This post is mainly intended for my own benefit so that, as time goes on and memory fades, I don’t forget some of the impressions that the trip had on me. The very poor internet connectivity combined with an iPad Mini keyboard and my clumsy fingers meant that writing the blog each night was a very frustrating experience. I therefore didn’t write down all things that I wanted to say. Perhaps mercifully for you so please feel free to ignore the rest of this post.
A series of abstracted thoughts and impressions.
People of Burma
We’re glad we saw Burma when we did as the pace of change is quite dramatic. In particular, the move from bicycles to cars has happened over the few years only and will continue to get worse.
Burma is a complex country with 7 major ethnic groups and many more subgroups or tribes. The borders between the groups are, not surprisingly when you think about, defined by Burma’s geography. The country is split longitudinally into thirds by two mountain ranges. The middle third is the lowlands surrounding the Irrawaddy. This is the land of the Bamar or Burman group from which the country gets its name. As an aside I did ask all our guides if they preferred Myanmar or Burma and they all said Myanmar but they are all licensed by the government so perhaps they have to be careful what they say. In the east around Inle lake, which is in mountain country, are the Shan people and in the west, along the coast are the Rakhine people. There are certainly differences in how they look with the Rakhines in particular having a much stronger Indian appearance in their features which I guess is not surprising given that it’s next door. These were the only ethnic groups we saw as some areas are restricted to tourists. We did see some Kayan ladies at Inle lake (these are the ladies who stretch their necks with metal rings) but they had been brought in especially for the tourists so we didn’t see them in context as it where.
The common trait though is that the Burmese are very very friendly people which sort of surprised me given the repression that they have been under (and are still under). They seemed genuinely glad to see us. I remember in particular, the day touring on Inle Lake. We happened to be there at the end of a festival period and there were many pilgrims from other areas of Burma who had come to see the famous temple and Buddha in the middle of the lake. In a complete reversal of roles they were taking pictures of us and smiling and waving. We got RSI from all the smiling and waving back.
I should also add that they are very honest people and we never felt unsafe even walking around at night. You can’t say that of Sydney.
We were very happy with all the hotels we stayed in but they all left impressions for different reasons so here’s my hotel awards.
Best Run Hotel: Governor’s Residence in Yangon by a country mile. Very very well trained staff, who were courteous, friendly but very professional. Run as well as any 5 star hotel. Even though we were only there for a few nights many of the staff made an effort to know our names. I could get used to every one calling me Mr Paul.
Runners up. The RV Pandaw river cruise was extremely well run.
Most Amazing Location: Without a doubt the Aureum Palace Hotel in Bagan. Situated on the plains amidst the stupas. Quite mindblowing really.
Runner up: Perhaps the Shangri-Lao Elephant camp in Laos.
Best Breakfast: Again the Governors Residence takes the gong. Not only beautiful food, coconut pannacotta anyone, but presented with an artistic flair. Runner up, the Victoria in Siem Reap.
Best Room: Very difficult call but I’m going to give it to the Amazing Ngapali Resort as the room was very comfortable, had lounge seats to sit on, and point blank views of the beach. Perhaps the most visually stunning room was the Shangri-Lao ‘tent’ so it deserves an honourable mention as does the Inle Princess resort.
Best Ambience: Satri House in Luang Prabang was an absolute standout here. The overall feel of the place was quite remarkable. Whilst vastly different in style, the attention to design detail, was on par with Bidadari in Ubud.
We don’t tend to drink wine in Asia. It’s expensive and usually not the best quality. Beer is therefore our drink of choice as its pretty good and its cheap.
In Burma we drank ‘Myanmar’ beer which is ubiquitous and very good. I got to try the Mandalay beer once but its not very common. The general who owns Myanmar beer must have more stars than the Mandalay beer one. :-)
In Siem Reap we drank both Anchor and Angkor beer. The former tasted a bit thin to my palate but was perfectly acceptable.
In Luang Prabang we drank Beerlao and it was the standout beer of the trip without question. Apparently they use rice either instead of or in addition to barley (couldn’t quite get a straight story on that one) but whatever they do works.
We learnt about Buddhism in snippets. This is mainly because our guide’s level of English didn’t lend itself to flowing conversation and as a result the discourse was various facts, stories, or tenets. So my still very limited understanding of Buddhism is cobbled together from the bits and pieces we learnt from each of our guides.
Something that I didn’t know before is that the last Buddha, whose teachings Buddhists now follow (more or less) and who lived about 4-500BC, was the 28th Buddha! Buddhists are waiting for the next Buddha to appear (no-one was clear on how we would know that he’d arrived) as only then will the cycle of reincarnation cease.