Story and Photos by Carolyn Balk
Going to Myanmar, also known as Burma, was strange: only since 2011 has the country opened up to more tourism. Signs sprinkle highways and towns proclaiming “WARMLY WELCOME AND TAKE CARE OF TOURISTS,” the government’s way of letting you know you are safe, despite the (very true) criticism you might hear otherwise from famous politician activist Aung San Suu Kyi, known locally as “The Lady,” and the like. Things are constantly changing: exchange rates, which hotels foreigners can stay at, whether or not locals can afford cell phones, a road’s reliability, how the people define themselves using “Myanma” versus “Burmese” (technically, Burmese refers to a specific ethnic group, but the British used this term to refer to all Myanma people) among others. The people are incredibly friendly and open to learning about other cultures and people from all over the world (on a more comedic note, one woman even told me that before tourism’s recent influx, many Myanma/ Burmese people believed that all white people were British). Go—you won’t regret it.
Rather than row a boat using handheld oars, the fishermen at Inle Lake use their leg wrapped around an oar to get around—a movement that no gym exercise machine I have found can simulate.
At 3:30am in Mandalay, I woke up to go and see monks brushing the Buddha’s teeth, at Mahamuni Pagoda. We realized in our tired daze, however, that Buddhas’ are not often depicted with teeth, so instead we watched monks wash the Buddha’s face and bless the Buddha.
Climbing up Mandalay Hill is a must. Monks and students congregate to practice their English on the many tourists that flock here for photos of the countryside surrounding the city.
Shwedagon pagoda is the stupa of all stupas is myanmar. it’s huge, and one can only gaze in awe at its golden beauty. keep track of where you entered: it’s easy to get completely lost.
Tea leaf sala is one of the most common dishes in Myanmar. Served buffet style or pre-mixed, the fermented green tea leaves come with fried garlic, toasted sesame seeds, yellow beans, and roasted peanuts, soybeans, or peas
While walking along a bridge outside Mandalay, I spotted these monks going for a dip. All buddhist boys in Myanmar between the ages of five a twelve are required to be monks for at least one week, and they can return to being monks later in life as well, a these men did.