Burma (Myanmar): First Impressions

travel to myanmar
Shwedaggon Pagoda in Yangon

After 19 days in Myanmar, I’ve managed to access my site at an internet cafe in Bagan. Blogger-hosted sites are firmly blocked throughout the country, and ironically my ability to update now is the direct result of routing access to the net via Saudi Arabia.

Initial Thoughts about Travel to Myanmar

Truthfully, I’m not quite sure where to start with travel to Myanmar. I’ve got a huge, swirling mass of memories to sift through, and more to be added in the remainder of my time here. Without question, my weeks in this country have been more than magical.

I’ve taken a rickety, bumpy overnight train to the northern city of Myitkyina to attend a huge Kachin State Fair (in attendance: thousands and thousands of Kachin from around the world, and approximately 2 dozen tourists), where professional photographers took pictures of us tourists with the locals, for the locals to purchase later. A reverse-fishbowl experience!

From there, a leisurely boat ride down the Ayeyarwaddy to Sinbo, and then a more adventurous leg to Bhamo where our boat broke down (twice) and we ended up stranded on the river at dusk, with no boats in sight to rescue us. Bonus: I now know the Burmese word for help.

For optimal solar-eclipse viewage, I then took a 2 night slow-ferry back to Mandalay that included a serious karaoke-off with the captain (in English and Burmese!) and shots of bamboo whiskey with the crew.

And I’m presently living glorious, bicycle-and-temple filled days exploring the thousands of stupas nestled into Myanmar’s central plains. I am overwhelmed by the beauty of Bagan’s ruins, with each turn yielding a new temple with its own colourful frescos, gilded Buddhas and crumbling stones to discover. These events are merely highlights, and the time and distance between them is replete with even more adventures, tasty food (and, sadly, food poisoning) and smile-inducing thoughts.

In my months of travel, I’ve met several people who urged me to visit this country, with an urgency that was somewhat alarming. I had to go and I had to stay as long as possible. When asked why, the response was always the same: I cannot explain it, you just need to go. And they were right. Two days into my trip here, I already knew that I would be overstaying my visa. 19 days in, I’ve extended my time by two weeks to stay through February 14th.

While I hoped to upload some pictures in lieu of using words – words do not adequately do justice to this amazing place – my connection is too slow and Blogger refuses to cooperate. So words it is! I will try and access the blog again from Yangon, but if it remains blocked, this might be the last post for the next few weeks.

Thanks for all the comments, tweets and enthusiasm. Much more to come later on in February.


18 thoughts on “Burma (Myanmar): First Impressions”

  1. I'm going to Burma for a short medical mission and find your blog. Your writing is amazing, encouraging the readers to find a chance to take a look by themselves. Thanks for your sharing.

  2. This is my first visit to your blog and I'm already hooked. I just spent the last hour and a half exploring and enjoying your descriptions of the places you've traveled to. I've been to a lot of these places too and your descriptions bring me back so easily- I love it. I REALLY enjoyed El Nido too. Myanmar has has been on my short list for years and I'm really curious to hear more of your opinions and stories from there. I'll be sharing your blog with a bunch of my travel friends. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Mike Anderson

  3. Love your story so far – can't wait until you get out and can share more. I'm fascinated by Burma and other travelers have also been urging me to visit as soon as possible.

    Hope you get blogger working again soon! :-)

  4. We were in Thailand 3 years ago, crossed the border to Burma at Mae Sai / Tachilek but then decide against travelling in the country because tourism in Burma has been widely linked to human rights abuse, and the country's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has asked tourists to stay away – a boycott that has been supported by the international community. What is your opinion?

  5. It is wonderful that you had a chance to visit Burma, my home country.

    As Buddhists would say, you are very privileged to be able to visit and see Bagan. We take pride in making pilgrimage journey to places like Bagan, Kyitiyo, Mandalay, Inle etc.

    Glad you got to experience our beautiful country with its friendly and kind people not just in the city, but in rural areas.

    Looking forward to reading more.

  6. Wow Jodie- I'm so impressed that your karaoke skills have taken you so far!

    I'm weighing visiting Burma next winter when I am in SE Asia. Since Aung San Suu Kyi has reversed her opinion on tourists visiting the country I fell pretty okay about it ethically. I can't wait to hear more about your experiences there, in particular the logistics of visiting.

  7. This makes me even more excited for our trip to Burma! We were also thinking about overstaying our visa, have you heard from recent travelers that have confirmed that it isn't a big deal?

    If you get on again could you tell me which Internet cafe was able to give you access to blogger?

  8. Thanks for this post. I'm always looking for any first-hand descriptions from Burma and you've given us a nice picture of what it's like and a good reason to visit.

  9. After "falling in love with Burma" through travel you should now use your legal expertise, to really help the people of Burma and banish the junta forever.

    Once you get back you should educate your self about human rights abuses in Burma and the pro-democracy movement.

    I am looking at your blog because I am a permanent exile and would be arrested if I went.


    born burmese.

  10. You always come up with great stuff I just love your site you are very talented I’ll recommend your site to my friends and family members great job very appreciated..keep it up..

  11. Jodi- your words did their job in expressing your feelings about this unique country. Sounds like it's been quite a wonderful adventure. The Burmese people are such warm and lovely people.

    Glad to hear that some technical guys helped you get online via proxy servers. Look forward to hearing more about your journey when you get to Bangkok in a few weeks.


  12. Your insights on Burma factor into my already growing curiousity. This is a stop on my trip, so I can't wait to read/see more. Hope the food poisoning was handable. :(

  13. Thanks for all the comments, everyone!

    @Michael: very kind of you, and I'm glad you've also experienced the beauty of the Bacuit Bay.

    @GotPassport: I didn't realize this was your home country! What a lovely country it is. Many more posts to come about the people, the food (yum) and thanakha and longyis.

    @Thinkingnomads: More to come on this topic later in Feb (when am in Thailand). It's worth noting that, as Stephanie has noted, she has reversed her position and instead asked that tourists do not go on package tours, but spend their money independently (with private bus companies, local guides, etc).

    @Jason&Tracy;: I've managed to have access again, and again via Saudi proxy. In Bagan, it worked at the Taste of Bagan restaurant on Restaurant Row. In Inle, at the IDD internet place just after ThuThu's travel agency on the market road.

    @Anonymous: I appreciate your opinion, and have of course informed myself on the history and present practices of your country prior to visiting. This initial post was an overview, so please stand by for more coverage. I do understand that there are 2 sides to every story.

    @Fun & Fact: Gracias!

    @Audrey: amazingly warm and lovely people, and the geography has been wondrous to behold. Leaving Inle for the 14 hour bus back to Yangon, and then straight to Kinpun and Hpa-An.

    @NomadicChick: When I round out my coverage, I will include places to stay and eat and guides to use. However, if you're looking for an interim fix, please check out the fantastic Uncorneredmarket.com – they have a great series of posts on Burma.

  14. Pingback: Photo Essay: Colourful Yangon, Burma (Myanmar) | Legal Nomads

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