Saturday, August 30th 2014

Different impressions about Myanmar / Burma

Many people were asking How is/was Myanmar / Burma? And frankly I was not sure what to answer… Right before we went there I read & heard many good reviews about this country, how beautiful it is, how people are great, how unique it is….

BUT…Besides shiny gold of stupas and pagodas….

Our experience turned out to be quite different ….. Of course, I will not deny that the country is interesting, and it has long and rich history, and its nature is beautiful. However, you can see pretty much the same landscape in neighboring countries, and although I like it, I don’t find it that special. People are (those who are friendly and smiley) are not friendlier & smilier than people in Thailand, for example, or Iran, or Japan. This is not unique either. Indeed I do appreciate the fact that they are not rude and mean as in some other countries.

Temples, stupas, and nats…they are charming and you see these golden structures scattered around everywhere, in cities and towns, in the countryside and all over hill tops and mountains of Myanmar / Burma. But as with all things – too much is too much. On 4th, 5th or 6th day you will get tired of those ones as well and will not get excited upon seeing any next one. There are definitely places which are must-see, like the Shwedagon Pagoda or Bagan. However many other will fade in comparison to such ones. Besides many of these religious sites are not so interesting or beautiful as advertised by locals and travelers. As an example, the Golden Rock of Kyaikto. It was an an exhausting hike up and the views from top are really gorgeous, but I think that we have wasted 12USD for entering the site’s area. There is nothing special in a rock balancing on a cliff. Of course, if you cover a rock in gold and brainwash the population that it is a holy site and they (as good Buddhist) have to come here, and donate some money, and pray, and everything will be alright in their lives, then YES, it becomes holy. But for me as a foreigner, it is just a rock covered in gold. The view around is somehow impressive, and would have probably paid off the hike if we wouldn’t have had to pay the 12$ entrance fee. I am sure views from hill tops around would be as amazing as from this one.

I don’t know how other people but I got tired of walking barefoot in holy places which turn out to be quite dirty, and no one of devoted Buddhists makes an effort to clean a bit. Most of the sites we visited were dirty both outside and inside. Floors are usually covered in dust, sand, betel spit. Honestly, I am not sure what is more offensive to walk around a temple in shoes, or make people take off shoes and walk in dirt. I went to visit Saddar cave close to Hpa An, and tourists were requested to take off their shoes and walk some 700m in wet slippery mud.

We stayed in a monastery on Zwekabin mountain (about 800m above sea level). It was a great experience, amazing views and unique company (the monks), but the holy place is filthy: the ground itself is sticky and dirty, the area of the monastery and the cliffs around are covered in plastic bags, empty packaging, food trays and bottles. And nobody of those who live in the monastery bothered to clean during the whole day we were there. Well, they swept some paths, but it is not enough. Visitors who come to pray at dawn (believe me it is not an easy walk) leave tons of plastic trash. So what is wrong with these people? Or what is wrong with Buddhism in Burma? If I think of monasteries in Europe, in Romania for example, they will be spotless inside. Or mosques of Iran or Turkey, they will get vacuum cleaned 3 times a day and will be pleasant to walk barefoot. In Thailand one has to walk barefoot only in temples, and they are very clean. In Burma all places we have visited were dirty…..Is it just laziness? Or if people clean they have less time to pray?

Temple in Inle Lake

 

Separate word on Buddhism. This religion is everywhere in this country. People climb 3 000 steps to pray at sunrise, people donate probably their last money, stupas and pagodas are literally everywhere. This country has more than 500 000 monks. Everyday you see the kids, young or elderly walking around and asking for food or donation. Just because they are monks it is not called begging. These physically able people don’t do anything but walk around and beg. Unfortunately people are totally brainwashed by the religion and have to “donate”  if they want a good reincarnation and not to be a rat in their next life. This is such a hypocrisy in this poor country. The working population who probably don’t have enough food themselves have to feed these freeloaders. Yes, they are freeloaders. I already mentioned we stayed at a monastery. The monks there did not do much during the whole day except of praying many times a day. One of them told us that they have people helping them around with daily work. Villagers come (the way up is very hard and steep) and help with cleaning, fixing stuff, etc. I just wonder…what happened to DIY type of attitude.

Begging monks

Not everything is bad, of course, there are very nice, friendly and helpful people, beautiful countryside views, amazing sunsets and sunrises. But in general the impression is quite bad. The country is not astonishing, it is more depressing.

Many people chew on betel leaves and spit red everywhere, their eyes are clouded and they stupidly smile, very much like those who smoked too much weed. Some say the leaves keep them from sleeping or kill hunger. But when I look at these people – they are just high. It is not just a leaf they chew on, it is a drug. Same way as weed or speed. It is just happen to be legal here, but illegal in Thailand, for example. The same way as weed is legal in the Czech Republic and illegal in Ukraine. It does not make either of them not being a drug. It is chewed by old, young, women and teenagers. Half of the country if not more, is totally high all the time. Including holy monks. I understand that it makes their life easier, but at the same time they become lazy and do nothing: don’t work (or work less), don’t clean, don’t study, etc.

To my regret we have not had much good food. In many places street food looks like it was cooked 5 days ago and was boiled in oil for 5 hours. Even in more or less decent places the food is not that good. Maybe we have been just unlucky though. But I met a number of people who had the same impression. One lady who traveled with locals told me that once she had to look for food alone, it was difficult to find good food. I would risk eating street food despite all the stories of travelers sitting on toilets for days if it looked appealing. Unfortunately street food does not look or smell good (to me).

If you come on a organized trip and are taken everywhere by air-coned bus with a guide fluently speaking English you may not notice it that much. But in fact the country is filthy, people and their clothes are filthy, and the amazing sights like Shwedagon pagoda are surrounded by filth and dirt. Somebody can say: You have not been to India. Yes, I have not, and I am not going there. I don’t care how spiritual it can be. I don’t find people very spiritual if they live in their own shit and don’t bother to clean. It has nothing to do with being poor. At least I believe so.

IMG_6006

Despite all those travel reports, travel stories and reviews I saw a completely different picture of Burma/Myanmar. I cannot understand why nobody says about the bad sides. People don’t notice? Or don’t want to notice? Don’t want to mention? Just because they paid a lot of money  and the experience must be great. On top of that all the country is overpriced. You get way worse hotel rooms for higher prices than in Thailand, for example. Food is overpriced and often far from good. Yeah, yeah, don’t start telling me that this is an unspoiled by tourists yet place, and that is why they may charge more. No, they charge more because this year the country has 4 times more (and that is only November estimation, will be more by the end of the season) tourist than last year. They can charge more because there are not enough rooms, restaurants, English speaking guides, but not because the quality is better than in Thailand. And because everybody pays. And why not ? Suddenly they learnt that the best business is done on people’s stupidity.

Old bicycle

One last thing – I don’t understand many tourist who say how they enjoy this nice and unspoiled yet country. I don’t understand, what exactly they enjoy – human filth, miserable poverty people live in, the cheapness of a country compared to Europe or US? They come here, because it is so exotic to come to recently still closed country just to go back to their clean & nice countries and tell their friends how cool they are, how they survived such rough country, how they ate all that “forbidden dirty” street food, electricity outages, exhausting long train or bus rides on very bad roads, how people live authentically in bamboo huts with no electricity or running water….How cool is that? it is not.

If I knew what awaits me here, I would not have come. Probably i would come later or never. Many people shout about the country soon to be as spoiled as Thailand. Spoiled? I don’t see anything wrong in good roads, available electricity, clean water, internet, good food. Maybe there will be more tourists, but there will be more services offered, there will be competition, and people will be charged according to the level of service, not according to the fact that only one service is available and you have to pay for it….

All in all I didn’t enjoy our trip in Myanmar/Burma. I had more negative than positive experience. In my opinion the country is not amazing. It is an interesting experience, but I don’t think I will ever come back.

I know my opinion is very different from most you will hear or read. Please share your opinion with me if you have been to Burma / Myanmar. 

 

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6 Comments on “Different impressions about Myanmar / Burma”

  1. Interesting point of view Alex.
    I do wanna go there and currently I have a CS friend who is there right now and is loving it.
    She is Ukranian too ;)
    But maybe see it through other eyes.

    1. I met people who just loved it, and met people who did not. The former make a bigger group. You should go and make your own opinion. Some people enjoy being in filthy & dirty places of India, and even brag about it. Maybe Burma is “their country”, but not mine ;-). I prefer it a bit cleaner.

  2. I’m sad your experience wasn’t what you’d hoped. I went last December for about 2 1/2 weeks and have been thinking every moment about returning which will be in a week for 28 days this time. We arranged details for planes, car transport, guide and driver plus hotels thru out agent so traveling was quite easy. We had lists restaurants from Travel Advisors as well as guide suggestions and all the food was fine. I am veg so had to work to avoid fish and meat. I wasn’t able to see everything I wanted. To be truthful, I must say I’ve been to India 6 times, also Nepal, Bhutan and SE Asia. Burma felt more less touristy to us. There were just two of us. It felt magnificent to me. We missed the filth that you saw. They don’t have garbage pick-up and probably haven’t planned for the tourists expecting to be picked up after. I have seen REAL filth in Varanasi and in Kathmandu that I thought was shocking the first time there. I have talked two friends into this trip and since they went to India with me, hopefully they will love it. This history is amazing as it is happening now. The monks aren’t begging, btw. I am apprehensive about The Golden Rock and Mt. Popa. My agent recommends them.

    1. This year is very different with the amount of tourists. There were definitely more tourists in Burma in November than in Iran in October this year.
      Many places are dirty, but in Burma I had a feeling that people don’t take care of where they live. I understand that there is no trash cleaning service, but still people can keep at least their houses and areas around clean.
      India…what can I say. I don’t think I will go there, i am not much interested to see people living in their own s..t. I don’t care about spirituality if people live like pigs surrounded by golden temples. Sorry, did not mean to offend anybody’s feelings.

    2. I enjoyed reading your response to Alex’s observations about Myanmar. I have also been to Brutan and India, Cambodia and Thailand. I look forward to going in December to Myanmar and Laos and returning to Cambodia to visit the more remote temples.
      May I ask for the name of the travel agent you have used for Myranmar who might be able to help me find a good car and driver.
      Many thanks, Sincerely, Ian

  3. The agent I’ve used is Sammy at Myanmar Shalom. Info@myanmarshalom.com
    Every detail he planned was smooth. Traveling with car/driver and guide made traveling easy.
    Mona

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