Give me Myanmore!
I can’t believe it’s time to leave Myanmar already. I’m sitting in the airport reflecting about our time here, how it felt like a long time and a short time all at once. Since we have to be home in August, there’s only so much that we will be able to see in this massive planet we call home. We almost nixed Myanmar from the itinerary altogether, but we chose to keep it in. Although we only scratched the surface of what there is to see here, I am really glad we came. I can’t wait to come back and see more. But wait! I haven’t even told you what we’ve been up to this last week! Our exit from Bagan was via a 30 seat air conditioned overnight bus that I just realized I forgot to take a picture of. Anyway, the seats on this guy looked and felt like lazy boy recliners and leaned back nice and far. They gave us water and snacks, and each seat had a TV screen with what I can only imagine were several different bootlegged movies. The only real downside is that they blast the AC to the point of frigidity, and since the temperature drops to 50 degrees F at night anyway, it was really cold. Some people slept better than others but we arrived on time at our destination city of Nyaung Shwe.
There’s not a whole lot that Nyaung Shwe has to offer in itself, but it sits more or less right on Lake Inle. This rather large lake is very interesting in that the entire thing is only about 6 feet deep. That’s right, after a few feet from the shore you’re six feet deep in water, and it stays that depth the whole way across. This makes for a really interesting area to live and a very unique way of life.
We paid a piddly 10 dollars to spend all day on the water with our own guide. They use these incredibly long, narrow boats and steer them expertly through reeds, narrow streams, and even houses. I never got tired of watching him maneuver us around. There are villages on stilts all around the lake, some well off the shore with nothing below but water. Different villages seem to specialize in different crafts, and boating those crafts from village to village is a breeze.
Cruisin' down the river
The most unique profession on the lake are the fishermen. No, it’s not strange to see fishermen on a lake full of fish, it’s HOW they fish that’s really amazing. Using long boats of their own, these fishermen row out onto the water. Once they’ve found a spot they like, they beat the water with their oar to stir up the fish. Once the fish are in a frenzy, the fisherman drops an inverted bamboo bucket into the water, trapping the fish inside. What’s even more insane is that since they need 2 hands to handle their bucket net, they use one of their feet to paddle and steer the boat as they do! Mind-blowing!
How does he even do that?
While moving from village to village on our long boat, we got to see locals making clothing, silver jewelry, and cigars to name a few, a floating market, pagodas, and a jumping cat monastery… where the cats were once trained by a monk but no longer jump after his passing. Just being out on the water was incredible, but seeing all these little communities and eating some good local food (Shan noodles!!!) made it something extra special.
Cooking up some silver
So many stupas
The only downside from our time there was a bicycle incident with Ethan. He got his foot somewhat stuck in the gears while he was sitting behind me and the bike did a number on his foot. There was obvious external damage but we were not sure what was happening on the inside save some obvious swelling. With facilities somewhat limited here, we did the best we could to keep it clean but it still managed to start getting infected. We’ve been able to get him some nice antibiotics and as I write this he seems like a normal boy again, but we could use your prayers as it continues to heal. Access to better medical care came because we took anther overnight bus from Nyaung Shwe to Myanmar’s former capital, Yangon. The country’s biggest city by far, influence from the outside world has affected the city greatly. There are many high rises and shopping malls, and people are much more casual in their dress. It reminded me of Hanoi in the sense that it’s not difficult to find a monk inside a shopping mall with a tiny mom and pop shop full of food and trinkets I can’t begin to describe just next door. That’s not to mention the street vendors all over the place with really nice restaurants a stones throw away. It makes for a very interesting combination, and it works.
There aren’t a ton of noteworthy sites in the city save for Shwedagon Pagoda, the biggest and most popular pagoda in the country. Covered in gold and studded with more precious gems than can be counted, there really is nothing like it. It is amazing to see during the day with its many shrines and stupas, but it’s even more incredible at night when it glows gold. The steep admission fee is disappointing since every other pagoda we’d visited was free, but whatchu gonna do?
Yangon is also known for its street food, and we definitely took advantage of what it had to offer. With most dishes coming in at around 60 cents, it was pretty much impossible to just get one thing. Noodles are the big item on the street, prepared different ways but always ending up in a bowl with meat of your choice, sometimes veggies, and either as a salad (dry) or a soup (bowl filled with broth). There was never a wrong choice! Every once in a while you weren’t quite sure the meat you were eating, but that was part of the experience.
Did I order too much again?
As quickly as we got here we passed through immigration and are on our way to Thailand for some R&R on the beach. Myanmar is a really amazing country and I am glad we got here while we could still really enjoy the traditional culture of the country. The people are some of the best I’ve ever met and I hope nothing ever changes that. We’ll just have to see how much changes by the time we make it back here. We’ll get back in touch after our time in Thailand, so try not to miss us too much!