Visiting Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma, felt like I had been let in on Asia’s best kept secret with a sneak peek into life on the continent in times gone by. There is something inextricably romantic about this country that made it impossible for me not to fall in love at first sight.
From the crumbling colonial buildings of Yangon, where a top hat and Victorian petticoat would not have looked out of place; to the stilted houses on Inle Lake that belted out pop music powered by floating power lines, Myanmar held surprises behind every bend and each destination had something new and exciting to discover.
Along the tourist trail of Yangon, Mandalay, Inle Lake, Bagan and up (or down) the Irrawaddy River each region is a destination in itself with a unique culture and history. A favourite is hard to pick but if you pushed me, I would have to say that Inle Lake is top of the pile. There are a number of reasons for this but a big one has to be the food. Although beautiful, Myanmar’s cuisine didn’t always compete with its Asian neighbours but food is not the reason that you visit this amazing country. Along the route we did have some good meals but Inle Lake was definitely the culinary highlight. The carefully balanced flavours of the Shan State cuisine, the area in which Inle Lake sits, alongside the lightness of the noodles and fresh vegetable dishes, the area is known for, were delightful.
Surrounded by village life, Inle Lake made me long for this simple and fulfilling existence. It is of course completely naïve to think that living the life of a farmer or fisherman on the banks of Inle Lake is without hardships and struggles but as we cruised around the lake in our speedy traditional boats, everywhere we turned there was a happy smiling face.
From children outdoing each other with backflips over the water’s edge (and the younger ones thinking it was hilarious to moon us as we went by) to multi-generational meetings where family life seemed genuinely treasured, it was an absolute breath of fresh air from modern European life. However, you could easily see that the seams were coming loose at the edges of these close knit communities and that the traditional way of life was changing. For that reason, I am so grateful that I got to see this incredible country when I did, at the intersection of old and new.
Sticking to the feeling of time travel in my trip, the numerous temples and fantastic traditional workshops around the lake completed the experience. Hundreds of stupas and pagodas piled together at the water’s edge and men paddling along with the traditional one legged rowing system were a feast for the eyes.
Everywhere you looked there was some sort of industry taking place. Weaving on century old looms creating the most beautiful garments full of intricate patterns and bold colours; vineyards producing stunning wine; rice harvesting in a sea of green and wood carving immeasurably intricate statues by hand. The level of skill and the art of the craftsmanship was simply breath-taking. The idea of haggling in the market for these treasures seemed wholly ridiculous to me after seeing them being made first hand.
Throughout the whole trip, the words magical, mysterious and mesmerising all perfectly capture my experiences and memories of this incredible country.
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