Myanmar – overview, the ups and downs

Our trip to Myanmar was quite a long time in the planning.  It was initially somewhere that I knew very little about, apart from what I heard in the media, which wasn’t much at all.  My partner had traveled there in the nineties and had raved about it, however, I found it difficult to conjure up images of what it might be like.  It was an unknown entity, but the more he talked about it, the more my interest was piqued and I started looking into how and when we might be able to go.

Initially, it didn’t really seem possible, there was the fact that independent travel (our preferred method) seemed very difficult. But also, more importantly, the moral/ethical question raised its head on whether you should actually visit the country or not.  In addition to this, our time for travelling had been fairly limited as, for family reasons, we were spending large chunks of our annual leave in Australia each year (not such a hardship though that’s for sure, love it out there!).  For these reasons we didn’t start to seriously look into it as an option until 2015.  After some personal upheavals that we had faced over the previous few years, we decided that it was time to take some time for ourselves.  We managed to haggle 2 months off work and decided it was time to head to Myanmar….or Burma…. We never did really find out what the right name was!!

We spent a few weeks in Australia doing the family thing and then it was time to pick up our backpacks (oh my word, how good did it feel to heave that onto my back again …. and I’m not even being sarcastic!) and start the journey to Mandalay… exciting was that!  I couldn’t quite believe that we were heading there…and to be honest I still can’t quite believe that we’ve been!

Looking back on the trip as a whole now, I have definitely filtered my memories, there seems to be a hint of rose about them!  I have to force myself to really think about our time there and remember that it wasn’t all fun and games. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat, but I did find it quite tough at times.  It’s the first proper bit of lengthy backpacking that I’ve done since I went round the world (although it was only a month!) and I am 14 years older, it wasn’t going to be as easy this time round…….but I loved it, I loved putting my backpack on (even though I knew I had committed the cardinal sin of overpacking!), I loved wearing my flip flops, I loved traipsing around in dust and sand, I loved getting hot, extremely sweaty and dirty, I loved not having to do anything with my hair and just let it be its frizzy natural self, I loved the feeling of freedom, I loved the peace and quiet of the temples we visited, I loved the people that we met who took the time to talk to us about their country, I loved the fact that everything was so different to what we were used to ….

There were, of course, things I didn’t love as with any trip. I didn’t love the early morning starts (so many early morning starts!), I ended up not loving the fact that all the trips we wanted to do always ended up being whole day affairs, I didn’t love the stomach troubles…. Oh how I didn’t love the stomach troubles which plagued me the entire trip!….. I didn’t love the bus trips, the long overnight bus trips in icy freezer like conditions with snoring monks for company, the bus trips where the seat was broken, the bus trips where the blower above my head was broken and blew out a ferocious wind onto the top of my head for 5 hours, the bus trips where I was squeezed into a tiny space on the backseat of a minivan, next to a poor girl who had motion sickness and was vomiting into a bag the whole journey, I didn’t love some of the people who tried to take advantage of us,  I didn’t love our trip to see the caves near Hpa An in a tuk tuk that took hours to get there (muuucchh longer than they told us which is not unusual!) down a VERY long dirt track, sat on wooden boards (I literally ended up with bruised bumcheeks!!), I didn’t love the driving…and I discovered, much to my disappointment and annoyance, that I did NOT love scooters!!

However, it’s funny how all the stuff I didn’t love has receded in my memory and doesn’t seem quite so bad now – I can even laugh about….most of it! It’s the combination of these two elements though that always makes for a memorable experience.  I like the fact that these trips challenge me, take me out of my comfort zone and show me what I am (or am not, as the case may be!!) capable of.  It isn’t always easy and I don’t always enjoy everything we do, but I do always love the whole overall experience.  It’s hard to explain how it makes me feel without rolling out the usual clichés, but sometimes those clichés are there for a reason….I like being away, I like being somewhere completely different, it’s so interesting to see what the rest of the world looks like and how people live, it can be hard, scary, uncomfortable, but it’s different and that’s what makes it brilliant!

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