Ahoy Burma! Or Myanmar…whichever name one prefers.

In High School some of my best friends were in fact from the country of Burma (presently known as “Myanmar”) and in college when I was an intern for Michigan’s Refugee Development Center I taught English to young Refugee student from Burma. Naturally when I discovered that I would travel to Burma I was in shock, thinking “I am going to visit a place that people flee from?”. Although my understanding of the unrest in Burma is limited, I worked to prepare myself. Not two weeks before we ported into Burma there were protests nation wide. These protests were held by the Buddhist Monks of Burma fighting for their rights and beliefs as people. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but nevertheless I was excited to experience a country only few foreigners  have gotten the chance to explore.

We ported into the capitol city Yangon, Burma (Myanmar) and my experience on this day would be to explore the city in depth. The first night started out with an evening transfer to the Shwedagon Pagoda, which proved to be absolutely beautiful. I honestly expected a pretty building to take pictures of, but this went simply beyond that. The Pagoda was huge, going beyond my initial expectations. You enter and remove your shoes, and follow a walk way into the main center of the Pagoda. Once at the center, you are surrounded by countless small Pagodas, Buddhists statues, meditation/prayer areas, worship area, and of course there are Monks walking around and basically relaxing everywhere. Smells of incense filled the entire area, and when the sun set it became an even more amazing sight to see as the lights turned on to brighten everything in sight. The Pagoda itself (the stupa_ stood over 98 meters into the air. Following the Pagoda we had a stop for dinner, where I was able to taste Burmese curry. Not exactly my favorite kind of curry, but it wasn’t half bad. I can now officially say I have tried every kind of curry offered to man.
1011449_818725561474569_1603553712_n


(above curry imagine from google)

The following day I had a field lab with my Theater class. This labs topic was Burmese Puppetry. The day proved to be more interesting than I expected, especially since I have never been a fan of puppets. We watched the puppet masters create these works of art by hand, which was incredible. Something I really found to be interesting was that these puppets are made with care, and the genitalia is included in their making. We asked why this was, and the answer was that to the puppet master these are more than just mere puppets, but real beings with soul, therefore it is crucial to include all the essential parts a creature would need to survive – from genitalia, to fingers and arms, they put careful detail into every part. Later, we watched a performance with the puppets, and in it depicted Burmese culture and music. From the puppet show I learned that religion (Buddhism) is a very important part of Burmese culture and daily life.

(above puppet image from google)

On my third day in Burma I gathered with my friends and we prepared to head off to Ngwe Saung Beach, located about 6 hours from Yangon. This was an adventure I organized through a local tour company, and I was excited to see how it would turn out. En-route to Ngwe Saung Beach we stopped in a city known as “Pathein”.  In Pathein we took a visit to a small market where I was bombarded with small children begging for change. I had a large bottle of water than I let them have..which didn’t last long among them. After the market was a stop at a smaller Pagoda. Again, we removed our shoes and headed up. This one was, while much much smaller, still very beautiful. At the end a local monk asked my friend and I to take a photo with him and a few other locals. I found this to be so exciting. Locals in Burma apparently do not see tourists often, at least this is what I was told. I really loved taking photos with them as well! ❤

1781916_818726534807805_553113941_n

After the Pagoda we had lunch in a small local outdoor tea house. To play it safe (as this place was not very clean and we had trouble trusting most of the food) we decided to order fried chicken. A small portion of the menu was written in English, so we pointed to what we wanted, however the server later came back to make an attempt to explain that what we requested was not actually chicken..but just..fried chicken bones.  We were all very confused…

Upon making it to Ngwe Saung beach, we checked into our hotel, which was actually a gorgeous beach-front Bungalow! For only about 30 a night, I was staying at an amazing resort. I couldn’t believe it. It was absolutely breath-taking! During the days we walked the beach and found random, and really nice, places to eat at. Again, the food was cheap. Try and go to a beach front restaurant in the states..you won’t get a fry for 3 bucks..but here an entire meal was between 3-6 dollars. On the beach I rented a horse from a local for about 10 dollars and road him along the beach for an hour – it was difficult, but a lot of fun. We also rented motor bikes and road them from one end of the beach to the other, including a visit to a local island you are able to walk to during low tide. This island, known as “Love Island”, had beautiful statues built on it, an amazing view of the beach, and a weird tree that grew a very thick branch that I was able to climb and swing on. During the evening locals continued to smile and welcome us, and even ask for more photos. This is something I loved about Burma – the people were almost too incredibly kind and could easily be compared with Japanese hospitality. One night we walked to a little Japanese/Burmese restaurant that had an evening fire show.

1920221_818727208141071_1245241745_n

On the way back from Ngwe Saung Beach we stopped at a local Elephant Camp. For 5 dollars the elephant keepers took us on a ride through the jungle with their elephants. It was amazing! Elephant are so much fun.

1920539_818727564807702_1458494587_n

I left Burma on the final day wondering how such a country could be in current unrest. Maybe it was because I stuck to touristy areas, but I felt Burma seemed like a beautiful, still-developing country. A lot of the voyagers were complaining heavily about their Burmese experience, that it wasn’t clean enough, there were not enough banks or ATMS..but I honestly loved the developing charm Burma had. It was indeed a whole new world, but I enjoyed every moment of it and would love to see Burma again one day.

Advertisements

Vietnam – SAS

Like many of the countries to come, Vietnam just wasn’t one of those places I ever saw myself going to, although it is one I really felt excited about. We ported into Vietnam and instantly I noticed how hot it was. We went from below 30’degrees in China to over 100 in Saigon, Vietnam! Finally, warmth! The cold has its charm, but I am really a summer-time type of person.

My first night out in Vietnam was amazing! I had the local shuttle take me down town where a lot of SASers were gathering. I had originally gone with one guy and another girl but when we got there I found two of my closest guy friends just looking about with no real plan. So we all agreed to head out and grab a bite to eat at a very random hole-in-the wall restaurant, which turned out to be amazing. Seafood hotpot, giant prawns and eggrolls really hit the spot! Cheers to a Saigon Beer, and then exploration around the city. Eventually we split off and it was just I and my two friends. We decided to get massages, which is what Vietnam seems to be famous for. For 15 bucks I got a facial, foot, leg and head massage and it was extremely relaxing…..in the states a facial alone would be 40+. Before the massages we stopped at a Vietnamese coffee place, where we had Weasel Coffee (a Vietnamese delicacy) What’s that you ask? Are you sure you want to know? Well, they feed the weasels coffee beans, they ferment in their tummies…and I am sure you can guess the rest. It was the strongest coffee I have ever drank ! By the way, it was Valentine’s Day this night, and at the end the waiter gave me free dessert! It was truly a blast! We stopped by an amazing outdoor market, and on the streets locals were selling nick-knacks, I stopped along the way and bought a really nice bamboo flute for my dad, a traditional instrument of Vietnam.

Image

The city where we ported, Saigon, is extremely bustling and fun! Abundant with plenty of bars (filled with tourists), places to eat and shops, it really is a hotspot. On the roads are endless amounts of motor bikes. I never took a taxi in Vietnam…because getting on the back of a motor bike and paying a dollar to a local just seemed so much more thrilling. I know it seems crazy, and in a way it was, but it’s something you must do in Vietnam. Locate a trustworthy local, usually you know they are responsible if they hand you a helmet. Not only is it fun, but it helps out the local community.

Image

Later on into my Vietnamese experience, I took a trip to a local orphanage with a trip organized through Semester at Sea. My first impression was that it was dirty and smelled horrible, but after opening my eyes a little more, the environment for the kids was actually spectacular; a perfect sense of community, meals, clothes, balls and smiling faces. The children swarmed my crayons and coloring books I brought for them.

Image

Image

Image

The kids really got a kick out of my sun glasses!
Image

Eventually I found myself traveling with a group of friends back into the city during the day. Today’s destination was the War Museum. I had to remind myself where I was, and who I was, in this beautiful country that suffered not too long ago (and still suffers in many aspects, although greatly improving and developing) Reading signs and seeing pictures of the victims of Agent Orange due to the war in Vietnam that horribly deformed people and left children deformed before birth. I was horrified, but also left with hope. Other signs showed Vietnam’s determination for success, and how they have come through the hardship and now work as one of the U.S’s greatest allies.
Image
On the way back from this day trip my friend got me some coconut water sold by a random vendor on the street! 

Image

On my final days in Vietnam I spent them in the Mekong Delta. We road rafts and canoes down the river, where we stopped to hike and explore nearby villages. We took a boat to a nearby cabin where we spent the night in mosquito nets and had cooking lessons outdoors. The next day we visited the largest floating market in the world, and continued our boat ride down the river, we passed locals working and children playing. What I loved most about this was everywhere we went there seemed to be hammocks! I found myself drifting to sleep on many occasions. On one day we even rented bicycles and road them around the Mekong Delta villages, where we passed little hut-houses, farms and animals galore!

Image

Image

Locals and children always smiled and waved loudly at us as we passed, welcoming us to Vietnam!

Image

At one point we event stopped at a little workshop where we sampled and watched locals make coconut candies, which was absolutely delicious! On my final day we hiked to an area that had hundreds upon hundreds of birds (mostly egrets) among the treetops!

Image

Image
Oh and there are lots of REALLY cute dogs wondering around in Vietnam! I can’t say they are “stray” they are all taken care of by the greater community, although they technically explore and live as they like, these little furry cuties tend to find homes on their own.

Image

Vietnam was an amazing experience! I really hated to say goodbye, there was still SO MUCH that I did not get to see! I missed Ha Long Bay,and the Cu Chi Tunnels, but with only 6 days (and the amount I did see) I can’t exactly complain!  See’ya Vietnam, and hello Singapore!