Landing into London Heathrow and jumping straight on the tube in the middle of Monday morning’s rush hour, after a 2 week trip traveling around Myanmar, was always going to be a shock to the system. However the stark contrast between the lack of eye contact and head down determination that the London underground seems to breed, and the warmth and openness you experience in everyday travels around Myanmar, really hit me.
The hospitality that I experienced throughout my time in Myanmar could be down to the fact that tourists are still a fairly novel concept, having only opened up to tourism in the last few years. Therefore their total delight over a blonde, fair skinned British girl in clothing so totally foreign to them has yet to be tainted by the spoils of mass tourism. I definitely experienced a lot of stares while in their country, but not at all in a threatening way, more through bemused smiles. A number of times I was asked to pose for photographs for a gaggle of youngsters.
More than any other country I have visited, the people seem so totally content and peaceful with their surroundings, which is incredibly humbling for a population where the life expectancy is just 65 and where only 30% of homes have electricity, and running water is equally as sparse (as stated by my guide in a matter of fact way). They are so welcoming of strangers and delight over new faces in their villages and places of work. I cannot think of any other country I have visited where simply passing people in a bus or boat, results in a huge smile and enthusiastic wave.
Having a guide is imperative so as not to cross any cultural boundaries which foreigners may not be aware of. With a translator it was an honour to chat with the locals, which they apparently equally delight over. They are amazingly relaxed by strangers cooing over their children and taking countless photographs. Undoubtedly a result of their parents’ easy nature, the children seem so relaxed and content in their environment and you rarely hear babies crying.
For me the local experiences made my visit; from visiting villages such as Pakkoku and Mingun, to delighting over the customs in local markets and drifting past the floating villages of Inle Lake. Wherever we went we were met with engaging people, warm smiles, and a total openness which is so refreshing.
There are a whole host of delights to Myanmar, from the lack of mobile phone coverage, the fashion for longyi trousers and Thanaka make-up (a yellowish white cosmetic paste which they wear on their face) and the unusual selection of food produce sold at the local markets. It is a wonderful country to visit for its raw natural beauty and fascinating cultural diversity, but more importantly, for me it is an unmissable time to visit, while the country is relatively untouched on the tourist trail. The hotels may not be up to the polished standards of destinations such as Thailand or Bali, but for me this adds to the charm of the country and to its uniqueness. Myanmar (Burma that was) was brilliantly summed up by Rudyard Kipling in his Letters from the East “This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about.”
To find out more on Myanmar (Burma), give one of our Asia-Pacific Consultants a call on 020 8682 5060 or visit scottdunn.com