Myanmar Travel: Why Best Friends Make Best Travel Buddies
When you’ve found a best friend who is also your best travel buddy, cherish them because they don’t come often.
I met Jessica in China through our ex-boyfriends who at that time were roommates. Later on, Jessica and I became teaching colleagues and roommates ourselves. We’d often bike around in our small town in China and spend our nights eating spicy tofu and chao fen (fried noodles) while evading the sleazy Chinese men’s invites to ganbei (toast) nauseating baijou (rice wine that simply reeks).
During Chinese New Year when we had a whole month off from school, we wanted to try something different and off the beaten path.
The next thing we know Jess and I found ourselves on a bumpy road, our bus kicking up clouds of dust and cutting through thick foliage of jungle and monasteries of Myanmar. Stories lured us here, whispered promises of a “country unlike any other,” “frozen in time,” “remote and isolated,” “What Thailand and Cambodia were like twenty years ago”.
What can else can you expect from such an odd country that is so conservative the government even censors Eminem’s lyric of “Shake that A—“ to “Shake that Water Pot“?
One of the government’s cruelest acts was to shoot civilians and monks just because they were protesting about the sky-rocketing prices on public transportation fees.
Myanmar has a troubling history of having a military dictatorship for a long time. It has a long list of human rights records. One of the government’s cruelest acts was to shoot civilians and monks just because they were protesting about the sky-rocketing prices on public transportation fees. It used to be that locals would get thrown to jail just for protesting about wanting 24-hour electricity in their towns. Nowadays, Burma has become a nominally civilian government and even allowed Nobel Prize Winner and rightful leader of Burma Aung San Suu Kyi to run for Parliament. But still sanctions are imposed in the biggest country in Southeast Asia and you cannot use your debit and credit cards here and there are no ATMs.
Here are some of the experiences we had:
Man Holes in Burma
Due to being isolated, Myanmar has poor infrastructure. Its roads look like numerous pockmarks on a person’s face. It is no smooth travel when you’re navigating its streets.
Which Jess and I soon found out.
We were walking back to our hotel when the whole city plunged into a blackout.
I could’ve dropped into a black hole of abyss had Jess not reached out and pulled me back.
Imagine if she hadn’t noticed and continued walking, I would’ve spent my night in an exotic dark setting with unusual tiny 4-legged roommates with whiskers.
So all we wanted to do was help out some monasteries with a little spare change.
We wandered into the monasteries in Inle Lake- a small touristy town in Eastern Burma. There we were greeted by a sight we thought we’d never see. Not even in National Geographic Channel.
A dozen young bronzed monks were laughing and pouring buckets of water over each other. And they were totally naked. We had unintentionally stumbled into monk shower time.
You’d never seen such a fast pivot. We made a run for it lest the monks accuse us of being foreign perverts. Was it Buddha’s way of rewarding us for wanting to give charity?
Taking Scams with a Grain of Salt
It was 6 am at the capital of Yangon bus station. We just arrived from an 8 hour overnight bus ride from Inle Lake.
We were tired, hungry and needed more sleep.
The bus terminal was riffed with noisy hawkers and taxi drivers determined to scam every bit of money from the passengers.
There was a lot of pushing and a lot of drivers wanted to hustle us into their cars. It didn’t help that we looked like tourists and they probably saw us as walking dollar signs. “Stop the tea, we smell crisp green dollar bills,” they’re probably thinking. Eventually, we found ourselves negotiating with one driver.
“$7 per passenger,” he said.
“What? When we took a cab last time it was $3 per person,” I argued. Okay, I looked like a cheapskate but I hated being scammed. It was a matter of principle.
He shook his head. He wouldn’t budge. “$7.”
Reluctantly, we agreed and got in. I thought we were about to leave when I realized we had to wait an extra couple more minutes because he wanted to fill the cab with more people.
“Look,” I said, getting out of the car. “We had been traveling for 8 hours on the bus. It’s been a long day. You’re already getting $14. Let’s just go.”
He shook his head. “No.”
By that time I had had enough. That’s it. That driver better watch out I don’t take his longji (Burmese skirt) off.
It all boils down that you will have the trip of a lifetime if you have a best friend of awesomeness to share it with. Now when I come home, I have someone who has the same gigabyte of Burmese memories with me.
“It’s 6:30 am. I’m tired. I’m hungry. I haven’t had much sleep.” I stamped my foot and raised my voice. I realized I was getting a lot of attraction among the normally reserved Burmese but I didn’t care. “ALL I WANT IS A BED! I WANT A BATHROOM! I WANT A SHOWER!” I shouted. “That’s it. We be walkin’!”
“No, we’re not!” Jess piped in. It then I remembered it was a 40 minute cab ride to our hostel.
Pretty soon, she started to chuckle. The people around started to giggle. I realized the sight of me red faced, stomping my foot and snapping my fingers like a sassy diva in the dusty terminal was pretty funny. I started laughing along with them. So did the driver.
When the laughter died down, a passenger joined us and we finally set off.
Sometimes one can be frustrated in those situations. It’s important to just take a deep breath and assess your situation. And that’s where a good friend comes in. I might have decided to walk and get lost in the city of Yangon if Jess hadn’t been the voice of reason. I might have been stuck in those manholes and relived the Saddam Hussein Days if she hadn’t rescued me. She was there to share my embarrassment when we saw those naked monks. And hey, at the end of it all, we even shared a laugh with the Burmese even though they couldn’t understand what we were talking about. Now that’s magical.
It all boils down that you will have the trip of a lifetime if you have a best friend of awesomeness to share it with. Now when I come home, I have someone who has the same gigabyte of Burmese memories with me. I don’t have to reboot. I can count on her to fill in the missing bytes and form a wonderful photo of pink kissed Burmese sunsets, ancient teashops, bubbling hot springs, bike rides along the rice paddies and delicious local snacks. And yes, I won’t forget the handsome monks.
Here’s to a wonderful trip with my best friend.