My time in Myanmar was drawing to a close, so I hopped on an overnight bus to get back to the capital, Yangon. It turns out that my time was drawing to a close sooner than anticipated...
As I’ve mentioned before, accommodation can be tricky in Myanmar. Consequently, I didn’t fancy my chances of finding somewhere to sleep after arriving at the bus station a little before 3am. This resulted in me spending the night curled up in a bus shelter, before leaving shortly after sunrise with two Moroccan travelers who had had a similar idea to me.
I spend what I assumed was my final day in Myanmar relaxing in a park near the imperious Shwedagon Pagoda. The greenery was an unexpected surprise, as were the white elephants that lined one of the ponds. Sweltering in the blazing sunshine was a nice way to spend my final day, though I was keen to avoid the various creepy-crawlies that were snaking through the long grass. You never know what they’re capable of on this side of the world.
The reason I had given myself another night in the big city was to see Myanmar’s shining star basking in the night sky. I have already expressed my admiration for the Shwedagon Pagoda; at night it possesses even more of an aura.
I had managed my money carefully and given myself just enough money to catch the local bus to the airport the following morning. Considering my problems with and the surprising price of accommodation in Myanmar, I was pleased that I had managed to come in under budget. That changed when I got told that my name wasn’t on the list for the flight back to Bangkok. Thinking that was rather peculiar, I rummaged through my dusty bag to find my e-ticket. This unfortunately led to me discovering that my flight was booked for December 29th. The date was December 30th. I’ve arrived a day early for a flight before, but never a day late. Regrettably, the latter is a much worse scenario. $155 later, and with the money I had saved throughout the ten days evaporating quicker than a cloud over the Yangon skyline, I had a plane ticket for the correct day, and exited back to the dizzying city of Bangkok.
I’ve told myself that I stayed a day longer because I enjoyed myself so much. Myanmar is a fascinating country. An increasing number of people are beginning to realise that they are able to travel there. But why do they go? Indeed, why did I go? Thinking about it, there isn’t anything here that can be found in a neighbouring and easier-to-visit country nearby. For the beauty of the temples of Bagan, there is Angkor Wat in Cambodia. For the trekking around in countryside, there are jungles in Chaing Mai, Thailand. For the cheapness of the food and beer, I’ve been told by many that Laos is cheaper. So why bother with Myanmar?
Part of the attraction is the knowledge that so few people visit the country, leaving it as a region untouched by tourism in reality with its neighbours. Of course, this brings about its own challenges, particularly with regards to accommodation. However, the situation is changing. Internet access is better than anticipated, and there are now a few ATMs dotted around the main cities.
Whether an influx of tourists and their money is good for the country is open to debate. The money will need to go to the right places, such as building infrastructure and improving the lives of the local population as opposed to lining the pockets of the top brass. I hope that the country retains the cultures of its regions, from the use of the thanaka to decorate their faces to their obsessive chewing of the betel nut.
The best aspect of visiting is the people that you visit. I have met many genuine, decent and hard-working people who always have a broad smile on their face. People wanted to go the extra mile to help me if I encountered any trouble, and were always keen to practise their English. The people I travelled with, particularly Andrew and Kaely, also made my journey much more pleasurable.
You have to be prepared for the unexpected if you visit Myanmar. If you come with an open mind and heart, it can be a very enjoyable country to experience. You may wish to wait until there are more beds available. If you do, I hope that the country hasn’t changed too much into just another stop on the Southeast Asian travel route, and that the people retain the same warmth rather than chase your euro or dollar. Just don’t miss your flight!
Love you all