Trip Start Sep 03, 2006
Trip End Jul 21, 2007

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Why go to Myanmar?

This country was not originally on our itinerary, though Saoyuth has always considered visiting it. It's simply by discussing with other fellow backpackers that we got convinced we should drop out Vietnam and go there instead. Indeed, we heard a lot of good things about Myanmar and a lot of not so good things about Vietnam.

We were not disappointed at all! Myanmar is really a gem of a country for a tourist, though one should only enter the country knowing that it is a military dictatorship, and spend his money wisely in order to minimise the amount going to the government.

We first visited Yangon, the capital city, then went north to trek between Kalaw and the Inle Lake, certainly one of the highlights of our round the world trip so far, then visited the ancient cities around Mandalay, and finally, admired the beautiful temple scattered plain of Bagan.

Yangon: Buddhas, rock and roll, cheese burgers and tea shops

As there is no possibility to enter the country by land, we flew from Phnom Penh to Yangon. Our first impression was one of a rather quiet provincial city. Not exactly what we needed, as recently we were a bit tired of traveling and hardly had any motivation for leaving our hotel room. Cambodia didn't require any motivation as everything was happening for us, we just had to follow the flow and enjoy the experience. On our own once again, we were thinking that 5 months were already a hefty amount of traveling...Oh oh! Looks like we need to shake ourselves up and open up again to what's surrounding us. So we did, and visited the town quite thoughtfully.

One cannot come to Yangon and miss Shwedagon Paya, the most sacred temple in Myanmar.We went there by city bus, it was crammed hot and very cheap as one can expect in Asia. This massive golden stupa is the biggest in the world and with its surroundings, a really magnificent site. We spent some time taking pictures and then, were approached by an astrologist: According to one's birth date, he tells you what are the good years and bad years to come etc. We learnt that Saoyuth was born on a Wednesday afternoon and so has the Buddhist sign of the tuskless elephant. Patrick is born on a Thursday, and thus is a mouse... Sayouth an elephant, Patrick a mouse??? Something is wrong with Buddhist astrology :-)) Furthermore, we learnt that 2007 is not a very good year for Saoyuth to marry (apparently she'd better wait till 2010)... but a very good one for Patrick! Interesting ;-) Anyway, it was good fun, and allowed us to know on which Buddha statue (the one corresponding to our animal) we had to pour water to bring us good luck.  To crown the day we treated ourselves with a really good meal at Sandy's, a traditional Myanmar cuisine restaurant and it lived up to its reputation.

We visited a couple of other sites, such as a gigantic reclining Buddha, the gem museum and the main market (aka Scott market), but the most memorable activity was chatting with monks who were quite keen to talk to foreigners to improve their English, and, as French people, we definitely thought we were perfect for the job :-) Here's the story: One day while trying to visit a closed Buddhist site, we are kindly invited by a monk to visit his university. Monks study roughly 4 years (mainly theology) before graduating and leaving for a monastery or even better, create their own (if we understood well their explanations). The monk introduced us to another monk and they let us inside their rooms and before we knew it we had 5 students and their teacher asking us questions and trying to understand our answers. Their favorite topic? Not religion, but football! They had posters of Thierry Henry in their bedrooms and knew everything of the English premier league! Quite paradoxical for guys that are forbidden to play any games, unless on the contrary it's a way to do it by proxy. It was a great experience and a useful one too, as now we know what's going on in the European football scene, and won't have to catch up when coming back ;-)

Nightlife in Yangon mainly consists of teashops, installed on the pavement with mini tables,mini stools and loudspeakers playing the local hard rock / rock-FM production (of good quality compared to the other East-Asian countries). Tea not being our cup of tea, we had the choice between "beer stations" or some more trendy bars listed in the Lonely Planet. We opted for the latter, and ended up at "Mr Guitar", a live music joint. Two acoustic guitarists and a singer are on stage, covering famous songs or playing the blues. Quite good. We ordered some cheese burgers to finalise the Western atmosphere and were looking forward to the juicy steak and fatty French fries! It looks good until we lift the bun to check what's inside... We call the waiter and point at the void left by the missing steak. He doesn't seem to understand the problem. As his English is not good, we simply pointed again and said "no meat!".Still puzzled, and really sorry for us, he puts together a sentence that meant " but you ordered a cheese burger, not a beef burger!".What a laughter!!! we could hardly stop laughing for 5mn! Indeed, there was a slice of cheese...Patrick just had to compensate the lack of calories with another beer and we were fine, after all, we eat too much meat don't we? At the end of our stay in Myanmar we heard exactly the same story from another tourist!

We also tried to update our travel blog during our time in Yangon but the slowness of the connexion and the restrictions on personal emails made it really difficult. Our travel blog had not been updated for a month and a half and we were late for the Thai and Cambodian entries. Finally we spent more time trying to access our emails than anything else so we gave up.

Our time in Yangon was over, and a night bus took us up north, in a hilly part of the country where the climate is a lot cooler because of the altitude: in the village of Kalaw in the Shan State.
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