Burma (Myanmar)

Burma (Myanmar)

In January 2014, we joined the Myamar in Focus photo tour led by QT Luong and we visited Rangoon, the capital, Bagan with the ancient temples, Mandalay, where most monks live, Inle Lake with the fishermen and the Golden Rock with well, a golden rock.

Burma is still pretty young to “white” or “westerners” tourism (most tourists were from other asian countries if not Burmese) and as such, many people will want to take pictures of you and still won’t mind you taking pictures of them. Our guide John was extremely helpful in our picture taking. Not only with the translation but with his great knowledge of Burma ancient history, specific places and people. He played a big part in making the pictures we took possible (contact me if you wish to get his contact info).
We made the news in a Rangoon newspaper, something along the line “American tourists visiting sitting Buddha in Rangoon”. There’s Tuan, Régis and myself as well as our guide (standing next to Tuan):
Local Newspaper

Making the news in local newspaper

Some people believe there is or was a US embargo against Burma. Not exactly. They were sanctions from the US and the U.N.  To learn more about it, the wikipedia article is a good start. It is a cash-based economy and now it has become easier  to get local currency as we found ATMs that would accept our debit card. If you were to pay directly in US dollars (or exchange), you will need brand new bills from your bank otherwise, you won’t get the best rate. At the exchange office, the bigger the bill ($100), the better the rate.
As of now, Burmese are very happy to meet westerners. They would ask you something like “wa u frum?” And if you say USA you will be greeted by a smile and an “America” and maybe a “Obama” and we even had a “Hillary Clinton” once (I believe due to the negotiations between the US and Burma that started in 2008). Our guide told us that Burma is mostly safe for tourists except some few regions were they are still human-rights related conflicts. Tourists do not go there, so mostly it’s safe. It felt safe, even with the 5-star hotels in Rangoon having you _sometimes_ go through a metal detector.
What was impressive is how much manual work there still is and women are a big part of it. Some back country roads were being resurfaced without the help of any machinery. A guy will shovel some rocks into a big dish that a woman will carry and spread on the road. Another guy will then walk a roller with tar on top of it. Another work that is gender indifferent is porter. No dolly. For luggage a big basket carried as a backpack, stuffed over the roof, for food and food making, a scale carried over their shoulders holding all the necessities, for raw vegetables or prepared food a big dish carried on the top of the head. A lot, if not most, of the carrying was made by women.
Food is present everywhere (not that you would want to eat it…) it is prepared on the curb, among the cars, the dust, the flies… Some have upgraded their stand to protect the awaiting food with a net and we saw one stand where the cooks wore latex gloves. We did try local food (our guy brought us to “safe” places) and it was pretty good  although almost all dishes are spicy and non vegetarian. Cauliflower and steamed rice are the best bet for non-spicy vegetarian dishes.
And of course, there are the monks…
And of course, there are the Buddhas…
And of course, there are the stupas….
And of course, there’s just one more. Just one more monk. Just one more Buddha. Just one more stupa. Just one more picture… And then we had to go home…