*Update: My trip to Myanmar was prior to the military coup that took place shortly thereafter and the country is now off limits to tourists for the time being.
I ended 2019 with a whirlwind trip to Asia and with a visit to a country I had never visited before, a country that I didn’t know much about until my visit and one that really ended up winning me over. After a short stopover in Seoul, I ventured on to Myanmar for the very first time, specifically the largest city of Yangon, for 3 days. To say the least, the country formerly called Burma, blew me away. This opportunity came up really last minute and I jumped at the chance to visit a new country, to see a place that not many people know much about and a place that’s changing rapidly, really really rapidly.
My initial reactions after my trip to Yangon were a) all the blog posts I had read from people who had visited Yangon even just a year ago or less, were mostly out of date. That’s how quickly this country is changing. And b) upon arrival with pretty much zero expectations, I was truly blown away in the best possible way. I’ve always loved SE Asia and Cambodia and Thailand were two countries that I genuinely enjoyed. I also loved India and Bali in this general part of the world and Yangon really felt like a lovely mix of all of those countries. It felt like a melting pot of SE Asia, a city where its Colonial past meets its bright future.
On the first day in Yangon, I woke early and watched an incredible purple sunrise over Inya Lake in the middle of Yangon, behind the Lotte Hotel where I based myself for my stay. I’ll get more into the hotel in my review here on LOM, but in short, while the hotel itself was wonderful, I think I would stay more in the thick of the city next time, maybe at the Rosewood or the Pullman, simply for the ease of their locations to explore on foot. However, I’ll perhaps never forget the rush of the wind in my hair in the back of a taxi, as my taxi driver took a back road returning me to the hotel on my first day, windows down, the greenery of the city flying past in the warm humid air.
The city had a haze overhead my first day, which created a sort of surreal environment, making the early morning colors feel almost mystical as a deep orange hung in the sky over the Sule Pagoda early in the morning. As locals said good morning to me as I explored their streets and the market stalls were just getting up and running. The taxis wizzed by as I escaped the hustle and found a beautiful green park overlooking the Pagoda, people doing Tai Chi and Yoga around me, enjoying their quiet Saturday morning. To my absolute surprise, my phone vibrated and I looked down to see text messages from Nick who couldn’t make it with me on this trip. Shocked as my phone was still on airplane mode, I found that the area I was in actually had public wifi, great wifi to be more exact and I sat in that park and called him on FaceTime and had perfect reception… on city public wifi in Myanmar.
Now if you don’t know anything about Myanmar, the country literally didn’t have any internet not that long ago. Everything I had read said that my signal would be pretty shotty the whole time I was there. In reality, it was the complete opposite and that’s due to the huge strides the country is making in terms of connectivity. My hotel, every restaurant I went to and certain areas in the city while out and about had incredible internet. I was blown away by how good it was and simply shocked that I could make a Wifi call on FaceTime to Nick, half a world away, as I sat in a beautiful park in downtown Yangon, Myanmar.
All in all, my first impressions were all good ones upon my visit to Yangon. The city has a really genuinely good vibe. It felt real, and yes, in parts very poor, but it didn’t feel pretentious. It felt like parts of India, parts of Cambodia, parts of Thailand and a little bit of Bali thrown in here and there. The locals greeted me as I wandered their streets, offering a lovely welcoming smile. Some in English, some the lovely local greeting “Mingalabar.” I returned the greeting and the smile. Not once did I feel heckled or pushed… the feeling I left with was one of peace.
My visit to Yangon was short and while I can’t wait to get into everything in more detail in posts to come, I wanted this first one to be a story about how I felt while there. The small moments that I think I’ll come to always connect with my first time in Myanmar. Moments like that first purple sunrise over Inya Lake or the wind in my hair through an open window speeding through the streets of Yangon in the back of a taxi that cost $3 for a 20 minute ride. It’s those moments that define us as travelers when we look back on places we’ve been and those moments that make up the fabric of what travel is all about. No photo on Pinterest or a Google search about a place can give you the rush of those moments, experiencing a place with your own eyes and wandering its streets with your own feet. And so my quick trip to Myanmar and the first opportunity to learn more about this country brought with it so many moments and yet so much more to learn in the future. I hope to return at some point to Myanmar but my first visit was certainly memorable, in the best possible ways. I’ll leave it at that for now and say to you, “Mingalabar” – a greeting that so lovingly means “auspicious wishes to you.”