MYANMAR – leaving Myanmar!

You say goodbye, I say hello, hello, hello…

(Written by Steph, photos by Nick)

Post leaving Myanmar, Nick and I watched a documentary about the country circa 1996. What we saw shocked the living daylights out of us. We had read certain things about the history of this country in researching Aung San Suu Kyi. We knew Ne Win was a ruthless dictator who ran the country with the military in the 60s, 70s and 80s and that the military had subsequently reinforced the regime. What we didn’t realise was the extent of that. I had wondered why certain parts of the country were only recently opened to the public. Here in this documentary I got some clues as to why…

Only 20 years ago, people, some of them children, were used as slaves in shackles and chains, forced to work on developing the country for tourism – a money maker for the military. Oblivious to this, tourists coming in to see spectacles like Bagan were unwittingly contributing to this brutal inhumanity. They were shown only what the military wanted them to see. What they didn’t see were people having their hands chopped off for suspicion of speaking against the government; being imprisoned for 7 years purely for singing a freedom song; students left to suffocate in a van in the baking sun for protesting, others buried alive. Thinking back to 1996 in my life, I would have been studying for my GCSEs. My biggest worry would have been what grades I would get and how I would fit in Neighbours and a minimal amount of studying before seeing my friends.
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I can’t quite believe I went to this country without understanding the extent of the tragedy it had suffered. Looking back, I think about all the Burmese people my age and over – people who would’ve lived through this.  With that in mind, I have even more respect for their positive and relentless spirit. I hope that the people here finally get what they deserve – peace, security, and a government that put their well-being above all else.

So as we move on, we would like to share 12 things we felt about Myanmar with you…

1. Something I loved – how friendly the people were. I say this with the exception of Yangon and Mandalay, where some people were friendly, but it was not the rule on the street.
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2. Something that was confusing – buying a train ticket!! Seemingly impossible to do the day before travel, this was a source of much frustration.

3. Something that was amusing – wherever the kids are getting their English from, they seem to have been taught that hello is “bye bye,” so you ride around and these kids come and wave at you, shouting “bye bye.” It happened everywhere!

4. Something I’ll miss – Feeling like you are discovering something unknown…and Myanmar beer.
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5. Something I won’t miss – struggling to communicate, fermented fish (euch – the smell) & Myanmar music!
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6. Something we can learn from Myanmar – the simple way they raise their children. People breast feed wherever and whenever with no shame whatsoever, young brothers and sisters are trusted to look after their even younger siblings, there is so much nurture in families, and they are so resourceful with what they have – cots, swings, toys – all made from things around them. And who needs a pushchair when you have a baby sling?
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7. Something I’ll never forget – the NLD rally in Yangon.
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8. Something that surprised me – how many monks there are, and the behaviour of some – taking selfies, asking for photos with tourists, smoking on non-smoking trains, begging and, in extreme cases, inciting racial hatred, for example. Also, wifi is everywhere (almost). Ok, the signal is bad and in some places it didn’t work, but still!
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9. Something that concerns me – how tourism will affect Myanmar. We encountered some loud groups and girls in really short shorts, oblivious to the reaction of the locals around them. The more people go and give a bad impression, maybe the less welcoming the locals will be.

10. Something that was good value for money – the food! If you eat in local places, you can pay as little as 60p for a main meal! Chinese places were a little more expensive, but delicious.
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11. Something that was bad value for money – guesthouses in Miek in the South.  25$ for a shabby room with a fan that you couldn’t feel. This was the cheapest option here. In comparison to other places were we paid 15$ for basic accommodation, or 30$ for a really nice room, it was the worst value place.*

12. Somewhere that made an impression – Firstly, Hpa-an for the people and the houses in the woods. Secondly, Bagan – with all the red brick temples dotted in a maze of sandy paths; this place was jaw dopping.
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* This may be because it had only been open for tourism for the last two years. There aren’t as many tourists here, but each guesthouse that wants to house tourists has to pay a huge government tax, so maybe they need to make it cost effective. Or maybe it’s because this is nearish the border with Thailand and it will discourage all the Thailand backpackers from going into Myanmar! 😉

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