I ABSOLUTELY adore Myanmar. My love for the country pretty much started upon arrival; when I found myself in a taxi on route to the hotel in Yangon on what would be one of the most crazy-fun car rides I have ever been on. For the duration of the ride, my emotions alternated from throwing back my head in fits of laughter to covering my eyes in a combination of fear and disbelief.
The horn never stopped blaring; it was too busy announcing our vehicle’s approach as we dodged pedestrians, bicycles and goats. One time, when the nose of the car closed in on a cyclist’s butt, my laughter only stopped long enough for me to express in disbelief, “slowly, slowly,” and then, my travel companion and I would be in hysterics all over again. Our laughter was all the encouragement the driver needed, and the accelerator hit the floor.
Every bump, twist and turn chauffeured me to new levels of excitement. Whenever, we were spotted by the locals, hands flew into the air waving wildly in greeting. Electric smiles, bold, friendly voices eager to practice their English called out, “Hello, hello!” To which we responded, “Hello, hello!” and were all too proud to practice what little Burmese we knew, “Mingala Ba!” The energy was so infectious at the end of the ride the muscles in my face would hurt from smiling and my arms would be sore from waving.
To add to the whole experience, it appeared that we had been transported back in time. There were rickety old wooden carts being pulled by white ox, cars and tractors from the 1950’s, water buffalo in every field and creek and there were so many people riding bicycles I thought…everyone in the country must own one. My friend summed up the experience perfectly when she claimed, “Bloody hell this is fantastic!” The car ride set the tone for our Myanmar adventure and it just kept going.
If you were to ask me what I remember the most about this trip (besides the taxi ride)? I would respond, the Burmese people and their charming personalities are forever imprinted in my brain. Their hospitality, kindness, genuineness—there is a playfulness to them that I just adore. The big beautiful smiles, energetic waves, curiosity towards foreigners and the eagerness to practice their English was found in every city, in every small town. I can still see their lovely faces—cheeks smeared with a pale yellow gritty cream that blocks the suns rays. Sometimes, foreheads and chins are also painted—a trend that both male and females, young and old engage in.
Physically, oh my goodness—I will remember the sweltering heat. I have never been so hot in all my life! I will also remember…peeling paint trying to free itself from tired buildings, hundreds of crimson betel stains on the streets. The beauty of the sun setting and rising over countless gleaming gold and glint-white pagodas; farmers leading their water buffalo to the river for an early morning soak and young children and their mothers bathing in the river.
I will also think of bare feet stuffed in flip-flops—the perfect footwear for monsoon flooding and tropical heat. Men and women wearing lyinghis or as the Thai’s call them sarongs. It’s wonderful here. There are so many umbrellas. They come in every size and colour—pale blue, black, white, multi-coloured flowers and they are all poised over peoples’ heads protecting them from the piercing sun. Walking down the streets, I encountered nuns with shaven heads dressed in pale pink robes and umbrella-carrying monks wearing deep red-orange coloured robes. I remember one day, I walked past a parched football field; the yellowed grass was littered with piles of abandoned robes and discarded flip-flops. Their owners—young monks were running barefoot in shorts fully engrossed in a football match.
These memories make me smile and I find it hard to believe this adventure was over 10 years ago. I often wonder…how much has Myanmar changed since my visit? Perhaps, I will return one day but until then, I wish for all who venture to this incredible pocket of the world—an experience that has you throwing your head back in fits of laughter and a taxi ride from the airport where you can keep your eyes open!
Activist, World traveller. Fan of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.