I have to say many of my friends showed skepticism when I told them I was traveling to Myanmar. For some of them Myanmar is a completely unknown land and for others is one of those places that do not sound safe enough to travel to. Travel agencies do not bother to advertise Myanmar much, but slowly the number of tourists has been increasing year after year, since the boycott was lifted. Personally, I found Myanmar very safe and I haven’t had a single incident to keep me from recommending it 100% (except for my husband’s visa incident on arrival). This is my conclusion after 10 days there: go visit Myanmar! You will fall in love with it. And here’s what made me love Myanmar so much:
1.The hearty smile of the people
It is hard to find someone not to smile at you in Myanmar. I would say it’s almost impossible. Everywhere we have traveled inside the country, city or village, poor or rich, people welcomed us with a big smile. Walking in their villages, in their open markets, inside the pagodas, at the hotel and restaurants, along the hiking routes in the mountain we found the genuine Burmese smile painted on the women and babies faces together with the thanaka or behind the red teeth of the men who chew the paan (betel leaf with bitter nut).
2.The food diversity
Sharing borders with three giant cuisines, Indian, Thai and Chinese, Myanmar has been strongly influenced by its neighbors. They eat meat, mostly chicken, pork and fish (but beef is also present in their dishes) and countless vegetables and fruit. Rice is never absent from the Burmese meals. They like spicy food, less spicy though than in the neighboring countries, and they use a huge variety of condiments to flavor their meals, among which you will find the dried and powder chilies, turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, crushed garlic and onion, etc. The 5 day markets were a big curiosity for me, as I have never seen such a variety of plants, roots, leaves and spices.
3.The well preserved crafts
Almost every day in Myanmar we’ve been introduced a new craft, if not more. Some of the skills and techniques have been preserved for centuries and transmitted from generation to generation. Whether it was the gold leaf making, the lotus weaving, the wood carving, the bamboo hats making, the silverware, the tobacco cigars rolling, the lacquer ware, the boats making, the Burmese people are very skilled artisans and watching them performing their skill was truly fascinating.
4.The amazing nature
It is beyond words how beautiful Myanmar is. Some famous photographers even said that Myanmar is the most photogenic country in the world. I could not argue on that, as places like Popa Mountain, Bagan, Inle Lake, Taungthaman Lake or the surroundings of Mandalay or Pindaya delighted my eyes with unforgettable landscapes.
5.The simple and unspoiled lifestyle
Traveling in Myanmar is doubtless a very enriching experience. If the bigger cities like Yangon or Mandalay show signs of modernity, life in the villages goes on unspoiled. One of the guides told us that a few years ago very few people could afford to have a mobile, as a SIM card coasted around 500 USD. Today almost everyone has a mobile, as 2 telephony companies entered the country and made this service affordable to the Burmese people. Internet, despite the extremely slow connection is another achievement. But these are probably the only modern things that reached the rural communities. People there are extremely attached to the nature itself, whether is the land they built their house on, the forest, the river or the lake. It is very common to see the women doing their laundry in the lakes or washing themselves or their babies. Every single tree or plant is well known by the locals and has a specific use. And there are probably thousands. Thanaka is the most known natural cosmetic in Myanmar and everybody has been wearing it proudly for generations. Shampoos are extracted from plants, local herbs and potions treat medical affections and over everything there is the strong faith and the Buddhist belief in peace.
6.The variety of the ethnic groups
67 indigenous racial groups inhabit Myanmar and no fewer than 242 languages and dialects are spoken inside this peculiar country. Altogether they make Myanmar an appealing, colorful land, with a very rich and diverse cultural life. Traveling inside the country has put me face to face with representatives of the local tribes such as Pa-O, Shan or the Kayan Padaung “long neck” ladies.
7.The strong morals inspired by the Buddhist principles
Burmese society is characterized by onana, a concept that can be translated as the avoidance of doing anything that could offend or cause someone harm or embarrassment. Children are being taught from early stage to respect their parents and the elders. The Burmese are people who possess a lot of empathy and display willingness to help at all times. Walking in the mountains we found buckets with water and cups, along the way. The guide who accompanied us told us people put them thinking of other people walking in the mountain, who might get thirsty.
8.The cutest babies in the world
I like babies and I am always tempted to stop and play with them. In Myanmar I fell in love with every single baby we met along the way. They looked like dolls, with the tanaka painted on their cute faces and their parents always encouraged them to approach us and say hi.
9.The breathtaking sunsets and sunrises
A journey in Myanmar is incomplete without watching a sunrise and sunset. We have seen many beautiful ones during our stay, but the sunrise with the hot air balloons over the 3100 pagodas and stupas in Bagan composed an unforgettable picture.
10.The kindness of the locals and their joy for life, despite the striking poverty
Statistics show Myanmar as one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, where only 25% of the country’s population has electricity. Infrastructure is old and rudimentary, with few repairs since their construction and it can take ages to travel by car between the bigger cities. But despite the poverty that reigns in the country, the Burmese people are warm, joyful, welcoming and ready to share with you the little they have. The joy for life and the harmony that seems to govern their day by day life is what I loved the most about them. And what most intrigued me.