We struggled with the decision to travel to Myanmar. It was at the height of the world coming to know about the human rights abuses of the Rohingya people by the Myanmar government. Should we be boycotting Myanmar? Would we be in physical danger by going there? Could we get caught in a cross fire? We decided that tourism would likely be down and so it might be a good time. Also we were not really convinced that our personal boycott would improve the situation in anyway and decided to go.
We had no idea at the time, that a little more than a year later, in early 2020, the pandemic would strike and all travel would be restricted. Or to make it worse, that in early 2021, the military that shared power with the democratically elected government would over throw it and that Myanmar would be plunged into a civil war.
In hindsight we are extremely grateful that we took the chance and visited Myanmar when we did. Myanmar still contained the romantic exoticism that has long been lost in places like Vietnam that have become overrun with tourists. With the lack of other tourists we pretty much had the place to ourselves. It is both exciting to see a country in this way, but also a little sad to see empty restaurants and hotels with only a few rooms occupied.
We travelled for about 3 weeks in Myanmar. After landing in Yangon our first stop was Mandalay. We then took a boat to Bagan, flew to Inle Lake, then enjoyed a few days on the beaches of Ngapali before wrapping up with a few days in Yangon. We had hoped to travel down the panhandle of Myanmar for a few days, but the travel is by bus and we did not have enough time.
Having travelled extensively in SE Asia we expected Mandalay to be a bit touristy but it was not. On our first day there we were followed to lunch by a young man who desperately wanted to be our driver. He told us he had not worked for several days due because of a lack of tourists. We agreed to go with him that afternoon. We took a chance and had a wonderful day. So nice in fact that we hired him to drive us the next day and to the boat launch on the day we left.
From Mandalay we took a river boat excursion from Mandalay to Bagan. This trip can also be done in reverse. It was a perfect day. But the lack of tourists was sadly evident. The boat staff (7) outnumbered the tourists on the boat.
Boat Trip from Mandalay to Bagan
Bagan is known for its thousands of temples. And there are two decidedly wonderful ways to see them: by e-bike or by hot air balloon. The e-bikes allow you to see the temples on your own schedule and it is absolutely delightful to feel the wind on your face as you cruise the country in silence. Being completely unrestricted in schedule you can make a day of it (or 3). We would do a loop of temples, go back to town for a coffee, see a few more temples and stop for lunch. Then a few more temples and a nap or foot massage. We loved not being on a tour!
The second amazing way to see the temples is from the air in a hot air balloon. I wasn't sure I wanted to do the hot air balloon ride, since I suffer from motion sickness and we had to get up extra early to do it. I also had safety concerns. But the evening before our flight, we met some hot air balloon pilots at the restaurant where we had supper. It was interesting to hear how the pilots of hot air balloons have to have the same training as commercial airline pilots. Since there are no pilot schools in Myanmar they are all from abroad. The pilot of our balloon was Canadian. All my safety concerns were put to rest.
Even after seeing the temples from the ground for a couple of days, the view from above was completely magical! It gave a different perspective and showed the vastness of the area where the temples were. When the basket of the ballon landed in the sand on the river bank, I decided I had found a new favourite travel activity!
David and Laverne
No Ordinary Journey