In the ancient city of Bagan there is a certain mysticism that flows in and out of the temples. With 1000 year old pagodas surrounding you in every direction you can feel the spirtual power in the atmosphere. It has become a magnet for Buddhist monks to come and practice their beliefs in the shadows of this great empire. We crossed paths with these three novice monks on a dirt path between two of the larger temples.
Our time spent in the predominantly Buddhist nation of Myanmar (formerly Burma) left many varied experiences permanently etched into our memories. The ancient temples of Bagan
proved to be even more beautiful than we could of imagined from seeing iconic photos. Being able to trek to various hill tribes in Hsipaw
and Kalaw was an unexpected highlight of our month there. But without a doubt the most positive experience to come out of our travels was the people of Myanmar. Unconditionally friendly and exuberant despite years of political hardships left us feeling as though we were not worthy to be in the presence of the Burmese. While certain areas would no doubt yield different circumstances we were fortunate enough to only come across the most amazing people in every situation. Here we have put together a photo essay of some of our favourite photos of the people of Myanmar. We hope this inspires you to visit this newly accessible country before tourism takes its relentless hold over the nation.
People of Myanmar
This beautiful lady from the Shan indigenous tribe welcomed us into her home to share her food during one of our hikes from Kalaw to Inle Lake. Her striking features and intense expression belied her affable personality.
In Mandalay we were invited by a monk to visit his monastery and teach English to his students. We excitedly obliged and spent the entire day and two classes educating these fascinated children on the nuances of greetings in an Australian accent. Here two boys are practicing their newly-learned phrases with each other while a young novice monk sits in the background.
This man entered our homestay outside of Kalaw and sternly gestured that we follow him outside. We thought he wanted food but it turned out he just wanted his photograph taken. He stared strongly into the lens appearing as masculine as possible. But when we showed him his image on the camera’s screen he smiled jubilantly and nodded a solid approval before walking off into the distance.
Playing games with the kids was always an entertaining way to spend a few hours. These young boys were shying away from the camera until we started sparring in kung fu. The cheeky kids came out of their shells and proceeded to show off their impressive range of Bruce Lee-esque maneuvers.
Life is very simple outside of urban development. Water buffalo are valued more than TV and the workload, while monotonous, is necessary to create a comfortable existence. This lady is feeding her own buffalo so that it will be energised for the next day’s shift.
Kids will always be cheeky and this one was no exception. Brandishing his mother’s green tea sifter he charged us, pretending to be in a joust. He pulled up short and gave us a glance that warned us he was not someone to mess with. We quickly moved on, terrified of this mini-knight’s menace.
After ravishingly consuming another huge portion of food at one of our homestays we decided to go for a walk to burn some calories. We had only made it to the next bamboo house when this man came onto his patio and warmly welcomed us into his friend’s house for tea. Our polite refusals fell on deaf ears and eventually we decided to walk upstairs and join them. We spent almost an hour drinking tea and conversing with this man and his friends about life, love and history. His English was only slightly better than our Burmese but this did not matter at all. He was jovial beyond all measures and laughed at every opportunity. One of the greatest hours of our trip was spent in this man’s presence, drinking green tea with him and his friends.
We went to leave the town we had spent the night on one of our multi-day treks when we glanced to the side and saw this boy sitting outside his house, alone, observing us. He had declined to join us for our impromptu games of ‘flip-flop throwing’ with the kids, instead opting to watch from a distance. We tried to interact with him but his apparent introverted nature kept him at arm’s reach. When we spotted him on this final walk we smiled and waved, calling out goodbye. He stared for a moment before allowing himself the slightest smile and a gentle wave. In accented English he called out ,”bye bye friends”.
At the captivating tourist hotspot of Inle Lake life doesn’t just revolve around the body of water, it is structured on it. Floating villages are built in idyllic settings amongst the reeds and lilies. The style of fishing that has developed there is interesting as well. The boat drivers use their leg to wrap around a paddle in order to move themselves around, leaving their arms free to throw around the lines and nets.
In a world void of TV, video games and the internet the kids make their own entertainment. Simple games will keep the children occupied for hours. With no crime to worry about they are free to play outside without adult supervision. It is a beautiful world which makes you think where we went wrong.
When we arrived in this man’s village in the early afternoon he was seated in this chair, watching the world pass him by. When we were finished exploring many hours later he was still sitting in his chair. Every person who walked by him, young and old, greeted him with respect. He would smile and nod then go back to watching the world pass him by. Truly content in his simple pleasures.
While we were waiting to eat some food the restaurant owner’s son came up to us and started rummaging through our belongings. He found our notepad and a pen and started drawing nonsensical images trying to communicate with us. He kept us company until our meals arrived when he was then ushered back inside. Before he left he gifted us his prized drawings.
While their friend, the laughing man, entertained us this couple kept our tea cups full and ensured we felt entirely comfortable in their home. They knew no English and only a little Burmese, instead speaking their own dialect. The communication breakdown did not matter as the language of smiles and laughter is universal.