We were quite busy this last morning in Dali and we caught our bus to Kunming in the last minute but we missed then our flight to Bangkok. It was cancelled in fact for whatever reason and we missed our connecting flight to Yangon. We were quite upset and disappointed, inpatient to reach Myanmar - the country of 50 races, 1000 smiles and 1 million pagodas... Kids were not so concern about the travel issue, just happy to stay in China one more night, to sleep in a big hotel and even more happy to travel on business class the next day (they told us that from now on they will always travel on business class).
Arrival in Yangon
With few hours delay we finally arrived in Yangon on the 13th of June in the evening. The first impressions are that it doesn't look touched by the recent cyclone and that we are in another part of Asia. We felt much closer to India. After China it is surprising and fascinating to see the mix of population: Muslims, Indians, Burmese, Buddhist, other people of Myanmar, living all together in the narrow streets around Sule Paya. The faces of the people are different: much darker, the eyes are shining, the hair very black, the women - thin, elegant, beautiful...
People living in Yangon will tell you that they can not recognise their city anymore, that it will never be the same. For us the feeling is different: there is no flooded areas in the city, the roads are cleaned from the cyclone, there were signs of broken trees and damaged fences but you do not notice it at first. Yangon is still very green city. We did not do much for the people affected by the cyclone: as tourists we are not allowed to access in the area hit by the cyclone. We contacted Partners, a French NGO but didn't manage to work for them. We finally met them just before leaving Myanmar and we strongly recommend this NGO to all of you. Please check their web site (www.partenaires-association.org) and if you want to help them financially or on the field please contact them. It is an NGO working on small projects, very attentive and working on long term basis with local people. During our stay in Myanmar we are north of Yangon, far away from the area affected by Nargis.
From Yangon to Inle Lake
On the 14 of June, at 2pm we left our guest house in Yangon and we arrived in Hsipaw only at 7pm, the following day. We experienced different kind of transport: pick up, bus, trishaw, and bus again. Kids were ok and endured the 26hours journey better than us. As Mira said, the travel was long but the good thing was that we stopped for 4 hours so that they could play at the side of the road - it was in fact a long break down. We didn't see so many different places in Myanmar: Hsipaw, Mandalay, Bagan, Kalaw, Inle lake and then back to Yangon. Hsipaw was a nice small village at the foot of the Shan mountains; Mandalay, the old capital, was busy and very lively; Bagan - a huge impressive plain covered with thousands of temples: golden, brick made or built with thousand-year old stones;Yangon - colourful, green and captivating but we preferred most Kalaw and Inle Lake. The cool weather in Kalaw after the heat wave in Bagan, the beautiful scenery on the trek between Kalaw and Inle, and the magic life on the water of Inle lake.
For different reasons the country is empty of tourists. We met the first tourists after 4 days in the country, and the few travellers we met in Mandalay we met again in Bagan and Inle Lake. The events of September 2007, the cyclone, the rainy season starting in June, these are all the reasons why the country is empty of tourists. It is good thing for us. Being alone in Bagan around 4000 pagodas is certainly a different feelings than being surrounded by 500 tourists, cameras in hand, waiting for the sunset on Ananda Paya. But for the local people it is a different story, the reality is a little more bitter and difficult. Once in Mandalay we went back to the guest house by trishaw (taxi bike). The 2 guys biking us to the centre were very nice. The one biking Mira and me was explaining in a very simple and sincere way how difficult it is at the moment: there is no tourists in Myanmar and they hardly earn enough money to eat and to survive. The one biking Sashko and Nina was so skinny and sweating so much. We felt very sad and sorry for them. We had this feeling different times during our stay in Myanmar. Most of the people in the country are poor and it is mostly local people who benefits from the individual travellers and not the government - the government has its pockets full with money mainly from the gas and oil trade but also from the teak, timber, gems exported to China, India, Thailand.
June is the beginning of the rainy season but we didn't suffer so much from the monsoon. The rain is making the rhythm of the day. It is either a light rain which refreshes you and doesn't stop you in your walk, either a strong and heavy rain in the evening or at night. Then it is a good opportunity to stop in a souvenir shop, to have a pastry and a coffee at a street stall, to enter in a Pagoda. It is a good opportunity to stay a little longer, to discuss with a monk, happy to speak with foreigners and to improve his English.
Beautiful People of Myanmar
You can not talk about Myanmar without talking about its people. We saw nice temples, nice scenery, nice places but the real beauty of the country are the people. Kids smiling, people eager to talk with you to know where you are coming from, where you are going, beautiful and delicate women, gracious like ballet dancers, skillful canoe riders, paddling standing on one foot or sitting like Buddha, young monks, shy but in the same time so happy and willing to talk with you in English, villages full with colourful dressed people from the tribes Pa O or Palaung, women with big bamboo baskets on their backs, small kids resting on the backs of huge water buffaloes, kids in green school uniforms, studying noisily in the completely open wooden school and repeating monotonously their lesson...