Beautifully chaotic and deeply fascinating, Myanmar (Burma) is like no place else I have ever been. Off limits to foreigners for decades and with travel and information still largely controlled and restricted by the fists of the government, discovery often comes as quick glances and snapshots in time. Travelers here are welcome, but are largely held at a distance by the locals with an underlying caution, anxiety, and perhaps a little bit of suspicion. Individual interactions tend to be transactional, always with eyes averted and with very soft voices indeed. Seldom are conversations with outsiders or foreigners extended beyond need which can initially come across as a rushed indifference. This is not to suggest that the Burmese are not warm nor engaging (they are quite the opposite, but more aptly, as a society and culture they are quite insular.
Travel in Myanmar is not easy. In fact it is often difficult, uncomfortable, and certainly not for the faint of heart, the feeble of body, nor the weak of stomach. People are desperately poor and very young children work 12 hour days in the streets and on trains. The air tastes dirty. The infrastructure that exists is crumbling and getting sick is inevitable (they call it Burma Belly for a reason). Yet the landscape is incredibly beautiful, the sheer size and scale of religious sites and buildings is completely overwhelming, and the way of daily life is staggeringly hard. Three and a half months in the surrounding regions and I think it is fair to say, that no stop quite prepared us for the immersion into Myanmar. It is so vastly different culturally, religiously, and economically from its neighbors that in spite of a relatively short distance traveled to reach it, Myanmar very much feels worlds away.
Night buses took us from Yangon to Bagan, Bagan to Kalaw. Our feet took us onwards to Inle Lake and then a final hurrah on the night bus back to Yangon. exhausting and bumpy are the two words that come to mind. Along with hell froze over. As the planes in Myanmar have a tendency to fall apart and on occasion have fallen out of the sky, night bus travel was an unavoidable evil.
At least there were no babies to step on this time.
Early morning ride on the Yangon Circle Train
Daily life unfolds inside and outside the windows of this rickety old narrow gauge commuter railway. For three hours the train continuously rocks and rambles, covering the 45.9 km of track and 39 stations that form a circular loop around Yangon. The full ride costs under $1.00 and passes from city to village to countryside and back again. Each stop brings an exchange of people along with the myriad of things that they carry, lug, sell, eat, and sort in the carriage. I chose not to photograph any of the children at work on the train.
As seen on the streets of Chinatown, Yangon
Chickens. And their heads, their feet, and all of their other parts in between. Alive, dead, cooking, and consumed, it all happens on the crowded and hot streets of Chinatown. Nothing quite prepares one for the assault on the senses and there is no greater motivation to become a vegetarian.
The long walk to Inle Lake
The 40k walk from Kalaw to Inle Lake winds through the rural villages, over hills, and through many fields. Farming tools and techniques are as they were in the 19th century. Carts are pulled by oxen, wheat is cut by scythe, and the harvest is carried on back and by hand.
Like nowhere else at all
Peace out Myanmar