Magical Myanmar: Yangon & Mandalay
Our plan was to visit Burma/Myanmar with two other friends and we would thus be four Belgian friends: two girls and two boys. Burma was our choice because it’s known to be one of the most beautiful countries in South-East Asia and only recently started opening up to foreigners. Therefore, it was the perfect destination for a bunch of students wanting to go backpacking. Before we tell you about our trip, we first need to tell you that we traveled during the rainy season and our itinerary was thus adapted to this season (e.g. the beaches were off-limit). However, traveling in the rainy season allowed us to avoid the tourist season and find better prices.
We left Brussels and the sun (strangely enough for Belgium) on the 11th of July to land in Yangon (via Bangkok) on a rainy 12th of July. Arriving on a Sunday, we avoided the awful traffic jams of Yangon’s workdays. Still, it did take us 45 minutes to reach our hotel in the heart of downtown Yangon, next to Chinatown. After a short and traumatizing visit to Yangon’s Chinatown with its outdoors market, noise and nauseating smell (fish and meat – yum), we headed for Shwe Dagon, the most famous pagoda in Burma and the center of cultural and social life in Yangon. Shwe Dagon is simply breathtaking and has a soul of its own. We were impressed by the devotion of the Buddhist believers and the general atmosphere of the place. If you have more time to spend in Yangon, a walk in the colonial neighborhood and the Botataung pagoda are quite interesting, but if there is only one thing you are able to do, then you have to visit Shwe Dagon.
We left Yangon with the night bus driving on the only real fast lane in the country to go to Mandalay. Contrary to what we were expecting, this bus was simply cozy and most of us had a good night. We spent two days here to visit Mandalay itself and its four ancient royal capitals. When leaving the bus, many taxi drivers were waiting for us to drive us into town. While on the way to town, they suggested to us to hire them for the day to visit the outskirts of Mandalay.
The day was packed but the visits were interesting and varied: wooden monastery, different pagodas, U Bein Teckwood Bridge, the vestiges of the Inwa island on a horse carriage, beautiful views, meals from monks and so on. In the end, we did not regret at all the cost of hiring a taxi driver because we saved a lot of time and we were lucky to have a really nice taxi driver. We spent the second day visiting Mandalay itself with its pagodas and Mandalay Hill with its view of the city.
With the country being so sheltered from tourism, the attractions for us during our visit were the temples themselves, but for the locals, we were the attraction. Many of them asked to take a picture with us; do it, it’s a fun memory and it makes their day. It was here that we realized how kind and welcoming Burmese people are. Traveling to any part of the country, people will say hi, will wave, will smile, will ask questions, and replying to them will simply again make their day and you will always feel the heartwarming atmosphere of Burma around you. It is refreshing to travel in a country where the sighting of tourists is rare and where people are so nice.
In this “Magical Myanmar” mini-series, Nadège de Beauffort and Dorothée Brabant recount their adventures in Myanmar. Photos were taken by the guys traveling with them: Maximilien Le Fevere de Ten Hove and Nicolas Coomans.