Slowly, slowly, the crowds are starting to trickle into Myanmar, still called Burma by some countries. The Burmese (or the government?) have decided that tourism is a good thing. It’s an interesting place – generally south Asia is an inexpensive place to travel but Myanmar was two to three times more expensive than its neighbors. I was there with a couple of friends and we decided to max out our visas, staying for 27 days, edging the 28-day limit. Traveling with friends made it much more affordable for lodging and transport, definitely the most significant portion of our spending.
Some places were more rustic than others – one excursion took us to Mrauk U, seldom visited by anyone and the limited choices in lodging meant we had some interesting company in our room. It’s always a bit surprising to have squealing from the ceiling wake you at 3 a.m. It was a matter of “insert ear plugs” and return to sleep. Whenever I’m sleeping under a mosquito net, it also suffices as a cloak of invisibility in middle-of-the-night logic.
In cities like Bagan, there were buses full of tourists from Europe, traveling in large groups and armed with water bottles, sunscreen, and sun defying hats and sunglasses. All were eager to explore the temple-studded landscape.
The ubiquitous Buddhas greeted us at every stop and no two seemed alike. The one below seems somewhat restored but still possess the knowing smile, and sedate eyes while the subtle cracks betray the antiquity of his being.
My friend and I opted for bikes to tour from temple to temple, simmering in the heat as we glided along the uncrowded roads, enjoying the slight breathe of air created by our pedaling. By early afternoon, we were ready for lunch in the shade of some trees, dining outdoors at a small café with fresh squeezed lime drinks to wash the dust from our dry mouths. The highlight was the delicious tamarind candies, innocent looking enough in wax paper wrapping, but delivering a burst of fresh tart flavor to finish our meal.
Even the local livestock were fascinated with the temples, embedded as they were in the landscape and the lifestyle. They just couldn’t stay away.
This monkey took a break from exploiting the crowds at one temple, perhaps subdued by the practice of compassion.
By two or three in the afternoon, we retreated to the small pool at our hotel. It seemed the only sensible thing to do in the oppressive heat until the sun dipped low in retreat signaling it was time to venture out again for dinner.
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