5 Offbeat Tips for Traveling in Myanmar

This is part two of two on our Myanmar tips. Check out  2 and 3 Week Itineraries: Myanmar

Myanmar Temple

 1. Bring Snacks

Our eighteen days in this country can be described in one word – diarrhea. Just kidding, kinda. It’s been rough.  If only I’d stocked up on instant oatmeal, trail mix and granola bars. At least we had the Imodium. Trust me, have your own supplies so you can be finicky about where and what you eat. It’s a crap shoot. Literally.

2. Take a Joyride

Best part of our trip was the motorbike trip we did in the mountains of Shane State out of Kyuakme with our local guide, Joy.  Cruising through the lush valleys of rice and soy bean fields, hillside tribes, and mountain top pagodas, it is not to be missed.  I hopped on the back of Joy’s scooter to let Eric rip loose on the dirt bike for a half day, zipping through the back country, avoiding wooden ox carts and women returning from a season of harvesting tea he crossed rivers and popped the occasional wheelie when I wasn’t looking.

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With impeccable English and strong opinions on religion, government and culture, every meal with Joy was fascinating and delicious!

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Motorbiking through Shan State, Myanmar


3. Say YES when Invited.

“Meet me where we saw the casket” Joy says, as he bends over the flat tire of a stranded villager. We know exactly which restaurant he means. Yesterday, we’d planned to have a tea stop there but the village was gathered for the death of a resident. As we pull the bike up to the restaurant I notice it is packed. Looks like they’re back in business! We walk up the three short concrete steps from the main road, entering the open air restaurant and notice not a single seat at any of the 10+ tables is free. Quickly I realize, not only are we are the only foreigners in the building, not unusual in Myanmar, but everyone, even the teenagers playing cards on the floor in the back of the restaurant,  are staring at us. An elderly lady, clearly in charge, hastily summons the designated English speaker of the family from the card game. Who brushes off his sarong (known as longhi’s)  and asks loudly and slowly “Hello, where do you come from?”.  “United States!” we answer with a smile.  Puzzled look. “Ok. And what do you want, HERE?” he asks. I’m starting to realize he meant where did we come from today. “Lunch? We’d like to have lunch.” ‘OOOOHHHH! You want FOOD!” he exclaims. “They want food” he translates in Myanmar to the family. “OOOHHHH” in chorus, they sound relieved.  And then the room comes alive.

Kalaw

The lovely mountain town of Kalaw, where the trek began

The sound of chairs being dragged across the wood floor, and we are seated at the table that appears to be the buffet for the family. Six or more bowls decorate the table emitting mouth watering scents of fish curry, spicy tea leaf salad, steamed vegetables, soup, and plenty of rice served on my plate by a fluttering of matrons. Resident English speaker sits with us and says very slowly “We had someone in our family die. We wish to invite you for free to eat with us.” OMG, we just crashed a wake.

I should have caught on to the game before the third round of helpings. The faster I ate, the faster my plate emptied, the more she piled on.  Our meal was the best we’ve had in Myanmar and the conversation with the charming woman at the table was mostly charades but we managed to make friends and share a few laughs.   I was rescued from being fed to death when Joy zoomed up declaring we were going to miss our bus if we didn’t go now, so we ended our lovely visit with hugs and a donation to the recent widow.

You never know when you’ll be invited into the most intimate of affairs. Be sure to say yes.

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4. Charge Your E-Bike

Bagan, the land of 2,200 pagodas. It must be done. Your options for exploring this abandoned ancient city are taxi (lame), horse cart (and watch those poor creatures overheat), bicycle (and watch your poor self overheat) or our favorite, the e-bike. We rented ours in the center of Old Bagan, checked that the gauge showed full battery and zipped off to see us some pagodas! Late May is low season so we managed to see the big attractions without buying the $15 ticket since nobody was selling or checking. Individually the pagodas are nothing special after Angkor Wat, but from a far, en masse, they are something to behold.

 

Two wheels on sand is not my strong suit. After wrecking my bike, twice, I’m near tears and ready to call it a day. Did I mention its 106° F!?!?! We have a good 30 minute ride back to Old Bagan and I’m ready to be back in the land of A/C. And then Eric’s bike dies. It goes from 40% to 0 in one last surge of juice. Oh, that’s what the pedals are for. Suddenly the bike is dwarfed by his size, he’s a grown man peddling a tricycle, and that hotel seems  REALLY far away.

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To his credit, he gave it a go, peddling hard for a quick charge, coasting down hill when possible. But it was just too damn hot. So we ditched the bike (after locking it of course) and doubled up on mine. We must have looked like the clown circus. I couldn’t make eye contact with passersby. I should of, just to ask them to get a photo. We took careful notes of where we’d stashed the bike so the shop was able to find it easily and they even gave us a new one for the rest of the day.

Epic. Bike. FAIL. Make sure that sucker is charged.

Ancient Temple City, Bagan

5. Keep Your Cool..and bring ear plugs

Like every other tourist to visit Myanmar, we did the three day trek to Inle Lake.  Because of it’s popularity, and to save a few bucks, we shared this journey with six other travelers which meant bunking up in the overnight village stay together. What we didn’t know was that the village was celebrating a wedding the next day, which apparently includes blaring bad Asian pop music over loudspeakers for the entire day before the wedding.

The offending loudspeaker

“Music play until 10:30pm, 11pm latest”  our guide, Johnny said. Oh boy. It sounds like the worst karaoke I’ve ever heard over the poorest speakers on the planet. It’s 4pm, which by my watch means we have 6-7 hrs left to tolerate. By 9pm I begin to understand how affective this torture technique can be and by 10pm I’m asleep, eye mask tight, earplugs jammed deeply into my skull. At 11:15pm it gets interesting.

Three men barge up the stairs into our thatched wooden hut, flashlights beams ricocheting off every corner. I think I hear someone say in broken English “We are closed. You must go”. WTF!? Next thing I know our soft spoken guide ushers the angry mob and the older Kiwi gentlemen from our group out of the hut “Please, let’s go, the others are sleeping”. The music is off, and clearly, there’s been an incident. Turns our my fellow traveler forgot his earplugs and snapped when the clock struck 11pm and what he’d hoped was the end of his sleepless suffering turned out to just be a pause, before another painful ballad raged on. Apparently he stormed down those wooden stairs, across the village path, to that speaker, and RIPPED the cables right out. Silence.

Oxcart Myanmar

Father and uncles of the bride, clearly pissed, allow us to stay but dole out a healthy serving of fuck-you as they turn the megaphone to point to our hut, and crank the stereo on up to 11 and hit us hard until 1am. And then again at 4am. The music is still blaring as we sluggishly trudge out of the village at 9am. So much for that cultural experience.

Don’t forget your earplugs.

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Fore a detailed two and three week itineraries with contact info for the tours above, check out my post on 2 and 3 Week Itineraries: Myanmar.

2 responses to “5 Offbeat Tips for Traveling in Myanmar

  1. Ohhhh the trials and tribulations of world travel!
    Can’t wait for the Bali blog!

    Love you guys!!!!!!

  2. Hehehehehe I will never forget that night in the Kalaw mountain trek indeed! :p
    One of the worst nights ever, but at the same time so damn hilarious:)
    Nice to see that you’re writing on your fantastic travels! I’ll definitely follow you guys, and remember.. anytime you’re in The Netherlands or around, always welcome;)

    Cheers! Dion (one of the lucky few in that Kalaw mountain trek)

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