You have travel you can’t forget and Burma is this kind of travel.
In 2012, this country started to be open to the world, to obtain a visa was quite simple, but the real problem was the currency of this country : the US dollar. There was no cash machine in Burma. So everybody was coming to this country with dollars. To be accept this dollars were obliged to be perfect : without any mark, without any fold, without crumpled, without horny. We were obliged to have perfect dollars, brand new dollars. In the contrary they were refused.
Fortunately in Thailand, (country where I was a bit before coming to Burma), I found some.
What it was funny in Burma, was the moment to pay. That was quite special, everybody was coming with his book or his notebook full of dollars. Cause the best way to stock, and not crumpled a dollar was a book, a notebook!! So I also bought a notebook for the nonce.
I remember on the plane, I was sitting next to a german guy, we were starting to discuss,he was with his travel guidebook, in his hands. We were sympatizing, sharing our plans, what we will do in the country.
We decided in the plane to share a taxi to go to Rangoon and start this adventure together. This adventure was starting well.
After this flight, on the airport, an other traveller was coming to us, and asking for sharing a taxi with us. We got the same idea, and of course we were happy to share a ride with him. We were three. We were looking for a fourth person and few minutes later we found a spanish woman ready to follow us!! We were certainly made to meet each others.
We got the same desire to discover this country.
I never met so quickly travel mates like that! This travel was starting well.
One of them were at his umpteenth travel in Burma, he was here for a week for meditation, loving this country, my neighbour’s plane and the spanish girl had no plan. Me, I was wishing to do a trek between Inle lake and Hispaw, seeing the temples in Bagan, and let see what’s happen.
I stayed few days in Rangoon, I was loving to take the tea in the street with my new friends. This tea bars were everywhere, I was loving the colorful plastic stools and tables. I got this impression to be back to my childhood, and playing tea parties. We were sharing tea with locals, a bit curious and happy to talk with us.
I remember this visit to the Shwedagon pagoda. It was a religious celebration so there was a lot of people. Some burmeses were kneeling and prying face to the temples. When the night came, the pagoda was bringing to light with spotlight, like a movie star, this light making shine the gilding, that was making this monument more impressive and more beautiful. That was a really amazing show.
A monk, curious to see us, here, in all crowd of faithful, came to us, we were talking. I remember this meeting cause this man after telling us hello, ask us three little questions :
“What is your name? How old are you? Are you happy? “
We were surprised of the third question.
In France, in Europe this third question will certainly be : “What his your job?”
But certainly not : “Are you happy?” And we never ask this question, and even you ask mechanically to somebody, how are you? This person will answer most of the time without thinking, instinctively that everything is ok. We didn’t really listen the answer, rushed by the time.
This question just make us thinking, realized that sometimes we forgot to be happy, this priority, just simply happy.
To work in their society is more important than to be happy.
We had a real lesson of life with this question.
After few days in Rangoon, I decided to continue my adventure alone to Inle lake, to do a trek. I was taking a night bus to go to the lake. I booked the bus, but the station were 45 minutes from the city center !!
I found a taxi one hour before.
My taxi was driving really slowly, there was still 30 minutes to join the bus station and we were still in the countryside, I was finding that strange!! I asked him :
“Is it far, I need to be in 30 minutes to the bus station!
– What ? 30 minutes, but that’s not possible, we will never be there !!
– What?! At my hostel they told me an hour was enough.
– They didn’t inform you well, they had no idea of the road, I will do all my possible but I thing we will be late…”
I was angry, I didn’t verify this information, and I was now dependent of this super taxi driver!! He was accelerating like he could cause his car wasn’t a Porsche, and the road wasn’t highways. There was a lot of traffic. But he took this ride like a real mission and wanted me to take this bus.
I was starting, even with all his efforts, to thing about a plan B, I will miss this bus. But he was super positive and was telling me to not be worried : “You will catch this bus!”
Once we got nearby the bus station, my driver explain me that there was a lot of chek points until the bus station. The army was stopping all the cars and buses. A little signature, a little dollar and it was possible to pass.
We were 15 minutes late already, my driver was stopping the car and telling me :” Follow me, take your backpack, there is too much check points, we will never at the bus station on time, the bus will pass here, at this first check point, you will take it here!”
I was following him. He was talking to the army and telling me : “That’s your only chance, they are agree, you can take the bus, here. I wait with you!! ” My driver wasn’t really feelling confortable with the army, and he didn’t leave me alone with them. The army reputation was not the best.
I was, the scene was quite crazy, surround by the army, by two soldiers, not smiling, really serious, with big arms on their hands… When you know the situation of the country the reputation of the military junta, me who want to show off, it was missed!!
My driver was apologizing again, he was telling I wait with you, that’s safe, don’t worry!! He had a big sense of humour!!
Few minutes later the bus was here, one of the soldier told me to get on the bus, I was telling thanks to my super driver. The mission was a success!!
On the bus, everybody was not understanding what happened to me, a belgium guy I met before in Rangoon, was surprised and said :” But why you are here? Why you are with the soldiers? What’s happen? Are you ok?
– Ah … Long story, you know… Everything is ok, nothing happen, I was just late!!”
And I explain this story.
The bus was quite high tech, we got the TV, and I still remember the song that passing on the bus : “Baby, baby, one more time ” from the famous Justin Bieber. It was apparently really popular in Burma, we heard him everywhere… A real joy for my ears!
In this bus, I was talking to a group of travellers, we were sharing our plans :
” What are your plans?
– The trek Kalaw to Inle lake.
– Ah cool ! You start from Kalaw?
– Yeah !
– Ok, I though to start from Inle lake, and to do from the other way.”
I had my bus ticket to go until Inle lake, but after talking with all these travellers from everywhere : 2 from Israël, one from Philippines, one from America, and one from Belgium, they were telling me to join the team.
I will not thing too much and too long and I decided to follow these travellers. We had the same sens of travel, and we really want to share good moments with locals.
So at the end, I did this trek with this group, from Kalaw to Inle lake, with one more american guy, we were seven.
At the beggining of the trek, the weather was not good, we walked with the rain, in the mud, we were supposed to meet a shaman, so we were super excited, motivated to have the opportunity to do this meeting. We were dreaming and even this climate was bad, we were walking fast.
After few hours of walk, we finally arrived to his place. I remember this meeting, cause he was waiting for us, he was a old man. He was posted near the window and the lights of the sun were illuminating his face, he was wearing a orange turban on his head and a shirt which was showing his tribal tatoos on his arms. His face was breathing the serenity. He was so calm, impassive.
He was like stuck, he was not letting emotion on his face, he was smoking his cigar like an actor. His presence, his charisma were impressive. That was so special. Around him, we were not moving, we were looking this man like children, with a deep respect, a bit hypnotised. Our guide was talking to him, he was translating his words of this old man, the chief, the healer of the village, the wise man. People were coming from really far to see this man, for his talents. He knew all the plants, knew their utility, what they can cure, he was explaining : “This one, you see, that’s for stomac problem, this one for malaria… ” This man was sharing his knowledge, we were drinking his speech.
It was a real encyclopedia by this Internet time, that was fascinating. This man was letting us speechless. He gave to us the nickname of : “Lucky seven”, cause we were seven travellers, 7 was the lucky number in the burmese culture. He was not wrong, we were so lucky to meet him, to leave this unique moment.
We were so talkative normally, but face to him, we were like kids, intimidated by this man. That was incredible.
This man had some talent of fortune telling, he was asking us our date of birth and telling us what will be our future. He was telling us good news and his way to make it was extraordinary. He was writing our date of birth on a notebook, was making some fancy calculations, and was revealing our future.
My horoscope was a bit comic, he told me : “You, your favorite colors are red and black!”
At this moment, I need to specify, I was precisely wearing a cardigan black and red ! That of course make all the team laughing. This shaman had a good sens of humor, and of course the farce was for me, but he seemed to be really serious.
He told me the cold was not for me, and that’s true, and this he couldn’t know or see on my face, on my clothes.
Heart side, he announced me that I will meet a man on my travel and the money will not a problem, apparently a rich man. What a news!! But that will not happen, maybe I didn’t open well my eyes… I missed the opportunity to be sedentary, rich, and a ring on my finger!!! My absolute dream !! What a pity!
But what a mystic meeting from the end of the world!!! What an unforgettable moment!!
During this trek, we crossed amazing landscapes and villages with full of colors.
We were meeting, farmers with their old cart pushing by their buffalos. They were transporting the corp, or plowing the fields. Women were collecting the corp, the vegetables. They were made up all their face with Tanaka : the special yellow suncream used here in Burma by women. This sunscream was giving a real charm to this women who were wearing a turban or a scarf on their head : red or orange, and sometimes they were wearing traditional clothes.
Fields were full of flowers, some children were saying hello, a bit shy but all the time with the smile. Burmese people were all the time with a beautiful smile.
This trek was really amazing, we got this impression to be lost at the end of the world, to do a travel out of the time, and to be back in the thirties.
After crossing bells and whistles, we arrived to the lake, the famous Inle lake.
This lake is really famous, for his fishermen, who used a special technical, they used conical traps to fish. This technical had made the cover of magazines and travel guidebooks, and these fishermen became real stars, that everybody want photograph.
These fishermen are so famous that you have a lot of fake fishermen, they are not fishing, they just come to you with their boat, ready to pose, taking a fake smile. They are really bad actors, that’s quite embarrassing and off course they ask for money for the shooting they have done.
The “true” fishermen are just so occupied to look the lake in order to fish, that they don’t even see you. On their boat, on the front, they paddle with one leg like that they have their hands free to fish with big fish nets, traps, or these photogenic traps.
Inle lake was a touristic attraction, and when is touristic, of course, you have bad things happen. On this place, like in Bagan, it was possible, to see the giraffes women, before rejected, sometimes killed cause of their differences. They were now exploited by touristic agency cause making good money with the tourists, they wanted to take the perfect selfie, the perfect memorie with these women. Certainly you have agency they respect these women, and respectful tourists, but to pass from the status to rejected women to the status of a star, who are taken on photos all the daylong in your intimacy by strangers. Nobody is prepared to this success, to this celebrity, and few will support it.
And with all these fake fishermen here, in this place, that was not the best place to see these women in good conditions, our guide suggest to us to see these women, but we didn’t want to go there.
I remember this lunch in Inle lake, our guide, took us on a restaurant and telling us : “Hey, this is the restaurant, you can eat here!” This restaurant had nothing of a local one, prices were expensive for the plate they were proposing.
We got the time, so we decided to make a little walk. I hate the fact to be obliged, I like to choose, but the choice was imposed.
One thing, I learned with the travel is most of the time, few meters around, the price and the smile are more sincere and people you meet are more generous, that the recommended place.
So we found a little local restaurant and they made for us a really good meal. They were happy to have us, so we get in bonus a makeup session, they put on our faces this special local sunscream called Tanaka. A real exchange with locals, and a really good memorie with this “lucky 7” team.
Burmese were really simple and nice people, all the time they invited you to drink tea, all the time with the smile, after all they had suffered and still suffer. That really touched me.
The government was controlling the rebellions, the population, and control the tourists. Indeed, it happens to us to meet burmese men with overweight, talking a perfect english, with big watches, really curious to know our course and what we were doing here.
I was loving people, but really less the fact to be watch, follow and to be under surveillance.
In the north, officially, it was possible to go. In reality, I met travellers that they wanted to explore this district, but finally they were obliged to going back the police was prohibiting the access of the tourists. Apparently they were a lot of traffics : humans, precious stones, drugs, arms, and of course it was better that tourists didn’t see it.
South, by the time, got a difficult access, there was few transportations to go there.
West was forbidden to tourists they were allready conflicts between buddhists and muslims. Rohingyas were allready an oppressed minority.
East, officially had no more problems with the Shan community. But it was better to avoid to go near the border. Cause in reality, there was armed conflicts, Shan were fighting against the military junta. I made a trek overthere and we took the tea on our living room with a soldier! That was a beautiful trek, we met amazing people, we saw amazing landscapes. But the awakening was a bit particular : a soldier was taking the breakfast in their hosts house.
I was surprised. What this soldier with a grenade in his belt, and a weapon in his hands was doing here? In countryside?
I was thinking that a soldier from the military junta, who spying us, who watching us and didn’t want us here. A bit scared. We couldn’t understand the conversation, but this guy was talking happily with our hosts and our guide.
I took some pics of this moment.
We were restarted the trek. Our guide was explaining that this soldier we met in our hosts, was not a soldier from the junta but a Shan soldier fighting against the military junta for the independance of the Shan district. Our guide asked us if we took photos of this guy, and asked us to delete the pics we have made.
There was a risk that if the police, the military junta, saw these pictures that this people had big problems. That was the first time that I took pics that could condemn people. So I listened to the guide and deleted all my pics. But a bit stubborn, I kept one, where you can see the back of the military with a part of his gun, face to our two hosts, to not forget this scene, the strange atmosphere of this meeting, and the reality of this country.
But this pic, I don’t want show it; cause even there is little, really little chance that this pic arrive in the hands of the military junta, I don’t give a chance to serve this amazing people fighting for their freedom.
So when I got there the government was controling the rebellions, people, and tourists.
I really loved this country, his people, his authenticity, but really less his government and his politics.
Memories of Burma, memories of a country and people with a real authenticity and beauty.