Our two trips to Myanmar in 2013 enabled us to see a great deal of the country and it was an experience like no other. We spend a lot of time in Southeast Asia, but it became apparent pretty quickly that Myanmar was unique. Here’s 10 observations of travelling in Myanmar I made that I’m sure you’ll come across when you visit the country.
1 – The people we encountered were genuine and extremely helpful. Myanmar is the only place we have EVER accepted a ride from a stranger. A gentleman in his car (with his young daughter in the passenger seat) saw us walking back to our hotel on the outskirts of Mandalay and insisted we get in so he could drop us off. He told us all about his business and handed us his card, just in case we were ever interested in importing wood! In another town we were waiting on the side of the road for our bus. We were approached by a man who asked for our bus ticket. He stood with us, flagged down the bus and helped us with our luggage. Turns out he didn’t even work for the bus company – he was just lending a helping hand to some tourists in his town.
2 – You’ll see a lot of men wearing skirts. Well, not quite a skirt but a Longyi. It’s basically a piece of fabric that one can step into. It’s then folded, twisted and tied together to stay in place. Although the Longyi is ankle length, it can be brought up between the legs and tucked in at the front so that it’s easier to play sport in. You can find these at the markets for around $2-$4 – Give one a try!
3 – There are secret seats on buses. The usual two by two is how the bus will look as you board, but beware! During your trip a ‘secret’ fifth seat will be folded out in the aisle so more passengers can be transported on the journey.
4 – If someone says ‘What do you want?’ They actually mean ‘Hi. How are you today? What can I help you with?’ It might sound a little blunt but they have good intentions.
5 – You’ll hear a lot of people making kissing sounds in restaurants. They’re not trying to be affectionate in any way (good or bad) this is just the way that locals get the attention of waiters.
6 – They LOVE kids and are very accepting of children in all circumstances such as restaurants and transport. I wouldn’t be surprised if babysitting is free at hotels.
7 – Right hand drive + right hand traffic! Yeah, it feels weird just thinking about it, but that’s how a lot of the vehicles are designed.
8 – Blood stained teeth, lips and gums! When I first saw this in Myanmar I was flabbergasted (for want of a better word!) However, it’s an extremely common sight and not one you should be concerned about. The Burmese love to chew the mild stimulant betel. I don’t know enough about it to properly describe, but there are stalls set up everywhere with a ‘betel maker’ who whips up a concoction that can then be chewed. Once the effect wears off the chewers are then left with this glob of red mush in their mouth which has to go somewhere. It generally goes on the floor, or you might be lucky enough to have the guy sitting next to you on the bus spit it into a plastic bag. You’ll often notice red stains down the side of cars from where the projectile spit hasn’t quite worked out! Frequent betel chewers can’t hide their habit with the red colour staining their mouths and teeth. Rest assured you aren’t encountering a series of crime scenes on your travels in Myanmar, however similar it may look.
9 – Taking the train is almost like being on a rollercoaster. I don’t think the carriages or the tracks have been updated since the British left in 1948! You can buy local rum on board and food from vendors when the train pulls in at a station. It’s an experience you must try!
10 – There is not a McDonalds, Starbucks or Pizza Hut in sight! A large percentage of the population probably don’t even know what they are (and that’s a good thing!) Get out there and enjoy a Mohingha!
So there you have it – 10 observations of travelling in Myanmar. If you have anymore please let me know! For more inspiration for travel across Southeast Asia please check out my website: www.fittravels.com