Trip to Burma 2004
All travel reports are translated electronically although minor improvements are sometimes made.
Myanmar (Burma) 2004 – travel report
A much more complete report from a monthly travel across Burma is in the travel report:
My trip: Yangon (Rangoon)-Kyaitkiyo-Bago.
The description of the capital, each person exchanging currency, hotel as after bomb blast, Shwedagon Paya Pagoda, Burmese fashion, sad truth about the regime, girl named Hillit, Canadian companion and his story)
To the capital and at the same time the largest city of Burma-Yangon (Rangoon) flew in early in the morning from Bangkok. Customs cleared quickly but suspected that the soldiers at the airport were very persuasive and even reproached tourists to the counter. Recently, it was a legal requirement for every tourist to exchange a fixed amount of hard currency at the airport but fortunately this requirement was lifted. I did not mention anything because I had heard that the dollar and euro exchange rate (pound does not count) at the airport is two times lower than in the city and the currency trading proceeds go straight to the military regime. At the airport I was offered expensive for Burma hotels but also did not use this assistance, although it was a sum of about 10usd. I walked outside and whistled a rusty, rusted car. We had a brief conversation about Myanmar and said I wanted to go to the cheapest guest house in the center, near the golden pagoda Shwedagon Paya. The taxi driver also asked me if I wanted to buy some local currency (kyaty) and as it turned out the rate was two times better than at the airport. I also noticed that although the traffic was right, the cars were fitted to the left hand drive with the right hand drive. After a short while I got to the promised hostel called Golden Smiles Inn although the entrance looked like after a bombing. The conditions were very simple but I did not require much. For 5usd I got my room where there was only a bed and a chair and a shower outside. I needed that and I was glad that my dollars did not reach so much to the totalitarian government. At the hostel I met a girl called Hillit who apparently preferred to go out with a man because she asked me if I would like to visit the temples with her. Of course I agreed but we did not get long walks because my camera card broke down and I had to take a taxi to another part of the city to buy a new one and spend most of my money on touring this country. This incident severely damaged me and put me to the test of all the places I wanted to explore. Anyway, I used to be in a new country and saw the main pagoda put off for the next day and the day I bought the card I devoted to roaming the city. When I got to the street my first impression was not very good because it was dirty, everything was very unattractive and the colonial architecture, which could be a great tourist attraction, was also in bad shape. Compared to neighboring Thailand, for example, it was much poorer. Soon Yangon started to like me and started to explore the charms of this city. Along the street sat the sellers, who traded what they could and very willingly and friendly contact. It’s always a bust here and you can always try new dishes. On the street were fried bananas and other fruit in batter and sweets of own produce and fruit. Also in the streets, unfortunately, in the great dust, there were small plastic tables and chairs where the tea was sold.
It’s didn’t matter that there wasn’t even a minimal hygiene. Everything tasted very good and it was always a very good way to meet a few natives who were willing to talk to me. Wherever I went, people waved me and wanted to sell something. Although Yangon is visited by white faces, you can see that we are not the same here in other countries in South-East Asia and that is why we are raising a positive touch. After some time I also met my colleague from the hostel and went together to the bazaar to look for a regular local pub. I wanted to try real Burmese food but here everything was very modest and there were no rarities. I ate only a few cooked vegetables with metal bent plates and I drank water and the people sitting around me had a show because they saw two white ones. As I could expect in Myanmar the children work as waiters, cleaners and other kind of maids and also served me a young boy. I gave him a tip because I could not do anything else. On that day, I did not visit anything, I just walked in a new place with my colleague and enjoyed the beautiful chaos. Late in the evening, we sat down on the street at a small plastic table to have a cup of tea and a very poor man came up to us. He told us about life in Myanmar, about labor camps and about the fact that people here have no rights and he does not feel free. He said that everyone seems to think of it as a way to escape, but he does not. Some go to Thailand but are often caught. Before I managed to develop the subject, he fled to his miserable apartment. He said that the police are approaching and he does not want to be in trouble for talking with tourists because they may suspect that he is talking about how he is here. When it was dark and at one point we got lost, one man escorted us to the hotel and said that they liked to help foreigners in their country. In the dark it is easy to get lost here because the city is not well lit and very often the only light gives only the moon. Despite this, I always felt safe. That evening I also talked with the boy who ran my hotel and said he earns only $ 7 a month. He was very modestly dressed and slept in the hallway on the blanket on the concrete floor although some of the rooms were free. I thought it was the end of my first day in Burma, but when I went to my room my colleague unexpectedly pulled me to myself and made my stay even more enjoyable, and we traveled for a few days. Next morning I felt great. I ate breakfast at the hostel on the balcony, which was nice as I could watch the traffic of Yangon and its ubiquitous vendors. I also met a couple of Americans who moved permanently to Indonesia and had no intention of returning to the States to work and pay taxes. Then I went for a walk around the city towards the Shwedagon Paya pagoda. Although the landscape was the same I noticed some new things. Many men did not wear trousers but their traditional lungi or plaid material was tied around their hips. They always wear ordinary shirts and flip flops. I noticed that most of the soldiers only wear trousers because they are here because of their uniforms. In this climate, however, wearing this type of shawl instead of a trousers is not a stupid idea as it certainly provides better ventilation than trousers. Women paint their faces and faces with bright paintings that look funny to me, but it is a Burmese tradition that supposedly has its purpose. This is an old folk cosmetic that is prepared from the bark of trees. I was told that it is not only a cosmetic but also a perfume and sunscreen cream. Walking through the stalls I reached the viaduct from which was a panoramic view of Yangon and a few beautiful pagodas. I also went to a “bazaar with class” where souvenirs, t-shirts and even nice postcards were sold. I bought a wooden figurine sitting lion with open mouth, which is the symbol of Myanmar. This symbol can be seen before every temple, so after some time its view is in memory. I noticed that it is better to have katya with you than dollars because using a local currency you can bargain for a better price and it is easier to bargain. With currency exchange, there is no problem here because almost every one trades with it. At this place I met my second traveling companion. It was a middle-aged Canadian named Tom, who was very well versed in third world travels. On the way to the temple we have developed some interesting topics about our travels and work. He said he started traveling around 50 and advised me not to waste my life just for work but to use it as long as I was young. He said that we are very lucky because we come from countries where there are prospects and good care while 75% of the world does not even have access to clean water.
At the back I saw another golden pagoda (temple) which was huge at the base and rose at 100m. Without any doubt, the Shwedagon Paya temple complex will charm you with its unique beauty. It is the most important and sacred place for the people of Burma, which is visited daily by tourists, pilgrims and locals. Anyone who comes to Myanmar and usually lands in Yangon, first of all comes to see this beautiful architectural phenomenon. The construction of these temples is not fully known and is covered with many legends. It is known, however, that it comes from around X but some sources even say that it could be built between VI and XI, also the time span is quite large and not supported by some evidence. The highest point and symbol of the city is the tall, 100 meter stupa that rises above the city skyline. As I know, the bell shaped shape of the temple is related to the influence of the Ceylon culture and is covered with 8688 precious gold plates which reaches a mass of 60 tonnes of pure gold. In addition, the whole is decorated with precious stones, such as diamonds, rubies, sapphires and other and at its top there is a great diamond. In the middle of the stupa there are other precious objects, which according to legend come from the Buddha himself and outside the temple, but on the premises are many smaller temples, monuments of Buddha, sitting lion and places for worship. The entire temple complex is also a great place to meet local people who are always keen to tour the whole area and tell a number of legends for a small fee. It is also the best place to meet monks living there and make some interesting photos with them. In the middle of it there is also a very nice garden, from which grow smaller, also beautiful and golden temples. In this place I found out about the kindness of the local people. The staff of the temple gave us a room to sit in and to give us some water. The only thing I did not like about it was that the Burmese came in for free and the white people had to pay $5 per person. Of course I did not agree with that and I said that I was born in Burma and then moved to Poland and therefore I should not pay. As I could not expect anyone to believe it, the more so Tom said he was born in Burma and then moved to Canada. None of us wanted to pay because we knew that money would not reach the poor Burmese but to the ruthless, totalitarian ruling party of this beautiful country.
Unfortunately, when traveling to Burma we can not avoid it completely and only limit it. Everyone spoke English, so for the sake of misleading I spoke to Tom in Polish and he spoke to me in French and pretended to understand us well. This was a temporary effect, but when they wanted to call the police I quickly realized what country I was really and quickly paid. For many people here 5usd is the whole month of work. Anyway, the Shwedagon Paya temple complex was beautiful and definitively worth the waste of 5usd. For me personally it is one of those places where you can come many times and every time be dazzled by its beauty. On the way back we walked the same road, passing street stalls, stopping for tea on the street and for a small curry meal. In one of the dirty pubs we visited, to our surprise all the meat was just curry flavor. Even vegetables and eggs were curry flavors. Here they are, I thought. We drank water and headed for the hotel. On the way yet, we entered one of the small, very dingy but nice streets. Regardless of the occasional passing of cars, and women washing clothes in the dirt, we played badminton with Tom. A lot of people gathered around, lots of people looked out of the window and they all had the pleasure of seeing that two white people playing badminton bypassing cars, although they are doing the same. We also went to the internet but it turned out that there was a crash. It is true, however, that the use of the internet is very limited here, and that the pages of all Western news dailies, such as the BBC or CNN, are blocked. The regime in Burma does not allow citizens to have any contact with the outside world. This contact began only to a certain extent when the country opened up to tourism, and both Burmese and tourists began to talk to each other. After traveling with the Internet I parted with Tom because I was a little tired of the day and slowly returned to the hostel. After throwing a few spiders and one mouse from the shower I refreshed myself and then dipped for two hours. On the same day I met Hillit and went to see another golden pagoda but not as spectacular as Shwedagon Paya. There was another small temple near the embassy whose names I do not remember. Just as before and here the central point was the golden bell-shaped building with a sharp end and the smaller chapels all around. We also went to a nice place with our Americans where the band played and it was much better than the average pub. The youngest waiter came to my senses as soon as he saw that the glasses were empty, he approached us bent in half and poured and then bowed. At first it seemed a little funny, but soon we realized that so poor people were acting. We were all sad because despite the beauty of this country we saw his misery and his poor people. We gave the waiter a few dollars tip and did not want to take it though maybe it was his monthly salary. Then it occurred to me that it was a shame that his boss saw it because maybe our dollars would not hit where they should. When everyone went back to the hotel I was still walking around the city at night and saw how the army surrounded the city center with barbed wire. I know it was stupid of me but I went to the soldier and asked why. He said with a big smile that it was for protection but what is the real reason I do not know. The next morning, after a good breakfast on the same balcony, I went from Hillit to a small temple near where I arranged with Tom. From there we proceeded to the north-west, to a distance of about 84 km Kyaitkiyo, or the legendary pagoda on the golden rock. Leaving Yangon was not easy as the bus departed when all the seats were occupied but fortunately the helpful Burmans stopped the truck on the street and we walked up to the back and so we reached another station where the bus was waiting for us. Slowly, after fully loading the bus, all that was possible, bypassing the already familiar city and people, the beautiful golden pagodas and its charming, deserted tea rooms, we left beautiful Yangon.
(Exotic road to Kyaiktiyo, Burmese list, really a developing country, chicks on a stick, trip to the summit, city on the mountain and pagoda on the rock)
After leaving Yangon, the landscape began to change rapidly. I was driving through rice paddies on a very bad road. The place was asphalt but in many sections there were only pits on the sandy road. I was sitting by the window and had a very good view of rice fields and farmers using very primitive tools. Most often plow field with a plow drawn by buffalo. Also before the field, the tanks filled with gray water were dug along the road. They are certainly used for irrigation of fields and it is a very good idea because in this way rainwater is collected which is then mixed with soil and dust from the road. To me, the most interesting view was when I saw the great buffalos submerged in these tanks. The roads were always narrow and the holes a lot and I think we were lucky that we did not come to one of the pools with buffalo. On the way I saw many small pagodas, mostly white ones with golden ends. All of these fields, pagodas, people and buffalos made me very happy although the bus shook without interruption. The trip was a great fun because every bus had a TV set that was broadcast live all the time. Despite its sad realities, Myanmar has its own music market with western hits in their own language. Nobody here is traveling, and therefore everyone is convinced that these are their songs. For example, I have heard many famous Bon Jovi, Madonna, Phil Collins and many other hits, but always in Burmese. People were having fun. They jumped because the bus kicked them up and sang with the TV. Sometimes they also shouted “Myanmar! Myanmar! “On the way we stopped for a moment to stretch the bones and as soon as I opened the window, there were desperate people who sold many interesting snacks and tried to push them to the bus. In addition to the sweets of one’s own produce, bananas and other fruits, there were also dishes such as three little birds plucked from feathers and nabe on a stick or small eggs and salted fish, also nabyt na sticks. Many of these delicacies were so small that they did not even pay off. When I got out of the bus I was chosen as the customer number one and they did not want to give me a break. I saw some small pagodas, a lot of dust and tired of getting on the bus. As always in Burma, women and children had painted faces and men were in lung. After a few hours we reached a small village, the closest to the pagoda on the golden rock. This pagoda is located high upstairs and in the village we had to spend the night which was also a nice experience. When I reached the village of Kyaikto, I was greeted by children selling fruit. The girls obviously had their faces painted with their traditional chalk and they offered fruit with a big smile. One boy in the promotion gave me a banana but provided that during my entire stay I would buy fruit only from him. The village was small and very nice with many well-mannered people. There were some very modest bars where you could eat fried rice in vegetables and along the main street and at the same street the young women were selling sweets and dried fruits. Thanks to the pagoda on the rock the whole village was well prepared for the newcomers and yet it kept its Burmese character, not commercialized for exaggeration. I found here a very cheap room for two, which cost only 2usd although Hillit was still paying. In the evening the village was completely dark but the people were active. The girls continued to sell sweets and sometimes even served me. I liked it here that there was only one TV in the village and in the darkness people gathered for a movie in a wooden barrack, drinking tea. I also walked in and was very nice although I did not understand. The next morning I got up early in the morning because a truck was waiting for us, which loaded up 150% of its payload on people, and we went up to the golden pagoda on the rock. I had to hold fast because the bends were sharp, we were traveling at different speeds on uneven ground and often braked violently. After a short while we got to Sapporo, which is the middle of the road where the trucks were loaded and some went higher, but I and my travel companions went for a walk.
On the way there were bars set on the edges of the mountains, coconuts were sold and porters offered to take tourists on the bamboo sun loungers to the top. The views were beautiful and it compensated hard despite the fact that the higher was the harder. Even in the higher parts of the mountains people lived in wooden huts on the promenades, and there they had stalls with their souvenirs. The only bad thing before entering the temple itself was that I had to pay the price of a white man in the amount of 5usd while the Burmans came in for free and could not manage to get upset. I heard there is one more road to the summit, a little longer and more steep but free, well … After more than an hour climbing we saw a temple complex in front of us, and soon its main part, the Golden Rock. The whole place was very interesting, inventively built, marble, everywhere were sold souvenirs and there were several smaller pagodas. From the top it was also a beautiful view of the mountains, rows of small white pagodas and wooden houses. There will always be one place in my memory where women could not enter because it would violate the holiness of this place. The main object of interest, however, was the Golden Rock set on the edge of a cliff with a small temple atop. This rock is covered with gold petals and optically looks like it was supposed to fall into the abyss. Legend says that there is no such possibility because under the rock is the hair of the Buddha himself, so it keeps perfect balance. The entire temple complex I liked very much and I believe the legend itself is quite interesting. Definitely the beauty of this tour adds the way up to where they are from the beautiful views and you can spend time with the locals with a cup of tea. On the way back I stopped with my friends in one of the pubs with a porch over the abyss and there it turned out that my stay in Burma was already over. My unexpected expenditures and “government spending” for the entry made me in this cheap country without money and I had to regret it. My dear friend Hillit lent me 20usd so that I could get out of the country. In Burma, it is a problem that travelers checks and credit cards are almost never accepted, and ATMs are occasionally unpredictable and do not always work. Here are the only American dollars that I have not had and I have not had them anywhere. At the exit of Burma I had to pay a airport tax of 10usd which made if I was not a woman I would be finished. My descent down, also a truck, was even better than climbing up. This time, too, there were lots of turns and verbs, but it seemed to me that the driver at some point drove off the steep slope and braked just before the bend. This ride was one of the better I have had and I cordially recommend it to everyone. Down below were children with fruit and a bus, which I got to the nearby Bago where I spent the night. Since then I have traveled with my Canadian colleague, because Hillit has gone the other way.
(Misery over imagination, adoption proposal, Burmese tragedy)
Bago has to offer some impressive temples and the opportunity to get to know the local monks, but I did not have the money for it and the time and money. I got here in the late afternoon and first sat down at the tea bazaar. Everything was fine, but as always in Burma lingered on chairs for liliputs. Bago is nothing special. In addition to the temples there is only a bazaar and a few dirty streets. Here I met the horrible misery that I had not seen before. I saw a woman dressed in shreds of rags, with two young children in her arms and begging for fruit. I was very moved but for the local people it was a normal sight. After a while we went to bed in a hotel named San Fransisco, but for a long time there was no light so I went somewhere else. On the same day in the evening I went to the nearest pub to make contact with people. I sat down in an ordinary, dirty pub where at that time there were more rats than people, and I watched those grim, exhausted faces and tired faces. With a couple of conversations, a few people asked me where I was and wanted to write them an invitation to Poland. They told me that their lives did not make sense in this poor prison. So they describe their country. The owner of the pub asked me to take his son to Poland because there I would be able to give him a good life and here is no chance. The surroundings were as tragic as these people. There were only barracks around, there were children playing on the road. Although I was pleased with my encounter, it was definitely the culmination of tragedy that the parent wanted to give someone his child for his good. The next morning I left Bago, not seeing him the way I wanted and for the rest of the money I returned to Yangon. On the spot I said goodbye to my Canadian travel companion and went to the nearby bazaar for a small breakfast and then on foot got to the airport. Fortunately, I borrowed the previously mentioned $20. Standing in front of the airport for the last kyat I bought a piece of watermelon and then paid the unfortunate airport tax and flew to Thailand.
I was delighted with this country from the beginning. For me, Myanmar will always be a land of beautiful golden pagodas and friendly and hospitable people who have been unfortunate enough to live in a country ruled by a brutal military organization. Myanmar (or Myanmar, as you prefer) is a place where you can move a few centuries back. The paradox is that on one side you can see oxen plowing the field with a hand plow and riding on horrible roads, and on the other hand, from the misery of local people, the temples are draining with gold and precious stones. Sami Burmans, though they are poor, always seem to be happy to see the tourist. There were always smiling people welcoming me to a new place and willing to talk. Besides it is very cheap, safe and many people speak English. The only thing that bothered me in Burma was the awareness of how it was governed and the lack of prospects for the future. I hope that I will be back here to get to know this beautiful country better. In addition, I would advise travelers to Burma to check the current situation before arriving. When I was here, it was peaceful, but the situation in such an unstable country could change faster than we expected.