07 Jul Our Favourite Thing About Burma
It was our first full day in Burma and we were floundering around Bogyoke market without a clue where to go next when Htun appeared. Immaculately dressed in smart trousers, polo shirt and shiny shoes, Htun removed the cigarette from the corner of his mouth and greeted us like old friends; within minutes he was leading us through the market, buying us fruit and walking us over to the city museum. This act of kindness turned out to be the first of many we experienced during our time in Burma; as we soon realised, the people well and truly make this country.
The Kind People of Burma
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned while travelling in Asia is that for the most part, people really are kind. We’ve experienced so many acts of hospitality on this trip, from the woman who wordlessly offered us her sugar cane while we waited at a train station in Vietnam to the family who invited us to stay in their longhouse in Borneo and the young Cambodian woman who greeted me, without hesitation, as ‘Sister’. Whether it be smiles and waves or offers of help and friendship, I’ve been humbled by how welcoming people in this part of the world are.
The political situation in Burma means that the country only started receiving a substantial amount of visitors over the last few years; perhaps because of this we found the people in Burma to be some of the friendliest we’ve encountered so far. Htun wasn’t a one-off, during our first few days in Yangon we were overwhelmed with kindness; there was the guy at the petrol station who gave us free bottles of water along with directions, the group of young boys who invited us to play ball with them, the man with the red-stained Betel juice teeth who wanted to take our photo and the multiple smiles and waves we received just walking around the city.
One day we decided to take a trip on the Yangon circle line, a rickety train which runs in a constant three-hour loop around the city. After an hour or so in the blistering heat with no vendors in sight, we were forced to get off at a make-shift market to search for some water. The tracks and platforms were filled with people hunched over mats laden with colourful fruit, vegetables and luminous sugary drinks. We stopped to buy some oranges from a smiling family and someone pulled up stools for us to sit on while we waited for the next train. A woman with white smudges of Burmese make-up on her cheeks and forehead shared tiny green fruit with us as we sat and when we finally boarded the next train, people waved to us as we pulled away.
While exploring the ancient temples of Bagan, which is one of the most famous attractions in Burma, we often came into contact with local tourists who presumably hadn’t met many foreigners. As we hopped from one ancient stupa to the next on our electric bike Burmese tourists approached us, groups of women excitedly asked if I’d pose for photos with them and others brought their kids over to shake our hands. All we could do in return was smile; repeating the Burmese greeting, Mingalaba, while they in return responded with Hello. When the badly repaired wheel of our e-bike burst, within minutes a local man offered us help, whipping out his mobile phone to call the bike shop for us.
As I’ll discuss in my next post, we found Burma a pretty complex and difficult country to visit; accommodation prices are high, it takes forever to get from one place to the next, there are problems with the emerging tourism trade and we were sometimes underwhelmed by the historical sites and tours we took while we were there. Despite all this, we were truly humbled by the people we met in Burma and the kindness they showed us – they made our trip well and truly worthwhile.
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)Posted at 22:22h, 07 July
For Tony & me, the people are truly what make a place. If we go to a destination and the people are mean or nasty, it will be that much harder for us to really fall in love with it. Pretty much anything else I can forgive, but honestly, one of the reasons we struggled in Europe is because compared to Asia, the majority of people seemed so cold and unfriendly! (Not all of them mind you, but a lot more than in Asia!)
I’ve always heard that the people in Myanmar are really lovely and kind. We only popped over for a few hours on a visa run, but I did find the ladies running one of the local restaurants that we lunched in to be really friendly and happy to see us… just that short visit really made me want to visit the country all the more!
AmyPosted at 11:02h, 08 July
I know what you mean Steph, we found people are generally more friendly in Asia than Europe too. Saying that, people here in the UK are much friendlier than I remembered, especially the dog walkers we’ve encountered while pet and house sitting in London – we spend most of our walks chatting with fellow walkers! The people in Burma are really sweet, I’d recommend visiting the country for them alone.
KatiePosted at 19:56h, 10 July
It’s so true that a country’s people can make such a huge difference. In areas of SE Asia, we found that many people were willing to go out of their way to help us. Some would come up to us and ask if we were enjoying their country and want to take our picture. It was likely my favorite part of the culture shock!
AmyPosted at 20:33h, 10 July
I’m glad you had a great experience with the people in Asia too Katie; you’re right, it’s a great part of culture shock!
CharliePosted at 22:44h, 10 July
When my parents came back from visiting my brother in Burma they said the exact same thing that they were blown away by how friendly people were. I think they were a little nervous about visiting Asia as they’d never been before, but months on they’re still talking about it and planning when to go back! I get the impression, although at times hard to travel in (it helped a lot that my brother was showing them round), Burma could be one of the best places for a first time visit to Asia simply because people are so welcoming. I really can’t wait to visit there.
AmyPosted at 10:19h, 11 July
I’m glad your parents had such a good experience in Burma Charlie and I bet it was great to have your brother as a guide. I think part of our problem was that we didn’t have much time so we stuck to the main touristy places when actually it would have probably been nicer to get away from the tourist trade. I hope you have a great time when you finally get to Burma 🙂