Myanmar is one of those places where pictures speak so much clearly than words in trying to describe the country. It was a truly remarkable country to experience. I think every student approached it with hesitation because no one knew anything about it except that it opened to tourism in 2010…and SAS had previously stopped in Bangkok which was well known for being a tourist’s playground. We were all expecting Myanmar to be completely untouched by the Western world which, in may ways, it was, but I think all of us returned with an appreciation for our opportunity to stop in Myanmar because it is going through an incredible transitional phase towards modernity.
The people of Myanmar are absolutely beautiful in every sense of the word. Dressed in a traditional yellow face-paint (crushed bark that doubles as a sunscreen—so cool!) called thanaka and contagious smiles, everyone was so lovely. This was one place where language barriers were no problem in terms of successfully communicating with one another. Any sort of cultural discomfort was immediately diffused by a smile—which sounds so cheesy but it’s true! Near the beginning of the trip I remember walking through a market in a pretty remote village (which was very clearly not used to foreigners) and I felt uncomfortable because so many people were staring and not saying anything. I passed by a vendor who said, “goot mawning, miss!” at me and I smiled and replied with an enthusiastic “mingalaba!” (the one Burmese phrase I know, which means “hello”) and every vendor on the strip started laughing and smiling and everyone started shouting “mingalaba” at me and pulling me aside to take pictures with me.
I had another significant experience at the Shwedagon Pagoda, the stunning gold pagoda I posted a couple pictures of. In the few days I was in Yangon, I went to the Shwedagon Pagoda four times. I just couldn’t get enough of it! I took hundreds of pictures of it (and may be tempted to post more…). Though I’m not Buddhist, it was an exceptionally spiritual place to visit. It was very quiet everywhere, and most noises were either songs of prayer or people chatting quietly. There were buddha statues everywhere that were intricately designed with LED lights surrounding their heads everywhere. The entire place was gorgeous. During sunset I passed by a group of 50 or more school children that were sitting silently waiting for their tour guide to come back. As I walked past them I heard excited whispering and when I turned towards them they became silent again, but then this little boy stood up and started jumping up and down waving and when I started waving back the group of kids erupted into squeals of excitement and started waving frantically. It was absolutely adorable. I started laughing so hard and they started laughing at me because I was laughing and it was such a cute connection to make!
The children in Myanmar were fearless and sociable wherever I went. I had the opportunity to do two service trips; one at a orphanage/monastery for only boys and then one at a co-ed orphanage. These children were so loving and charismatic and inspiring! I uploaded a picture of me hugging this little girl who dragged me around everywhere to play with her, and at the end of our time together she took me over to a white board and wrote “I love you” in English. She was the sweetest. Interacting and playing with them was such a phenomenal experience.
I was a the Yangon zoo with a couple friends on our last day in Myanmar, which was the weirdest zoo I’ve ever been to. There were basically no security regulations for the animals, so if you were particularly adventurous you could probably touch any animal in there (don’t worry mom and dad; I only fed an elephant and some monkeys). My friend fed a hippo about five feet away from her (he was in a sunken cage so there was a little security) and we were about two feet away from a tiger (he was heavily caged, but there were no barriers like there are at zoos in the states). It was pretty crazy!
Myanmar proved to be a fascinating country with so much to offer. It has some of the most breathtaking religious architecture I’ve ever seen, and I stayed within the Yangon area. I know people that traveled to different parts of Myanmar that were blown away by its beauty. It was such an amazing experience. And now off to India!