Travelling my new favourite country; Myanmar

Myanmar is the biggest country in South East Asia yet remains pretty mysterious. And I always do research before I travel, you know, what to see, where to visit etc., but Myanmar’s travel tips were either super outdated or scarce, zzz…

… which is why I had no idea what to expect for my 10-day trip.

However, Myanmar is now one of my most favourite countries and the trip was incredible! I loved every single day. Travelling around is cheap and relatively safe, the food was amazing, and the people were genuinely the nicest I’ve ever met. They’re truly beautiful inside and out.

Explore the city of Yangon

My trip started on a Monday when most of the museums and markets are closed in the country’s biggest city, not so cool. So, I spent a few hours just riding the Yangon Circular Railroad and it was really cool. Hanging off the side, surrounded by locals, being in the middle of their daily routines and seeing the slums built around the railway, really gave a look into life for many in Myanmar. Though, there are museums and things to do, I’d definitely recommend a few hours on the train.

For food, I wondered around and found the Muslim Quarters and “Little India”. The streets are filled with people sitting outside and cables hang high above your heads. I ate some amazing indian fusion food and walked to the nearby Shwedagon Pagoda.

  • Start from Yangon Central Railroad with a ticket for just 300kyats (£0.15) super cheap! At the top of the line, you can visit the market and Insein Prison.

Beautiful Inle Lake

Inle lake is surrounded by the mountain and home to thousands of people who have built their lives around the lake. It’s unbelievably peaceful and full of natural beauty.

Take a boat for the day with a local. I spent the day on a boat with a local man where we skipped some of the more known places and he took me to all the places I wanted. We spent the whole day on his boat, chatting, sitting on the lake, watching the other locals, we had a traditional dinner together and it was a brilliant day. Visit Red Mountain winery or explore the ancient town of Sagar. Cycle, boat or tuk tuk to the other sites around the lake, like the pagodas of In Dein, the bridge and water village at Mine Thauk, and learn about the floating gardens.

Ancient Bagan

Ride around the North and see the 2,000 temples. Bagan is a dream land filled with dirt dust roads and temples from the 9th and 13th century. It’s really beautiful and super peaceful. Although many of the temples are now closed off for climbing due to conservation and safety regulations, you can find a local and they’ll show you to the few good spots. It’s the best way to see the hot air balloons at sunrise. I rented a bike for £2.50 a day and felt super safe on it because it was electric, and the roads are small and quiet. End each day with the sunset, try Nyaung Letpet Hill, open temple by Hitlominlo  or the field of Buledi Pagoda.

  • Eat at The Moon (Be Kind to Animals). There are two spots, one in New Bagan and one in Old Bagan. They’re both real cute with low prices and a mix of traditional Burmese and vegetarian foods.
  • Check out Sanon, a Non-profit restaurant that trains underprivileged kids to work in the hospitality industry. Good food and a good cause!

Beach at Ngapali

Ok, so reviews said that Ngapali had some of the best beaches in Asia which shook me because I’ve seen some incredible beaches before. Taking a flight is the easiest option and completely worth it. Not only were the beaches beautiful, but the place is untouched too. Locals spend their days fishing and the vibes are natural and sincere. I visited some local markets where I was the only foreigner and sat with some of the women there. Super, super chill and stunning scenery. Happy days.

Things to consider;

Buy from the locals, eat in the smaller restaurants and dress appropriately around the temples. Bagan is a great place for souvenirs, clothes and gifts. Most of the websites that I read expressed concerns with money and ATM machines. I had no issues getting money, with ATM’s now available in most tourist-y areas. In Myanmar, you can use USD and the local Kyat, I used mostly Kyat. Minus the visa, which was £50, everything is very cheap, food, drink, travel and places to stay.

How to get around:

I took a mix of overnight buses and flights, but I’d recommend the buses if you have time or want to save on a night’s stay. I’ve heard they’re the best and safest way to travel and they’re the main mode of transport. Myanmar’s trains and air travel are basic and more costly.  Use JJ Express Buses – you can book these in most places and online too; https://jjexpress.net/

Here is a list of the hostels and hotels I’ve stayed at,

I stayed in a mixture of budget hostels and pricey resorts (all were soo nice, especially the Serenity Inle Resort which was on the lake at Inle):

  • Bodhi Nava Boutique Hostel & Café, Yangon
  • The Serenity Inle Resort, Ywama
  • Ostello Bello, Bagan
  • Jasmine Ngapali Resort, Ngapali

Use the link below to receive £10 off when booking any of my hotels and more!

https://www.booking.com/s/vanish15

Lastly, I want to start this by saying that Myanmar was one of my favourite countries in Asia, the trip was incredible, and the people were the nicest and most welcoming that I’ve ever come across. Before visiting any country, I do feel that it’s important to understand, research and know about any political and current situations that may cause concerns regarding ethics, safety and culture. Myanmar (what used to be known as Burma) is currently in a crisis with many fleeing from genocide, persecution and rape. It’s a serious conflict that many don’t know about. As a humanitarian, charity worker and traveller, I was obviously conflicted about visiting, but I’m SO glad that I did and would encourage others to do so too. Not only did I learn and grow in understanding, but I also saw the importance of “the people are not the government”, spreading stories and causing more good than harm. You can read my deeper post about why I’d encourage travelling to Myanmar here (it’s in progress still, patience people patience)…

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Thanks for reading guys!

Keep up with my adventures on Instagram @vanishamay and

have a good day wherever you are

Vanisha

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Angelina Jolie, Netflix and the Rohingya

So, my favourite gal ever has just released her newly directed movie-documentary ‘First they killed my father’ on Netflix. Angelina Jolie’s new film is based on the memoirs of Loung Ung and her life and escape of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. For those hearing about the Khmer Rouge genocide for the first time, know that in the space of four years, an estimated quarter of the Cambodian population were murdered, as well as many others still living with the after effects and consequences of their reign. That’s an estimated of just over 2 million people.

Cambodia Refugees

The Khmer Rouge took control of the population and enforced ideas of a farming utopia, where no one would be educated, no one had ‘foreign’ influences and everyone was ‘equal’. Their four-year plan would eventually lead to extreme famine, deaths from exhaustion and a country filled with landmines and mass graves. Anyone with skills, educations, certificate, religious backgrounds and those from ethnic minorities were prosecuted and murdered usually to a blow of the head as the Khmer Rouge had a shortage of bullets. The country had barely any doctors, lawyers, teachers or nurses, so those who were dying, had no help.

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Ung’s story

Now, I’ve read Ung’s book and cried almost all the way through it. Her story is heart-breaking and is just one of many. The Netflix movie however, is filmed from a different perspective and is only a snippet of the book. There’s minimal dialogue and could probably be a bit confusing for someone learning about the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia for the first time. I would definitely give the book a read first or do a bit of research prior to watching! At first, I wasn’t 100% sure about Jolie’s remake but once the credits rolled up, I was almost clapping. She’s an amazing woman for sharing the story and making Ung’s story known. So many people are unaware of the horrors that occurred, and it’s not something we would know about otherwise so kudos to Jolie for raising awareness about a topic so close to so many people’s hearts. Her extensive charity work and adoption of her Cambodian son, as well as his own presence and role in the making of the film goes against accusations that her ‘western’ perspective and influence on the story could be negative in any way. She uses her platform and skills to bring important matters to light. A-mazing I tell ya!

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Cambodia today

Cambodia was one of my favourite South-East Asian countries that I’ve visited. It’s full of culture, beauty and religion but at the same time you can feel the history, pain and hurt that the country felt and still feel today. Only five people were ever bought to justice for the horrific crimes, and Cambodians continues to live alongside their executioners for years after. The Khmer Rouge’s attempt to reboot society meant that generations of people grew up learning how to fight and kill rather than to teach, heal and help. Cambodia is one of the world’s poorest countries with 30% pf the population surviving one less than $1 a day. The poverty and effects of the genocide is visible all over the country. Psychiatrists estimate that almost half the population are living with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) with 50% of babies born to survivors also developing mental health disorders although they haven’t been physically exposed to such traumas. Slanzi is right when she says that in this case “the simple passage of time does not heal everything” (Slanzi, 2013).

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The relevance today with the Rohingya refugees

Although it’s amazing and inspiring to raise the awareness and importance of the Cambodian history, it’s also extremely relevant today. The Rohingya refugee crisis is the now the fastest refugee crisis of our time with over 500,000 refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar within the space of just over one month. UN high commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the situation is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Systematic violence includes severe beatings, gang rape, mass killings and extreme sexual violence. We cannot sit back and watch this happen, learning from the Cambodia atrocities, we must do more to help people facing persecution. Ayesha, a Rohingya refugee who has now fled to Bangladesh said she was raped by twelve soldiers whilst she was held at knifepoint and her family were in the house. It took her eight days to be able to walk again. Her sisters who were also raped, were so badly weakened that they died. They’re in desperate need of aid, food and shelter as well as provisions in the camos in Bangladesh that many have fled to. Their identities have been destroyed, they live in absolute fear and the trauma that they have faced is unimaginable.

Below are some links where you can find some more information on both crisis’s as well as ways you can help and donate. Give the documentary a watch and the book a read! Let’s raise awareness and make a difference in this world 😊

 

Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge:

 

The Rohingya refugee crisis:

 

How to help:

 

Thanks for reading guys!

Vanisha

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