What we loved…
The Uniqueness – The men are wearing plaid cotton longyis, paired with retro western shirts. Their mouths are dyed red from the constant chewing (& spitting) of betel nut. The women are adorable yet sexy. They’re dressed in silk longyis with matching short-sleeved blazers, almost like flight attendants. The women and children (& occasionally men) decorate their faces with Thanaka – a yellow makeup/sunscreen made from ground bark. There are cultures within cultures – people from all over, whom, for generations now, have called Myanmar home. The people look different, the food is unlike any other, the attitude is unique, the cultures are varied – Myanmar feels very different than the rest of Asia
Locals’ Excitement – It’s not often you go somewhere and the people are truly excited to see you. Tourism is still a bit new, so seeing foreign faces hasn’t lost its mystique yet. Everyone wants to chat with you to practice their English. They want to hear where you have been, what you have done, and most of all, what you think about their country.
Sheer Ruggedness – Sure, there are some really comfortable aspects to having a tourism infrastructure, but seeing a country that has not yet been spoiled by tourism is pretty unique. Besides, the complete lack of infrastructure only adds to the adventure. Every bus, train, and taxi ride is a destination in and of itself; especially since the taxis have the steering wheels on the British side of the vehicle, but they drive on the American side of the road. Passing on two lane highways is a national pastime like in The Philippines and Romania. Imagine not even being able to see oncoming traffic until you’re 80% into the oncoming lane – now that’s an adventure!
What we didn’t love…
The Indiana Jones Complex – I don’t know what it is about the tourists traveling Myanmar. Maybe it’s that they tend to be older, or maybe they’re all just pricks. The tourists all have this uppity attitude, like Myanmar belongs to them. Everywhere you go, there’s khaki clad westerners giving you the cold shoulder. Pardon me for ruining your Indiana Jones experience simply by being another traveler in the same place as you. You’re not the first person to see the sunrise over the stupas of Bagan or the fishermen on Inle Lake. Whom, by the way, now make their living posing for tourists, not actually fishing. It’s so ironic – the locals are the happiest that you’re traveling Myanmar, but the tourists have the rudest “ugh, a white person” attitude.
Food – Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of foods that I absolutely loved throughout Myanmar like Shan noodles and avocado salad, but a lot of their food is really oily. Another bummer is how inaccessible it is outside of tourist restaurants. Many local restaurants cook all their food in the morning and serve it buffet style for the rest of the day – which for foreigners is a one way ticket to diarrhea city!.
Garbage Everywhere – Ok, ok, most third world countries we’ve visited have a bit of a littering issue, but Myanmar takes it to a whole new level. In the cities, in the country, on top of mountains, in the middle of nowhere – everywhere you look there’s garbage, lot’s of garbage. Our favorite guide of all time, Johnny, helped explain it. Myanmar borders recently opened. This meant more than just welcoming tourists, it also meant the arrival of packaged products (i.e. plastic, plastic, plastic). There’s no garbage disposal infrastructure because everything used to be biodegradable (like eating homemade meals off banana leaves). Now, the country is littered with chip bags, soda cans, water bottles, and plastic grocery bags.