When you enter a new country there are so many new impressions you have to proces. And in Myanmar there are quite a lot.
The first thing I notice when I land at Mandalay airport in the afternoon is the air: a grey-blue thick soup, not clear but rather with a layer of mist or smoke or is it dust? The second thing I notice is the dryness of the landscape. Occasionally there is a palmtree but overall it’s sandy and dry (later I also discover sunflowerfields - weird). And the third thing I notice is that the men wear skirts. They call it a longyi. It's a long piece of fabric they tie a special way so they don’t fall off.
The currency here is the kyat (pronounced: shat). 1000 kyat is 0,75 euro so you can imagine how many banknotes you have when you get 200 euro out of the ATM. 200 euro is a lot of money for the Burmese. When I eat with the locals I usually pay 1000 kyat, if I add a drink it’s 1500. So my meal cost 1 euro.
What does cost a lot of money is a place to sleep. In Myanmar a tourist can’t sleep in any hotel or guest house he wants. The government has their hotels and that's where you stay (read: where you will spend a lot of money). It’s also illegal to camp or to sleep in people’s homes without permission. Sometimes you get that permission, sometimes you don’t. This means that you have to cycle 120 km in the dark to the next tourist hotel (as happened to Thomas, a German cyclist with whom I’m spending some days)
That special ‘tourist’ treatment can also be seen when it comes to transportation. To cross the river I wasn’t aloud on the local boat, I had to charter my own private boat. 5000 kyat against 200 kyat. Another striking example: I paid 1700 kyat for a bus ticket, Barry cost 2000 kyat. I can get a bit pissed about that, but there is little I can do. But I always make it clear to the people that I don’t agree with the way they treat me. I also noticed that the men (never women) who handle the money, never smile. So surly and cool, barking, looking angry ... and I'll act just the same. But they always win.
Fortunately, there are also loudly called Mingala ba's when I'm on my way. Complete with smiles and waving hands. I am glad I’ve been able to make so many people laugh. To them I’m an exotic animal that rides around in a longyi. That makes them laugh but it's not laughing at (thankfully) and there are no strange looks because my skirt is too short.
And then there's Schanulleke who sits on the back of the bike everyday. A man I bought water from, noticed her and he had to laugh ... laugh so hard I started to laugh as well. We didn’t understand a word we were saying but we laughed together very hard and that’s what really matters.
I admit it, I wasn’t a big fan of the country at first. The first week I was out of balance. I think I had a little culture shock, coming from Thailand and Australia before ...
But now I finally feel totally immersed in this amazing country, and I thoroughly enjoy it.
That first week I felt very alone. This had several reasons: I had just said goodbye to my family with whom I'd had a wonderful 14-day vacation, I ended up in a country that barely understands English, and even the hands-and-feet language that usually works well, is often not understood. I slept in hotels all alone in a room so I didn’t meet any foreigners.
This changed when I ran into Thomas at the caves of Hpo Win Daung. A German cyclist who has been on the go for about three years. I could finally tell my story and strangely enough he recognized the symptoms of feeling left out. We decide to ride together the next day. This encounter triggered a series of encounters that lasts until today.
Suddenly I met cyclists with the craziest stories, I was drinking cocktails with a colleague of mine, I slept in a Buddhist monastery between monks and I got a ride on a three-wheeled motorbike with a container. And that's just a small sample of the overwhelming days I've experienced here. I've already eaten kilos of dust because the roads are so primitive and the way they are constructed is even more primitive. I imagined myself 100 years back in time when I cycled past bamboo huts, passed bullock carts and even saw a place where they repair wooden weels, or heard the clatter of the looms.
Myanmar, I owe you an apology for judging so quickly. Now I see a country where people really do their best to make you comfortable even though we sometimes don’t understand each other, a country with opportunities that are not always exploited yet, a country with poor people who would even give what little they possess to us foreigners. I saw a smile, sincere, but also the mad face of the officer with his teeth red and dirty from chewing betel nut. I have drunk gallons of free tea by the side of the road, because I can, because they offer it everywhere. I made kissing sounds, just because I wanted to call the waiter. No problem, that's the custom here. And it works! I waved countless times and shouted Mingalaba, just to answer the excited cries of the children (and adults!). Because yes, I'm a bit of an exotic animal here.
I'm glad I'm a guest in this country that seems aloof at first glance, but once you dig a little deeper shows a beautiful pearl.
Mandalay: M3 Sun Winner Hotel
Sagaing: Happy Hotel
Monywa: Ba Thaung Hotel
Pakokku: Mya Yatanar Inn
Nyaung U: Royal Bagan Hotel
Nyaungshwe: Ostello Bello
Nay Pyi Daw: Myat Thinzar Hotel
Bago: Amara Gold
Mawlamyine: Cinderella hotel
Hpa An: Soe brothers guest house
Kawkareik: Smile world
25 700 kyat (= 17,54 euro)
42 000 kyat (= 28,67 euro)
34 800 kyat (= 23,75 euro)
7000 kyat (= 4,78 euro)
28 000 kyat (= 18,87euro)
15600 kyat (= 10,68 euro)
14 500 kyat (= 10 euro) - shared room
12 500 kyat (= 8,69 euro) -shared room
18700 kyat (= 13 euro)
9100 kyat (= 6,32 euro) - shared room
7000 kyat (= 4,87 euro) - shared room