Myanmar / Burma – wonderful country full of wonderful people

December 31, 2012 in Myanmar, On the road

What an experience – only one week in Myanmar, but so intense like a whole month on the road. And it was something we had not expected, because until now it was not possible to enter the country with a big motorcycle.

The border crossing alone was quite a story: they were already expecting us, everybody was kind of excited (including us), and the paperwork was done in a few minutes. Then followed the more important part: everybody wanted to take photos with us; all the officials and officers were posing together with us in the middle of the border check post, and even someone from the press was there. They closed the whole border in Mae Sot for this! We had not expected such a friendly welcome, and that we would cause such an attention. Definitely the best border crossing of our whole trip so far.

Right after the border, we had to cross a small mountain range, only 40 kilometres wide, but on a twisty, narrow and rough road. Therefore, this road normally is open only in one way, and the direction changes every day. Of course, we had entered the country on the wrong day. But no problem: the police simply stopped the traffic for us, and with a police escort in front we were led through. The oncoming traffic had to wait in a long queue, and we expected that they would be quite angry because they had to wait for such a long time.  But the opposite was the case: when we turned up, everybody was waving and cheering, they were smiling and welcoming us, and nobody was angry. But we still felt somehow bad that they had to wait so long just because of us ….

A highlight was our visit at the Golden Rock. It is a rock, which lies in a spectacular position on top of a mountain, and it looks like it is going to fall down every moment. The legend says that it is held in position by a hair of Buddha, and over the years pilgrims have covered it with a layer of gold.  But the spectacular thing for us was not the rock itself, it was the encounter with the people and the culture – in this case the contact was actually a little bit closer than we liked. The problem is that you have to take one of the official trucks to get to the rock; you cannot take your own vehicle. And you can imagine what happens when 50000 people or more want to get to the rock on the same day. We actually got a special treatment as tourists, but even this didn’t help much when hundreds of people where trying to enter the truck at the same time. We survived the trip, and were rewarded with a very special experience and lots of photos of people, who actually didn’t seem to mind the chaos and the jostle.

Very strange was our visit to Naypidaw, the capital of Myanmar. It is a completely artificial city, which they have erected within only a few years, complete with monuments, palaces, huge hotel complexes, and roads with up to 12 lanes – but somehow they forgot the people. It is difficult to find words to describe this strange place. You are driving overland on bad roads, and then you suddenly find yourself on huge boulevard in the brightly illuminated centre of a city, and you are alone – no people around. Absolutely crazy! If you imagine, how much money the government must have spent on this mad project, whilst the majority of the people in this country still lives in extreme poverty…..

Naypyidaw - capital of Myanmar

The touristic highlight of the trip was our visit to the temple fields of Bagan. Hundreds of old temples are scattered over a big plain, some of them date back to the 9th century. Especially during sunrise and sunset the scenery is breath-taking, and the atmosphere is somehow mystic. And to ride through the temples on small sandy tracks was just awesome.

But it was the encounters with the locals that made this trip unique to us. Every time we stopped, something happened: we met a farmer’s family, which came to say hello and to have a look at the bikes, then we stumbled into some temple celebrations on the road, not much later we came across a concert where we met some Burmese punks; at the next stop we took the local vendor for a ride on the bike, then we had a puncture in the middle of a beautiful little village right in front of the school, and so on…. We could tell many more stories. We met only friendly, open and smiling people, which were keen to meet us. Often they were shy in the beginning, but without any fear to get into contact with us aliens.

Of course, you can discuss whether it is politically correct to travel to such countries as Myanmar / Burma at all – and you can also discuss whether it is actually called Burma or Myanmar. Do we support the military regime when we use the word Myanmar? Do we support it with our money when we pay the official guide, the permissions, the visas? Yes, probably a lot of the money went directly into the pockets of an injustice government. But on the other hand, we ate at local restaurants, we shopped at local markets, and we slept in hotels, which employ the local people. And furthermore, we think that it is also a sign for the people that the country is opening up. It was only a first step, but maybe it will soon be possible to travel through the country independently. Burma, or Myanmar, is worth a visit – a wonderful country full of wonderful people.