I ADORE Myanmar. My love for the country pretty much started upon arrival; when I found myself in a taxi on route to Yangon on what would be the most crazy-fun car ride I have ever been on. For the duration of the journey, my emotions alternated from throwing back my head in fits of laughter to covering my eyes.
The horn never stopped blaring because it was busy announcing our vehicle’s approach as we dodged pedestrians, bicycles and goats. When the nose of the car closed in on a cyclist’s butt, my laughter only stopped long enough for me to drop out a, “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. The accelerator hit the floor.
Every bump, twist and turn chauffeured us to new levels of excitement. Whenever, we were spotted, hands flew into the air waving wildly. Electric smiles, bold, friendly voices eager to practice their English called out, “Hello, hello!” To which we responded, “Hello, hello!” Followed it up with a BIG, “Mingala Ba!” and grins that stretched out to our ears. By the end of the ride the muscles in our face hurt and our arms were sore from all the waving.
It appeared 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 taxi ride set the tone for our Myanmar adventure and it never let up.
If you were to ask me what I remember the most about this trip (besides the taxi ride) I would respond, the people. Their charming personalities are forever imprinted in my brain. Their hospitality. Kindness. Genuineness. There was a playfulness that grabbed my heart. The big beautiful smiles, vigorous waves, curiosity towards foreigners and the desire to practice English was found in every city, in every small town. I can still see their lovely faces—smeared with a pale-yellow gritty paste called Thanaka.
Physically, oh my goodness—I will remember the sweltering heat; it wrapped its arms around me and held on tight. I will also remember…peeling paint trying to free itself from tired buildings, hundreds of crimson betel stains on the streets. 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 were so many umbrellas. They came in every size and colour—pale blue, black, white, multi-coloured flowers. Everyone owned an umbrella. They were poised over peoples’ heads protecting them from the piercing sun. Walking down the streets, I encountered nuns with shaved heads dressed in pale pink robes and umbrella-carrying monks wearing deep red-orange coloured robes.
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. 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 that leaves you with a sore face and exhausted arms!