Is it Myanmar or Burma? Update Part 2

hello hello and apologies for the recent silence but our last couple weeks in myanmar were without internet because the government shut it down due to political uprising in parts of the country which we were happily not a part of. we are now back in thailand for the 3rd time and it feels like another world compared to myanmar. immediately after clearing stiff thai immigration the roads were paved, there were signs in english, and the people are more jaded. not surprising tho as thailand has had the last 30 years to develop tourism and infrastructure while myanmar has been locked in a time warp. our departure from there was with heavy hearts and there were a few tears shed.

during our month in myanmar the people made a real impression on the both of us and i can honestly say that as a whole they are the kindest people i have ever met. our final ride to the border was in the back of a rickety 3 wheeled type of pickup and everyone we passed on the road was waving and smiling at us. this was typical of our experiences there and darn near every man, woman, and child was extremely kind and generous to both of us every step of the way. there were also plenty of awkward moments where they would stare us down or giggle because a lot of them have never seen the likes of the 2 of us before, but that just served as a reminder to how fortunate we are to have seen this country in such a raw state before massive tourism rears it’s ugly head. this is no doubt on the horizon and it saddens us deeply to think of the inevitable changes. hopefully it will be good for the people economically but in spiritual terms they are already very rich. the government is a huge x-factor in the whole equation and the upcoming elections will play a big role in which direction they go. there is a prevailing sense of distrust amongst the people and there is already a shadow of doubt that has been cast over the election process, especially since the heavy favorite of the people, aung san suu kyi (who obama has visited twice), is currently not eligible to run becuase her party (national league for democracy) is not recognized by the ruling military junta. there is hope for a constitutional amendment prior to the elections which would allow her to run but without her participation there is little hope for tangible change and things could easily return to a state of unrest and corruption.

on a lighter note, the country itself is fantastic! the diversity in regions is astounding and we covered a lot of ground. after hiking in the hills around kalaw, we took a train to inle lake and stayed for 3 days of exploration. the lake is home to multiple floating villages and temples and we chartered a local boatman to take us around for a personal tour. we visited weaving shops, cigar rolling women, and entire communities built on stilts on the lake’s marshy edges. it was a fantastic way to taste what has been their way of life for countless generations. we also spent a day on bicycles to explore the outlying villages surrounding the lake and hiking up to the omnipresent hill temples for great vistas.

our next stop was the ancient temple town of bagan – a spot that has been on my mind and wishlist for many years, and an area i have longed to experience personally. it did not disappoint. words can’t do it justice but it sits in the delta of the ayyerwaddy river delta in north-central myanmar and is comprised of over 3000 temples from the period of 700-1100ad. it is the ancient capital of the burmese kingdom but was abandoned over 600 years ago for reasons that are still not clear. the temples are scattered over an area of about 30sq miles and in 5 days we did our best to take it all in. the haphazzardness of their placements meant that we could walk in literally any direction and stumble upon a beautiful temple. almost all are adorned with intricate carvings and buddha statues and the amount of work that went into their construction is staggering. we started almost every day with sunrise from the top of a remote temple and it gives me goosebumps just to write of the experience. the flatness of the terrain meant that we could gaze in every direction and watch the sun light up temples as far as our eyes could see. added to this was a smoky mist drifting through a mix of desert sand and jungle vegetation creating a surreal landscape that neither of us will ever forget. my vocabulary does not contain enough superlatives to describe this place any further so i will leave it at that.

leaving bagan, we took another 10hr ‘sleeper’ bus back to yangon as we needed to work our way south in preparation for exiting the country overland. we only stayed a day this time thru but it was enough time to chart our course south and restock on baileys.

from yangon we took a brutal night bus back to mawlamyine to fulfill a promise made to our friend phyo. he was our taxi driver upon entering the country and our first of many friends. on our previous stay we left before being able to meet his family but vowed to return and that we did. he came to meet us at a restaurant with his wife and baby boy in tow and was visibly emotional to see us again. we only had a couple hours to spend with them but it was a really powerful reunion and watching megan play with his 7month old son and the stuffed pooh bear we had procured as a gift was truly priceless. they put us and our packs on the back of the motorbikes (he drove one-handed with his baby in the other and me and my pack on back) and got us to the bus station to see us off. it was a teary and heavy-duty goodbye but we hope to see him again sometime in the future.

near mawlamyine is hpa-an which we missed on our way north so we decided to give it a look. this turned out to be a great decision and we ended up staying for 3 days. the surrounding countryside is laced with limestone karst formations, massive caves, and hidden lakes. we rented a motorbike to explore some of these natural wonders and had a great time doing so. our biggest adventure there was making the pilgrimage to the top of the highest peak in the area where there is temple housing a hair of the buddha. it took about 5 hours to climb the thousands of steps and we dripped sweat constantly but the views from the top were spectacular and the gang of monkeys provided the entertainment. we were both really glad to have made this impromptu trip but the southern beaches were calling so off we went into the sunset again.

yet another night bus! we rolled into the town of dawei at sunrise and quickly hopped in the back of tuk-tuk for a ride to the coast. tired and weary, we quickly perked up when we saw the stretch of coast on the andaman sea which would be our home for the next few days. gorgeous. we followed the recommendation of a german couple we had met earlier in our trip, and tracked down a lonely set of bungalows right on the beach. they were cheap and basic and we had the place nearly to ourselves for 4 days of splendid bliss. our days were filled with walking the shell-ladened beach for miles in either direction and our evenings were spent eating seafood and playing cards in one of the beachside shack restaurants. there may have been some cheap whiskey (ridiculously cheap) involved as well but that part is a little vague. we both were longing for more time in this wonderful country but alas our 28day visas were expiring in a matter of hours so we bid a fond farewell to the coast and made a run for the border.

we were able to cross relatively hassle-free at a newly opened border crossing near katchanaburi in thailand and that is where we now sit, reflecting on the past month and our absolutely fantastic time in myanmar. being back in thailand things feel modern and easy but we are looking at it thru different eyes this time around. we are wrapping up logistics and preparing to board a train in a couple hours which will take us 18hrs south and to our next destination – the trang islands off the southern coast of thailand where more happiness undoubtedly awaits.

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