Largely a Buddhist country, in Buddhism, enlightenment involved “awakening”. And that was how a trip to Myanmar almost felt like: awakening. Myanmar was, to summarize, simply fascinating. If you ask me if it’s worth it to travel to Myanmar, I can only tell you that I really appreciated having visited it.
Myanmar awakens you from within,
by giving you raw & authentic experiences.
Myanmar is huge. In terms of land area, it’s bigger than France. Myanmar is so much more than the pagodas and dirt roads of Bagan, the white temples and stilted bridges in Mandalay – the way Instagram sometimes might mislead you.
Now, Myanmar is not all backward or countryside. In at least Yangon, there’re plenty of modern and talented professionals and creatives doing amazing, creative ventures, even high fashion. Myanmar’s adult literacy rate (as last measured in 2015) is more than 90%. You’ll see ALL the locals (including the elderly and also monks) using smartphones even at far-fetched places, away from cities.
Myanmar is also filled with artists, farmers, and many different professions. A visit to Myanmar provides very different travel experiences depending on the areas you went.
Ps: On this blog, I won’t be touching on the political problems that Myanmar faces, simply because I’m not sufficiently equipped to discuss that.
Life lessons & gentle reminders from a trip to Myanmar
These were some of the life lessons I got from visiting Myanmar:
1. Wherever you might be, you’re in this together.
Help others and look out for the people around you.
People living at the outskirts of the country may not be rich. Nor do they have everything, yet they remained so cheerful and helpful.
At Inle Lake, we rented a car and drove around, even making a 3-hour drive to see Kakku Pagodas near Taungyi. The strangers we asked directions for were never grouchy. Instead, they always seemed so helpful. I learned from my Burmese friend that it’s because road signs are not very clear everywhere, so the locals tend to help one another.
This was just some simple observations and I might be over-generalizing, but I also really appreciated the lack of road rage (excluding Yangon) and irritable tempers that is very common in advanced cities.
2. You’re already rich, when you can find it in you to give.
My Burmese friend’s cousin met us at 4+ or 5+am to drive our rented car over to us, greeting us cheerfully, when we’d just arrived from Bagan. Another of his cousin rented a boat for us to take a trip down Inle Lake, and then she refused to let us pay. Up till now, I had no idea how much our boat rental was.
This nice cousin afterwards also prepared delicious home-made salad and local snacks for us to eat after we finished our lake tour.
Before leaving Inle, my Burmese friend’s other relatives came to send us off, but not before treating us to dinner first. My friend is the only one related to them, yet their hospitality extended to the other four of us equally. They’re so hospitable!
3. Your craft is something that belongs to you. Keep it close to your heart.
In Myanmar, handicraft is still a large part of many Burmese’ lives. It was amazing to see how much effort they spent to weave textiles, harvest crops, create products, all to make a living. I was actually pretty surprised to hear how long it actually takes for a lacquerware product to be finished. To be honest, I’ve been so conditioned to believe that mass production in China factories can produce anything easily. Observing the Burmese craftsmen really had me relook at manufacturing differently.
At the local market in Bagan, there were vendors encouraging us to get a longyi; an older child approaching us to buy her wares. At the pagodas, you might see artists at the entrance, with their impressive sand paintings and more products, or local kids cheerfully coming up to you to buy paper drawings that they’d colored.
I actually loved my time a lot more at Bagan, as compared to Yangon.
| Also read: How Bagan had me fall in love with it in two days |
4. Spend time in nature – it’ll heal your soul.
Breathtaking sceneries, mountain views, fresh morning air, the buffalo cart we passed by on the same road we’re driving on, roosters crowing in the morning. near our hotel in Nyaung Shwe. And the thousands of pagodas at Kakku. Myanmar has a magical way to make you get in touch with all your senses.
5. Give thanks for what you have.
If you get electricity, light at demand, indoor plumbing, clean water, modern toilets, or even reading this post (it means you have internet), you’re living a very, very blessed life. I’d taken all those for granted, because they were never in lack in my life ever since I was born.
In Myanmar, the blackouts will teach you to be present (and to be prepared).
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a local living in Myanmar, or simply a traveller temporarily exploring the country. Blackouts and the lack of road-lights will affect your journey and even your plans. You can choose to kick a fuss (which doesn’t help anything), or learn to deal better with it by being prepared ahead (bring a little torchlight!).
| Also read: 15 Ways Myanmar Surprised Me |
6. Kids are the best teachers in present-moment awareness.
Kids can still be so happy when their lives are so different. With no offence intended, I might even define some of the Burmese kids’ I saw as “suffering” – having to work at such a young age, selling hand-drawn, hand-colored ‘postcards’ to tourists who chanced upon the pagodas they’re taking care of, or souvenirs to the random tourists at the market, living in rough environments, etc.
Yet, what I saw were happy smiles from bubbly children at Bagan. They ran excitedly across the stone tiles, their tough little feet already accustomed to the rough little stones on the ground. A toddler crawled on grass and soil at an open carpark in Yangon. It was just kids doing what kids do – play and enjoy the moment.
7. Stay grounded, & don’t forget to offer prayers to unseen powers higher than you.
Religion is a challenging topic to write about, I’ll just keep it brief here. In Myanmar, in front of Buddha statues, the locals sit with their legs kept bent, knees together pointing forward, toes to the back. This is because it’s considered disrespectful to point your toes towards Buddha.
In this Buddhist country, they hold a lot of respect to the higher powers, and I like to think that the way they offer their devotion helps to bind the country together.
Ps: For the record, I consider myself Buddhist. And I also believe in the spiritual, unseen world.
8. It’s actually the little things that leave the best memories.
It was a very short trip with plenty of hiccups along the way, including my camera breaking down, or being joined by travel companions that some of us don’t know, bad weather, the rented car being much smaller than expected, or reaching Inle Lake too early for check-in at the hotel but us being dead tired.
Yet Myanmar was still quite something, to the point that I’ve written more than a few posts about this country. Its landscapes, its sunsets, its people, and really, just being with the people that I can be myself with. Some of the memories like our late-night chats still warmed my heart when I recall.
Should you visit Myanmar?
Today, I still don’t feel that Myanmar is a destination for everyone, especially if you’re a stickler for comfort and relaxing vacations. In many aspects, the country makes an inconvenient – or even – difficult place to visit, in terms of public transport options and of course, language. But, isn’t that what travel is about – exploring?
As for the political part of it, I’m not in the position to tell you whether a traveller should go to Myanmar or not. My Burmese friend whom I’ve known for years invited us to visit him and check out his country together – so we went. It was that simple.
Are you visiting Myanmar?