Monday, 12 January 2015

Into Burma

Oh wow. Wow wow wow. If you have any doubts about whether to come to Burma (Myanmar) or not - do it. It's such a brilliant assault on the senses. It's as dusty as Peru, with people even friendlier than Thailand, exotic food, busy roads with no traffic lights, and beautiful sights all over the place. 

I really didn't know what to expect, with the country having been closed for so many decades, but having the influence of British rule and the countries it borders - Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand. That's a sexy blend if I've ever seen one. It feels mainly like a mix of India and Thailand. I've never been to India, but this is how I imagine parts of it to be. 

As my friends and I left Customs at Mandalay Airport after a ratger shaky flight we were suddenly swept up by tours accosting us to choose their taxi service. It was a big shock, as we needed to change money, find an ATM and try to buy a SIM card too. We fought our way through the crowd and got the arrival admin done. 

As for getting a Burmese SIM card at Mandalay Airport, it was actually very simple. There are two companies with stands in the arrivals lounge - Telenor and Ooredoo. Ooredoo was cheaper, and we got a SIM card with 500GB of internet for a month for 6600 kyat. We're only here for two weeks, so that amount of data should be fine. 

We took a shared taxi (4000K per person) to our accommodation, which is Rich Queen Guesthouse. It's nice and comfortable, with a free breakfast, but the wifi isn't very strong (as with all Burma) and the showers are cold. But it's a good base to explore Mandalay. 

We took a taxi out to U Bein bridge for 18,000K each return, and our driver stopped at a couple of nice sights along the way. It was like paying for a personalised tour. 

The first place we saw absolutely blew us away. After the manic day, and the shock of arriving in a place so different from anywhere we'd been before, stumbling upon this peaceful temple caught us all off guard. It was a pure white stupa gleaming in the sun against a bright blue sky. 

Maybe because it was unexpected, but we were really moved by it. And going on to watch the sun go down over the river behind the impressive U Bein bridge really made our day. 

Today we continued the madness by visiting a couple more temples in the city and walking along the moat of the Royal Palace to Mandalay Hill, which we climbed to watch the sunset over the city and the river behind. 

We arranged with a taxi driver to pick us up at 8am tomorrow, and he's going to take us out on the three-hour journey to Monywa for 80,000K. I've been keen to go there since I saw a photo of the main pagoda there, so I'm really glad were going to be able to. 

Early night tonight, to prepare for more adventures tomorrow. I love this country so far. Burma, the world where Buddhist monks wave to you on the street; people carry enormous baskets on their heads; payphones are tables with a landline phone on it, operated by a human who you hand the money to; India-inspired music fills the air; and everyone greets you with a smile. What a country. 

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