Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Only in Myanmar: Top Special Experiences

Whatever your itinerary takes you, travel in Myanmar (Burma) is sure to bring an abundance of unusual experiences. As a strange country, things you encounter, see, search out and feel in Myanmar are also unlike any place you have ever known before.

1. Breakfast in a local teahouse


From Yangon’s traffic-jammed streets to soiled village lanes, it’s not hard to find a Burma-styled teahouse. Enthusiastic waiter boys needle through tables, slopping tea into saucers and serving up deep-fried snacks. Patrons air kiss loudly to draw the staff’s attention while their eyes on the soccer match on TV and their minds on teashop gossip. Warm stomach by a bowl of mohinga – the nation’s beloved noodle soup, or change taste with e kyar kway (youtiao or Chinese doughnut) dipped in a yummy cup of sweet, milky tea.

2. Transfer like a real local

circular-train-in Yangon

In Myanmar, people also transfer by plane, train and boat, but these modes are not usual.
Domestic flights are jokingly called as “buses on air” (with many layovers to pick more passengers along way), and accompanied an old style of “paper ticket”, “sticker”, “no booking online”, “no seat allocation”, and some other uncanny things (view more here). One step on a Myanmar’s domestic flight, one step come back the past.

Train’s not more normal as well. The railway system is oldest and most longstanding in the world. Though it brings discomfort of late time and specially shake, local trains are great chances to understand and feel the ingredient daily life - meet and talk with normal residents, monks, hawker ladies and manual workers. Let take a Yangon circle train or train through imposing Gokteik viaduct from Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin.
>> Myanmar train travel guide

Despite transfer boat in Inle lake or on Kespanadi river from Sittwe to Mrauk U, it has an awesome noise. Traditional sailboats are also impressed. To be more local, let take a horse-cart, ox-cart or pedicab. 

3. Downstream the Irrawaddy

Irrawaddy (or Ayeyarwady) river curls south from foothills of the Himalayas, passing Mandalay and Bagan’s temple-covered plain before spilling its silt-rich currents into the Andaman Sea. Covering on it is rustic, ordinary beauty of riverside life. As the Myanmar’s most important waterway, it focuses everything from luxury steamer ships to ponderous government ferries and leaking speedboats. It is said that having not experienced a day floating on Irrawaddy river yet, having not understand Myanmar. Embark on a Ayeyarwady river cruise to see a slice of riverside life – and remember to mind rare Irrawaddy dolphins. 

4. Return Raj era
Pyin Oo Lwin

From peeling Yangon’s colonial-era buildings, rusty railways and creepy Gokteik viaduct, to classical Western villas in Kalaw, is reminiscent of British Burma over 100 years ago. Even traces of a melting-pot Burma retain by distinct cultural nuances from India, Nepal, Iraq, China, Jew, etc, easily realized on Yangon streets, in Kalaw or Mandalay. The era’s vestiges can be seen anywhere around Myanmar. But perhaps nowhere recalls better than Pyin Oo Lwin, a former hill station, where horse-drawn carriages leisurely amble over classical teakwood mansions, and a bell cast for George V’s Silver Jubilee still chimes from the town’s Purcell Tower. 

5. Join a Nat ceremony 


Nat is a deity in Burmese folk belief. In this ceremony, people give offerings and dance around a transvestite “natkadaws ply” - a middle-aged lady with whisky as she gyrates to music from a traditional orchestra – who is believed that Nat god’s spirit possesses her body. Members of the audience tuck 1,000-kyat notes into her costumes. Though unruly nats exist and hurt community due to excessively cost requirement of alcohol, music and money – contrasts sharply to Buddhism’s emphasis on restraint and tranquility, many Burmese people happily trust in both. Take the country’s biggest Nat ceremony (Nat kadaw) in Taungbyone each August, or ascend Mount Popa, the Myanmar’s hottest hub of Nat worship. 

6. Nourish a Burmese chocolate addiction

Jokingly dubbed as “Burmese chocolate”, lumps of jaggery candy are made from boiled toddy palm sap, soft, fine yellow and shiny-honeyed. It’s exceedingly addictive whether plain or dusted atop aromatic sesame seeds and white grated coconut, an awaited sweet to the locals after each meal. Unhappy it might cause you to have to see your dentist, but a serious jaggery habit is certainly healthier than another Myanmar’s tooth decay tradition – chewing kun-ya (a mixture of betel leaves with areca nuts, tobacco and slaked lime paste). 

7. Sip toddy, and get tipsy

Throughout Myanmar countryside, when spindly bamboo ladders appear intermittently into rows of jaggery trees, it’s time the locals absorbedly cut buds of jaggery to get toddy juice then bring home to make palm sugar and wine. The palm’s sweet, white sap ferments naturally into “toddy”, a cloudy, lightly alcoholic beverage also called “palm wine” or “tan-ye”. As the Myanmar’s only home-produced alcoholic drink, toddy is only available in village bars near where it’s made, making it an unmistakable flavor among Burmese styles. 

8. Wandering alone in countryside 


In an early, misty morning that somewhere cocks crow to wake up dawn, let roam on peaceful countryside paths, encounter mild water buffaloes leisurely grazing, and enjoy fresh breezes gone with wild odor of natural fields. To actually experience bucolic life first-hand far away from urban scramble, get to the hills in Shan State with an incredible trek from Kalaw to Inle lake; or head north to the less-visited area around Hsipaw and Kyaukme, further, approach isolated, iced Himalaya area of Putao; or turn east to Golden Triangle of Kyaing Tong, Tachilect; or turn west to stupa-covered villages in Mrauk U. A choice for discovering eerie races’ life is set on an adventure trip to Loikaw to visit long-necked Padaung tribe’s villages, or a trek in Chin state to meet face-tattooed women.

Whichever hike, it’s possible to have a unique overnight in monasteries or homestay.


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