“And, what did you like best today?” ”You.” “And what else?” This is a question and answer game that Erwin and I play a lot. What do I like most about Myanmar after having spent five days here? I guess the same as everywhere: everything that is different from home. All the little things that make it impossible to walk around ‘on autopilot’, because the things you see, hear and smell are so different from what you’re used to.
Like the Shwedagon pagoda by night. Because we wanted to see the pagoda at sunset and lit, we went to visit again. In the evening, it is very crowded there, mostly with local people. The walk around the pagoda clockwise, or wash and decorate the Buddha statue that belongs to their birthday. Erwin’s corner (there is a sign that says Wednesday corner) is the Wednesday morning one, and it is accompanied by an elephant. Mine is the Friday one, and it comes with a guinea pig. Not exactly the animal I would choose for myself, but ok. The Shwedagon complex is large and its stupa very imposing, but the atmosphere is very relaxed and almost cosy. This pagoda is covered in gold foil and by now we now that makes it way shinier than pagodas that have only been painted with gold paint.We got the true around-the-world-trip-feeling- when we tried to book a train to go to Bago, a city about 70 km away from Yangon. Before we even reached the station we were taken to a travel agency by a helpful local, where we learned that all trains and buses to Bago were full. As were the buses to Kyaikto, our next destination.
Luckily, we were able to book a private car to go to Bago and we were already looking forward to a comfortably air-conditioned trip from door to door. Alas, no such luck. We were picked up by a regular city taxi with open windows. Not an issue, except that in Yangon you spend more time standing still than actually driving. And with a 40 degree Celsius heat and the sun reaching just into your car, that’s no fun. The driver had pictures of all of his earlier foreign guests in his car and he could and did tell us exactly which guests were from which country.
There are far fewer western tourists in Bago than in Yangon. Bago is a former capital of Myanmar that was big in the 1500s and has a lot of Buddha statues and pagodas from that era. We are therefore even more of an attraction in here than in Yangon. Especially when we hit the traffic on our rented e-bikes… everyone waves or shouts hello. In Burmese, hello is mingalaba and that’s the only word I have learned in our first week here. The e-bikes are a brilliant way of moving from one sight to the next, not in the least because you can enjoy the air flow without exerting yourself. Bago is even hotter and slightly more humid than Yangon.We are of course the most spoiled travellers in the world and on days like to day we like to take our lunch in an air-conditioned Starbucks or local variant thereof. And that doesn’t exist in Bago. However, thanks to Tripadvisor, Google and a lot of tenacity on our part we discovered the super cure Feel Coffee House – a teeny tiny coffee shop with Burmese versions of ice tea and chicken sandwiches. The lady who owned the place turned on the airco for us and wanted to have her picture taken with Erwin afterwards.
The food in Myanmar is great, by the way. It’s a mix between Thai and Indian but with mild and very tasteful curries (pork with pickled mango, anyone?) and the salads are original: the tea leaves and ginger salad in the House of Memories was excellent. Only the wine leaves room for improvement: we cannot truthfully recommend the local Red Mountain wine to anyone.