The years that Myanmar spent in seclusion added to its mystery, like the eyes of a woman glimpsed behind her purdah. Myanmar is geographically gifted, within its borders are romantic islands, vast deltas and seascapes, breathtaking rivers and the soaring grandiosity of the Himalayan foothills. What are you waiting for? Get packing!
While the best known tourist paths are sufficient to satisfy any appetite, Myanmar offers the adventurous or curious traveller, a huge menu of experiences. Oh! offers some alternative ideas for things to do, see and feel in Myanmar as it throws open its doors, and windows, to the world.
With the opening of the nation came a simultaneous flowering of art and literature. Visit some of Yangon’s galleries to see how artists in Myanmar express their new lives. Attend concerts, and musical events to appreciate how Myanmar’s young are carving their own brand of pop culture.
Visit markets, sit with a cooling beer or even a hot tea and a long lens and capture the faces, shapes and movement of the cities. Despite the sapping heat there is always something going on. A flirtatious smile, traders with laden carts, the elders; their tough lives etched on their faces, the sassy young, optimistic about the future, or the Maugham-era, faded romance of the architecture. Don’t leave Myanmar without a hot air balloon trip over Bagan. Clichéd? Yes. Wonderful? Also yes.
Myanmar’s multi-ethnic diversity is best appreciated via its food. Many of the street eats such as rice flour pancakes are ubiquitous to the region but look for subtle differences in flavours. Khaut sweh is my favourite dish; a wet soupy chicken curry, usually taken for breakfast with many side dishes. Try fish cooked for 24 hours so the bones become as edible as the delectable flesh. Myanmar’s a vegetarian’s dream having the biggest array of salads in Asia. You can detect Thai, Indian and Chinese influences in dishes like chickpea soup with ginger and lemongrass, but it is the people of Myanmar who have taken these traditions, and blended them into something really special.
Sagaing and Inwa
Across the Ayeyarwady River, Sagaing is about 30 minutes from hot and dusty Mandalay. The town’s abundance of shady trees provides relief from the heat. The area is dotted with pagodas, monasteries and nunneries and the pace of life is slower and the air cleaner than Mandalay. On top of a 240-metre-hill is the Hsoon Oo Pon Nya Shin Pagoda, from which there are breathtaking views of Sagaing, the Ayeyarwady, its two bridges, and in the distance, Mandalay. Cross the river by ferry and explore Inwa by horse cart. The countryside will have you reaching for your camera and some of the pagodas are as magnificent as any to be found in the rest of the country.
Mandalay to Bagan
If you have time on your hands take the steamer from Mandalay to Bagan. It is advertised as a 10-hour journey but is more likely to be between 14 to 16 hours. And this is the fast boat; the slow one takes two days! The “voyage” starts at about 5.30 am and after sunrise the banks teem with life. This is a living river, the major artery that literally feeds the nation. Its cargo boats have been plying the river since 1856. Dream you way back to earlier times as the river slips by.
By Percy Aaron & Melody Kemp