Myanmar or Burma?

The lack of clarity and definition in the name itself is just one representation of the changes and uncertainty this country is going through. But with less definition, comes a lot of surprises. I had wanted to visit Myanmar while working as a teacher in Bangkok in 2006. At that time is was very difficult, if not close to impossible, to travel freely in the country. The tourist ball really started rolling in about 2010. So when I came back to Southeast Asia this year, Myanmar was number one on my places to visit.

Even at the airport in Ho Chi Minh, I knew that I was going to a special place. The desk receptionist at the Vietjet counter would not let me check in without proof of an ongoing flight within my 28 day visa. I didn’t have one and in a hurry ran over to the purchasing counter to buy a ticket, that I would cancel anyway. I bought a $300 ticket back to Ho Chi Minh. Luckily, Vietjet has a $7 cancellation policy. I hustled back in line, presented my ticket and was aloud to proceed.

IMG_4126On the plane I met one of the friendly Burmese people countless blogs and travel books promised I would meet. Myanmar people have a reputation among travelers for being very friendly and helpful. Maybe this is because it is a newly open county to tourism and they are not jaded by all the foreigners. Her name was Mo Mo and she circled places on my map that she recommended I visit and gave me her email address before the plane landed.

I shared a taxi with a nice girl from New Zealand who had previously lived in Myanmar for a year. She also had many good things to say about the country and we chatted as the cab weaved its way through traffic. I noticed that there were quite a few new cars on the roads. The Japanese must have been here. Yangon is dingy with beautiful gold stupas poking out of the skyline.

My hostel was located near Sule Pagoda, one of the largest in Yangon. The first night I settled into my room and then hit the streets to find dinner. I found a lively night market that was steaming and bubbling with all kinds of treats. Market vendors had stacks of fruit and on every corner is a noodle restaurant with kindergarten size plastic chairs.

FullSizeRender-2One vendor in particular caught my attention. She was a very sweet looking elderly lady that had for sale many pairs of miniature size shoes. I stopped to ask her about them at which time she showed me her collection of handmade dolls, doll clothes as well as doll beds complete with mosquito net. Strangely the dolls looked a bit like me. They had short, dark curly hair with bangs. I bought four.

Yangon was very hot and humid, but I love to walk and the first day I visited the local market. It’s totally worth a visit as the tight aisles are stuffed with beautiful loungies, sparkly fabrics, jewelry, art, religious sculptures and lacquerware. I spent the rest of the afternoon getting to know the place and speaking with locals.
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The next day was eventful as I decided to take the train the circles Yangon. Miraculously, I made my way to the station and sheraded my way into buying a ticket, which put me back 30 cents and waited for my train. The bridge that crossed the tracks was missing some boards and my vertigo kicked as I stared through the rickety slats.

IMG_4110I have always loved traveling by train. I’m partial to public transportation anyways and trains are the best kind. They are spacious and usually take a route off the road system. The bench seats face each other, diner booth style, so most likely you will be either staring out the window or at the person in front of you for the duration. I sat with a mother and her three kids. We smiled and I offered them to share my grapefruit. At one point the little girl got motion sickness. I could tell from the look on her face and the vomit oozing from her fingers that she was going to get ill. I was a split second too late for offering up a plastic bag, but we were able to catch a bit.

The train goes to the outskirts of the city where the houses are lopsided and skirted with rubbish. But the people are busy with their goods and getting their families to and fro. I enjoyed the ride but was thankful three and a half hours when the train pulled back into the market station.