Posted by  Daniël Cronk   in       5 years ago     448 Views     Comments Off on Mingalaba: Journey into Myanmar  
Currently I am sitting on the patio of a restaurant in Bagan thinking about the past few days. How I had heard so many stories of a country of people who were genuinely friendly. There is nothing farther than the truth. The people of Myanmar have to be some of the friendliest people on the planet. Even friendlier than those of the Middle East. Walking down the street you are often met with the greeting, Mingalaba. Replying in turn is often met with a great big smile and often times, a little bit more — conversation. So where am I exactly? The name is something of a sensitive subject and choosing what name to refer to it can often be viewed as making a somewhat political statement. For many years the country now known as Myanmar (or more appropriately, the Union of the Republic of Myanmar) was known the whole world over as Burma. Why the change? Some believe it was changed to encompass the people of Burma. Burma was often thought to be a restrictive name, referring to the Burman people; with not regard to the other ethnic minorities within the country. Today, many governments refuse to refer to the country as Myanmar, as it would enforce the legitimacy of the Burmese military government. Although the United Nations adopted the new term „Myanmar” only days after the name change was put forward, countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, United States and Australia still refer to the country as Burma, to show that they do not recognize the military government as legitimate. While visiting in 2012, President Obama sparked controversy by referring to the country as Myanmar, despite the official policy to use only Burma.

The great Shwedagon Pagoda as seen from my hotel restaurant.
The great Shwedagon Pagoda as seen from my hotel restaurant.

The journey to Myanmar/Burma began as most of my trips do - complex. I had originally planned to fly from Minneapolis to Tokyo with an onward connection to Bangkok, spending one day in Bangkok and the finally flying to Yangon. But this did not happen. While in Minneapolis, Delta Air Lines began looking for volunteers to be bumped from the flight, as the flight was over booked (this was in part due to the shootings that had happened the day previously at LAX and now they were trying to clear the backlog). As I really didn’t have any plans for that one day in Bangkok, having already visited in 2006, I offered up my seat in exchange to be routed via Amsterdam. So, I was bumped from the flight for $1000 and routed via Amsterdam and then on to Bangkok with KLM.  

This young boy has traditional thanaka paste on this face, which is common throughout Myanmar. Used for protection against the sun.
This young boy has traditional thanaka paste on this face, which is common throughout Myanmar. Used for protection against the sun.

Yangon is a city that surprised me, which is not always easy to do. The city once known as Rangoon is a vibrant city that is large and chaotic, yet surprisingly quaint. I found myself walking around the city streets just looking at what there was of this city. On one spectrum you see the vast poorness and on the other, you see how the other 1% live - in mansions out of Beverly Hills. The main reason that I enjoyed Yangon was to see the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. The Shwe Dagon pagoda, also known as the Great Dagon Pagoda or simply the Golden Pagoda, is a 325 foot high (99 m) gilded zedi. It is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda for the Burmese, with relics of the past four Buddhas enshrined within. It captivates the mind. While visiting the pagoda one night, a group of 3 monks climbed the pagoda. I heard, with great exasperation, that this is never done. Why they did it, I will never know. But watching them climb this and walk around the middle with such sure footed movements made me a little sick to my stomach.

Looking across the Kandawgyi Lake at sunset as the Shwedagon Pagoda is bathed in a red light
Looking across the Kandawgyi Lake at sunset as the Shwedagon Pagoda is bathed in a red light

A fearless monk scaling the Shwe Dagon Pagoda.
A fearless monk scaling the Shwe Dagon Pagoda.

One thing has to be said about the people of Myanmar. They have to be some of the most friendly in the world. Walking around the streets you are very often greeted with smiles and people are constantly saying „mingalaba” which means hello or greetings. I hope that this level of friendliness does not become broken as more travelers flock to this mysterious country.

A buddhist monk takes a moment to pose in front of the Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo, after having made a gold leaf offering.
A buddhist monk takes a moment to pose in front of the Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo, after having made a gold leaf offering.

This young Burmese girl was being carried up to the Khyaiktiyo pagoda in a basket on her mothers back.
This young Burmese girl was being carried up to the Khyaiktiyo pagoda in a basket on her mothers back.

From Yangon I boarded a 5 hour bus to the Buddhist mountain top temple of Kyaiktiyo. It is here where fear took me over. The pagoda, which sits upon a golden rock that is precariously balanced upon the mountain cliff. It is said to be perfectly balanced as it sits upon the hair of the buddha. The journey up the mountain, however, is one I am not sure to forget. It was nothing short of horrifying. You climb into the back of an open backed truck and they race up the side of the mountain, sometimes exceeding speeds you would think possible, going around hairpin turns. There were many a „holy f**k, I’m going to die” moments. I later learned that nothing would earn the driver more elevations in afterlife, than dying while transporting a group of pilgrims to the top.

The Golden Rock sits precariously on the edge of the mountain.
The Golden Rock sits precariously on the edge of the mountain.

Currently I am sitting in the town of Bagan, which is the site of an ancient kingdom. Some 300 miles north of Yangon. Tomorrow I fly to Inle Lake and continue my journey on, after having recovered from what is likely heat exhaustion. More to come on Bagan later.



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I am very passionate about traveling. My goal is to visit as many places and experience as many things as I can during my short journey on this earth.