December 12th, 2007 – by: vidalibre
Being in Myanmar is like being in a dream. I have just awoken, having arrived in Bangkok. Everything seems so easy here compared to Myanmar. But the charm of Myanmar can't be matched. These people have endured so much, including colonialism and multiple military dictatorships. The average daily income is just a few dollars per day which puts them near the bottom in the world rankings. Yet, for such an impoverished and unfortunate people, I've never seen people with more hope. They seems to have accepted their fate and live life with an easynesss not seen in the Western World. Just walk down the street and smile at someone and they will return the biggest smile you have ever seen. And this is from everyone, as they see so few tourists compared to their neighboring countries that they welcome you with open arms.
On my first day in Bangkok, I met a Dane named Casper. He and I decided that we both wanted to see Myanmar, and off we went. We started in Yangoon, which is both exotic and bizarre at the same time. The streets are teeming with people selling everything from underwear to CD rip-offs performed in Burmese. The streets are covered in spit from the beetlenut chewed by most men and there are people in every nook and cranny you can find. Many take a blanket and pillow and sleep outside at night for obvious reasons, but it doesn't look homeless to me... The contradiction comes from the fact that you see so few tourists/travellers on the streets in this nation's capital, yet as you walk by the windows of the more upscale hotels, you'll see white-haired Westerners standing at the buffet line in hotels charging upwards of $200/night. In fact, the Strand Hotel, the nation's most famous, charges $450 per room night and an astounding $900 for a suite. The people standing a few meters away from the front lobby make an average of $3 per day. Yangoon, even with its beetlenut-juiced streets, rats and roaches had a charm rarely encountered in a nation's capital. You can walk into almost any shop and be greeted by a happy-go-lucky local that has a grin from ear to ear and is very eager to use what English they know to speak with you.
After a few days in Yangoon, we took the first of our many brutal bus rides. We first went to the Inle Lake Region. Just 120-150km took about 14 hours in a cramped bus that was supposed to be a 'luxury bus'. The only thing luxury about it was that it stopped from time to time so you could get out, stretch your legs and by another bottle of whiskey so you could sleep. Once you get used to these bus trips, however, they do get much easier. Upon arrival to Inle Lake, we were greeted by the hotel operator who was as kind and friendly as they come. In fact, he checked us into the hotel at 6:30am, fed us breakfast, and never even charged us. We found this to be the case all over the country, as when you arrive early, they are so pleased you are staying with them that they feed you breakfast and don't charge you for the room until that evening. Try to find that in LA or New York.... While in Inle, we hiked into the hills and met with a few local tribes, where they invited us into their homes for tea (a kind of green tea is drank widely throughout the country and is on every table in restaurants. At no charge) The next day we hired a boat and went to see all the floating villages on the lake. There they make everything from hand-rolled cigars, to tofu, to my personal favorite, gold and silver.