savannah-like areas, a lush river delta, tropical beaches and mountainous regions.

Finally, I could squeeze in a two-week-vacation in my tight hospital schedule and booked flights to Yangon. For a country, that is only slowly emerging and emancipating itself from years of military dictatorship and isolation, the welcome at the Yangon airport was warm and friendly. I was expecting the rather closed-up security and police guards I have encountered in Vietnam, but everyone at Yangon aiport, from the immigration control officer to the cleaning lady were giving me a welcoming smile on my arrival. And these smiles kept on following me around the country for the next two weeks.

 

In an attempt to visit as much of this wonderful country as possible in two weeks without loosing too much time on transportation I took a flight from Yangon to Nyaung U to start my journey at the temples of Bagan. The image of the balloons rising over the pagodas of Bagan has been on my mind for quite some time and I was hoping the reality would live up to my expectations.

Upon arrival, a storm was rolling in, dark clouds covered the skies. Trying to beat the jet lag, I still took my camera on a little stroll around Nyaung U. When the skies opened and the downpour caught me with no cover, a little girl came running towards me, opening an umbrella over my head and guiding me to the next temple for shield. I couldn’t have wished for a better welcome, I felt so humbled I almost cried.

 

The next morning, at 5:00 a.m.  I started my first attempt for the perfect sunrise picture of balloons floating above the pagodas. I rented an electric scooter for the first time in my life and tried to navigate on the pitch-black roads towards the pagodas. At sunrise, I did not see anything – thick fog was covering the fields.

I retreated to the busy markets of Nyaung U to dive into Burmese every day life. Markets are always one of the first places I am drawn to in a new to me country. On a little stroll, one can learn so much about the local habits, their food and customs and their way of trading. The market in Nyaung U still is a real local market where people buy their everyday produce, with little food stalls offering the typical noodle-based dishes, accompanied by different pickles and curries. Fortunately, only few tourists make their way up here, so the number of vendors of tourist trinkets is still low and one can stroll around without being hassled.

Speaking of hassling, I felt that, apart from downtown Yangon, vendors were not very pushy and demanding around the markets and also around the major sights throughout Myanmar. They would offer their fare but left you alone, if you were not inclined to buy anything. After the hurdles in India and the negative touch it gave to my most recent Indian experience, I was relieved to be given my personal space.

So, follow me along on a little stroll around the market and stay tuned for upcoming pictures of the Bagan pagodas at sunrise.

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