Mingalaba translates as hello in Burmese , yet another language I have learned 3 sentences in, not bad right?
After our brief stint in Vietnam we headed to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, though most people know it as Burma. The country opened its borders to foreign tourists only a few years ago after the military junta dissolved after decades of rule. Aung San Suu Kyi, probably the most famous Burmese politician, opposed the military government for years, even earning a Noble Peace Prize. President Obama also visited the country a few years ago, which helped empower many of the politically active. Needless to say the country has a very tumultuous history.
We landed in Yangon and immediately started sweating. Vietnam had been cool and rainy, but Yangon , which sits a little closer to the equator, was hot and humid. The city itself is a collage of that former British colonial style. It seemed like every building the British built was still standing or barely standing, but still housed shops and apartments nonetheless. We would walk around all day and maybe see 3 other foreigners, which was very different from the backpacker infested Chiang Mai we had left. For some reason people kept pulling us aside to take photos with them.......that's cool I guess, maybe we will be hung over someones mantle.
Culturally speaking Burma was much different that we had expected. Geographically speaking the country has always been the cross roads between the Indian Sub-Continent and Asia, and this is very apparent in the wide physical appearances of people. Two other cultural things we experienced were local attire, both men and women where lungis (sarong type garments) all the time. Though I didn't get one I did admire how comfortable and cool they must be. Second thing: betel nut. As with all sensical human populations the Burmese, as well as many other SE Asian groups, have become addicted to natural substances. The betel nut is rolled in a leaf with lime paste (the activator) and then chewed upon, similar to chewing tobacco. However, the difference is in the hue, as betel nut has a deep red color and often stains the users teeth and gums a deep red. Every inch of Yangon has a red tint to it from betel nut users spitting out their depleted wads.
|one of the largest Buddhas in the world, supposedly taller than the Statue of Liberty|
|monk with a telephoto?|
We stayed briefly in Yangon before getting on a bus for Bagan. Before we go further here I do need to point out how local all modes of transport are in Burma. For instance, the bus station was not what us in the west would think of, you know one main building with platforms and ticket offices preferably centrally located in a large urban area. Not in Yangon. The bus station was a good hour drive outside of the city and consisted of small row houses, each a separate company (100+ maybe?), each going somewhere different......now this is traveling! We were the only westerners on the bus which I thought was awesome, there hasn't been enough tourism yet to warrant tourist specific transports.
Anyway, made famous for its 2000+ pagodas (temples) Bagan was the epicenter of a prosperous civilizations almost a millennium ago. We arrived at 4:30 am and then promptly hired a horse and cart to take us to one of the temples for sunrise. It's a bit hard to capture the light, the mood, and the thousands of small pagodas in the distance on camera, but we tried. Most of our time in Bagan involved riding around on bicycles and checking out temples big and small, not to mention eating tons of strange delicious foods that I never learned the name for.
This place blew my mind. As a former archaeologist and general history / fact junky this is by far the most impressive site I have ever been to. The expanse and density of all the pagodas is mind boggling. Whats more is the such varied sizes, styles, and locations - all to venerate da Buddha. Well worth the trip.
|rolling leaves for betel nut|
|betel nut dealer, also known as "reds"|
|lots of gold|
|the old way|
|Katie got overzealous with the sauce|
The remainder of our trip we spent jumping around to recommended eateries in Yangon. Our days were dictated not by sites or attractions but rather on what are stomachs told us. I also had the pleasure to run into a young Burmese man at a temple we visited. He sort of looked like what a Burmese male model would look like in a magazine, but I digress. He sat down and asked me where I was from and we small talked for a bit, the whole time he was so amazed and happy for me to be in his country. After decades of closure he wanted to learn as much as he could from me and wanted to tell me all about his country. Long story short he was once a monk that protested the government which led to him being imprisoned and tortured for 3 years. Upon release he become a literature major at university and hopes to write the new classics. I felt privileged to have met him and will always remember the encounter, along with the handful of others that have accumulated over the years.