Hello, Myanmar! Before we start making you drool over this stupendous country, we must inform you that our articles about it will be shorter than our usual travelogues… and will focus particularly on photography. Because Myanmar, dear friends, is a place made especially for you to experience, breathe in, and contemplate! You will soon understand why… So, sit comfortably in your couch, bed or desk chair, depending if you are at work, (but who cares about work anyway), to enjoy the dive in amazing Myanmar. Follow us!
So, back on track. On this bright morning of late December 2015, we are crossing the border between prolific Thailand and yet mysterious Myanmar on a dusty grey concrete bridge. Beside us, a slender young German, fair of skin and hopelessly ginger who will be our faithful travel companion for the next three weeks. But for now, the three of us are leaving thai Mae Sot for burmese Myawaddy. We instantly feel the difference, or should we say the huge gap between the two countries. As we walk our first steps on Burmese ground, we already notice men and women wearing the longyi, their famous traditional skirt, cheeks coated with thanaka, the supreme burmese vegetal beauty cream, and toothless smiles tinged in a deep carmine red. Often more then not, one of them will spit a bloody glob of saliva on the ground, adding to the already splattered street. This is no blood of course, but the famous narcotic betel nut, on which half the country is chewing day after day. Pollution and misery are also ubiquitous. So are smiles and friendly glittering eyes.
Welcome to Myanmar!
Hpa An and karst beauties
A taxi brings us in four hours to the town of Hpa An, by (Needless to say to someone who know a little about Myanmar) a road in terrible horrible condition. We will soon discover that this is the normal state of every single road of the entire country… But fortunately the surrounding scenery is stunning enough to make us forget about the bumps of the road or the suicidal driving style of our Burmese taximan. We are even tempted to say it is amongst the most beautiful Asian landscapes we ever set eyes upon! Try to picture it: all we can see through the windows are marvellous erected karst formations looming board and dark over a flat endless plain and the abiding low cloud of golden dust that seems to cover the whole country. Fairy dust, no doubt. We can’t wait to get lost in it!
We stay three days in Hpa An. A cute lazy riverside cowboy town which streets are really nice to wander by, for sure. But we soon feel the need to see more… Let’s rent some bikes!
Looking hopelessly ridiculous on our small rental scooters, with our far-too-big helmets and broad genuine smiles on our faces, we roam through the area to discover the local wonders. Our first visit will be for the emblem of Hpa An : a temple-monastery cleverly built on top of a natural promontory in the middle of a lake. Pretty awesome, wouldn’t you say?
Before having lunch, we’ll open our apetit with a zen walk in Lumbini Garden. A huge place where are aligned thousands of statues of Bouddha. In the jungle, in a flat field, and even on the feet of Mount Zwegabin, on top of which is a famous monastory. We agree on not going up there, we though we had enough of holy pilgrimage, stairs, and temples on top of a montain, during our stay in Emeishan in China.
The area is also famous for its crazy number of sacred caves, set at the deepest of the karst formations. One of them, knowned as Saddar Cave, particularly holds our attention. First of all, this cave is kind of big, to say the least, and impressive. The « temple » in the dark entrance is inhabited by all kind of dusty buddhas of all shapes and sizes that add a little something to the atmosphere… How to describe it? Mysterious? Mystical? …Creepy? Moreover, the cave houses a large bat colony and you will be able (lucky you!) to walk through on a nice soft carpet, result of an addition of dozens of years of bat poo. Very comfortable, we can tell you! Last, but not least, this cave opens at the end on one of the most breathtaking panoramas ever.
And it is possible (even recommended) to hire a small boat back to the beginning. This short boat trip through a grotto and rice fields at sunset is an experience you definitely don’t want to miss!
Two other caves, called Ya-the-byan and Kaw-goon, are also worth a visit. Besides the funny monkey colonies that live around, the first one is also quite beautiful and offers interesting (not to say amazing) points of view over the area. As for the second one, its walls are literally covered with thousands of ancient icons of Buddha (who else?) providing a very interesting visit in the depth of Burmese history. And as a bonus, you can also choose to climb an awful concrete staircase situated near the cave, that will grant you another yet unforgettable view upon this beautiful land!
A bit further from Hpa-An, you can find another great monastery also guarding, how original there, the entrance of a holy cave. But Bayin Nyi monastery has another interesting particularity : a natural hot stream (also sacred, you would have guessed it by now) flows from the depth of the karst formation. Out of curiosity, we resolve to give it a try. And this was definitely a brilliant idea, as you can see:
Beautiful isn’t it? It is even possible to jump in the warm miraculous waters. But be careful to jump in the right pool! One is for women only, another one for men and the last one for monks!
And what about Hpa An ? How is it ? Well, Hpa An is a charming little town full of life, with stray dogs and cats roaming through the dusty streets. The population is splitted between bouddhists and muslims, giving the place a variety of cultures, religions and architecture. Interesting. Markets, shops and restaurants enlight the life of the city. For us it was an excellent first contact with the country : we never saw that many smiles, free kindness ! There is something in Hpa An that makes us feel really good here…
On our way to Yangon, we stop one day at this internationally acclaimed place of worship, that many photographers in the world have been trying to capture over the years. In short, not something you want to miss when you have somewhat of an interest in taking pictures, but finally we will be a bit disappointed. What a contrast with quiet Hpa-An! The place is crammed with pilgrims, visitors, photographers and vendors of all kind. Indeed, the view from the top is quite nice and the rock is, well, golden, but what we enjoyed the most up there was to take pictures of the smiling pilgrims in their nice traditional outfit.
We also had to face our first bath of burmese groupies, who were very eager to take a picture with us… One by one! It was quite fun at first but, in a place as crowded as the Golden Rock, you can well imagine how exhausting it can get after a few hours! Quentin was particularly successful with young ladies… We will discover later that the main rockstar of Myanmar is his perfect Asian alter ego! Maybe that explains it. Of course Quentin insists they were enthralled only by his own irresistible natural charisma!
Unfortunately, that’s all for today guys! To finish, we let you enjoy our usual portrait gallery below featuring a few of the welcoming faces of this beautiful country! Stay tuned, our next Burmese adventure is coming out soon. We will take you to the far far-west of Myanmar. Yihaa!
M. & Mme Shoes