I would be very confident to say that Myanmar would be one of the top 5 most photogenic countries in the world. The friendly smiles from locals, ancient ruins and artesian handiwork – all adds to the colour, interest and depth which you look for before you take that ‘snap”.
And we have sure ‘snapped’ our way through Myanmar. Without being too obtrusive, we have taken magical photos of young and old Burmese people just going about their daily lives. In wonderment, we stopped to stare at traditional (day-to-day) proceedings and tried to capture that special moment both in our mind’s eye but also in whatever we had handy – the iPhone, GoPro or camera.
What we didn’t expect was that some Burmese would also find us equally as interesting.
The first time I was stopped to for someone to take a photo of me and, with me, was heading up to Shwe Oo Min, the natural cave Pagoda in Pindaya. I was looking forward to seeing the 8000+ Buddhas that when I was lightly tapped on the shoulder, I was sure that I had dropped something or worse still, caught not paying the ‘camera fee’ which seemed to sting us at every significant landmark.
With sign language, pointing at her smartphone and then pointing at me expectantly, I realised that she just wanted to take a selfie with me. So with a little relief, I posed, smiled and ‘snap’ – she had her souvenir of – me.
After the 3rd time this happened (on the same day) I started to become a little self conscious. “Did my hair look okay? It would be so much better if I wasn’t so sweaty and hot and my hair wasn’t stuck to my face? I really should have made more of an effort to visit this pagoda….these pants really do look horrible paired with this top”. After all I was ‘representing’… but then what was I representing? Female white westerner person? Blonde / Blue eyed person? I still have no idea …
They smiled, giggled and stared at us and sometimes, took their own pictures of fascination to show to their friends and family when they return home – funny that we find them as equally fascinating to sneak in a picture.
So, after taking over 1000 photos of this magical country and its people it is regrettably time to leave. We have too many highlights to mention individually and too many moments to remember – luckily we have the photos right?!
Some of our highlights:
Inle Lake. The serenity of the boat ride at dawn to see the sun rise and fishermen do their thing on the vast calm lake. They looked like dancers, manoeuvring their tiny boats with only one leg skilfully wrapped around an oar. We had a view of the day-to-day life on the lake – watching women wash their hair and bath, children running jumping and playing along jettys and stopping for fuel at one of the floating stations. Everyone’s home was built with weaved reeds, in intricate patterns, and up on stilts which was needed to accommodate for wet and dry seasons. Snap.
Our hosts at the Album Motel became like extended family with their kindness and over-the-top hospitality. Renting push bikes to go to Myanmar’s biggest wine producer ‘Red Mountain’ (bit strange) took us through lake front villages with children shouting ‘Mingalabar’ (hello) to us as we pedalled past. Learning the art of lotus fabric and seeing the long-neck ladies along the river posing for photos with all the tourists – those neck braces sure were heavy! Snap.
Bagan was a completely different experience. The feeling of getting lost along the temple route on our little electronic bike (which ran out of battery on the last 100 metres) was unique. Finding a secret temple which wasn’t swarming with tourists and creeping up the almost invisible tiny stone stairs to reach the rewarding view, brought out our inner adventurous spirit. And the view – well, it was of more old, photogenic temples and pagodas which varied in size, colour and texture which seemingly rose above the dusty, desert like horizon. Snap, Snap.
Finally, Mandalay our last city to visit in Myanmar. The hot, dry and very dusty city where thousands of locals are living in shacks along the river and who are slowly being relocated by the government via a lottery system. We hired a manual motorbike and hit the swarm of traffic each day to discover a little more around city and brave the crazed motorists. Where ever we ventured, we were greeted with more smiling, hospitable Burmese who wanted to take pictures with us as we stopped for lunch and a beer or visited a pagoda. Snap.
It is time to say goodbye to Myanmar and head back east towards Cambodia. We are really going to miss this country. The people, the landscapes and the tradition we had a privilege to experience and interact with will remain a prominent memory of this journey. We only hope that time, and tourists, will not change the beautiful, generous and kind spirit of the Myanmar people. No tourist could ever capture this with their camera however, once experienced, never forgotten.