Myanmar

Bangkok, Cambodia & Myanmar

During the easter 2-week-schoolholidays in april we decided to visit Myanmar. As the flights were much cheaper for Bangkok, we decided to have two pit-stops in the thai-capital. As we were coureagous and eager enough to visit a 3rd country, we opted for Siem Reap in Cambodia, mainly because of its Angkor Wat temple.

We flew from Luxembourg, to Bangkok, followed by a flight to Cambodia, where we stayed for 3 nights, and last but not least Myanmar. As we had planned to visit the 4 most popular cities of Burma, we opted for inland flights as well. The bus-route from Yangon to Mandalay, would last 12 hours. The bus fare was about 20$, the flight would be as cheap as 50$. Instead of losing too much time on a train or bus, we decided that we would move around by airplaine, obviously with low-cost-airlines.

In total we were sitting on 12 different aircrafts on our two weeks adventure ! Considering that the temperatures were reaching the 42°C degrees, it was a pretty exhausting trip.

Obviously I will write a seperate blog-post about Myanmar. In this one I will summarize our adventure in 3 different countries within lees than two weeks.

 

Bangkok.

Exactly one year later, I made it back to Bangkok. I was so convinced that I would return to Thailand much earlier, however things or plans don’t always turn out as we expect them to. After my first trip to Thailand in 2018, I fell in love with the laid back, but respectful, attitude of the country. I was looking forward to get back.

In the beginning of the trip, we only spent one night in Thailand before moving on to Siem Reap. We landed pretty late, and the weather was rainy, so it didn’t turn out to be an joyful night. We passed by the busy khaosan road and fled towards a much quiter street for a delicious pad-thai.

On our way back home we spent two more nights in Bangkok, enough to get to know new areas of the capital city. My girlfriend was curious about its markets, so I took her to the Chatuchak (or “Jatujak") Market, which only takes place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It’s a huge market with all kinds of things: food, fashion, books, kitchen tools. We spent 3 hours at the market, and there were still so many market-shops left to discover. Just next to Chatuchak, we spent another hour at “Camps - the Vintage market”, which is a pretty hip spot ! It was my second visit, and I enjoyed as much as my first time. You will totally enjoy “Camps” if you’re into cheap but trendy clothes, cafe-racer bikes, foodtrucks, ramen!, and craft-beers. It had a more laid-back vibe than the busy Chatuchak.

After two markets, we didn’t had enough of our shopping spree! We jumped on a cab, which took us to the Night Train Market. Again.. a huge market.. with all kinds of things to spend money on. There were a couple of bars nearby the market, that hosted live-music. The sweetest part was, that all the customers of the bars were thai. It was a much enjoyable and more classy area than the mentioned khao-san road. No douchebags, no loud thai teenage-girls.

On our last day, we were trying to get to see a Muay Thai fight in Bangkok. We found a couple of useful informations online. Every sunday the local tv-channel “Channel 7” hosts free muay-thai fights. If you make it to the Channel 7 building before 13:00h (1pm) you will high probably get a free seat for the show. As we totally forgot the change the time, as we came from Myanmar towards Thailand (which is 30 minutes late), we made it to the fight-arena around 13:40. We had to pay 200 bat (5$) per person for a ring-side seat. A pretty cheap deal compared to the usual 50$ you have to pay for a muay-thai fight. We watched 4 fights, until we decided to get back home, and head to the airport. It was a pleasant experience! Even my girlfriend who isn’t into brutal fight-sports, enjoyed the show. The fights are broadcoasted live on tv! Expect around 500 people in the arena.

 

Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Obviously we made it to Siem Reap for the famous Angkor Wat temple. For a long time I thought there would only be one big main temple in Siem Reap, until prior our departure I learned that there are many more temples located around the main Angkor Wat. It actually takes a couple of hours to quickly visit the hot spots of the archeological & historical sites. Some people would easily spend two to three days to get a more profound tour of the temples.

We’ve spent 2 nights in Siem Reap, which was enough to get a first taste of Cambodia and its number-one travel destination. It took about 15 minutes by scooter to reach the temple area. We rented a motorbike for about 15$ a day. After signing the rental-deal we were told which bridges in the city center we should avoid, as it would be illegal for foreigners to ride a scooter in Siem Reap. I’m not sure if it was just an over-cautious tip to avoid trouble, or if it was actually prohibited to ride the bike. We passed a couple of cop cars, and uniformed officers, at some points even without a helmet, and nobody ever stopped us.

You can either buy an entrance ticket for Angkor Wat for 1 day or a 3-day-pass. The 3-day-pass was pretty expensive, around 60 us$ !! per person. In Cambodia all the prices are listed in US$, and you actually pay with US$ bills. The prices in the menus at the restaurants are all listed in US$. Dollars everywhere.

At the airport the tuk-tuk drivers told us that foreigner aren’t allowed to ride a scooter around the temples. That wasn’t true! We visited all the temples on our own, and didn’t get in trouble for a second.

I’d definitely recommend visiting Angkor Wat for sunrise or sunset, as it will offer a nice photoshot opportunity with the reflecting sun in the pond just in front of the temple. The hundreds of tourists however will ruin the vibe. Even at 05:40 in the morning the place was packed with a huge crowd waiting for the sun to rise up behind the holy building.

Is there anything else to do in Siem Reap? Not that much! There are a couple of floating villages which are supposed to be pretty interesting to visit. However during our stay in Cambodia, the temperatures easily reached 42°C. Due to the higher temperatures the riverbeds around the floating houses dried out, and it all looked more like a dusty village. The ride from our hotel to the floating village was packed with lovely landscapes, however the village itself wasn’t worth the 1-hour-drive, as there wasn’t much left to see.

Siem Reap could be quite lively at night. There’s the “PubStreet” right in the heart of the city-center, packed with too many bars, but not enough tourists or locals. Every bar has its music-box turned up to the max, which can be rather annoying if you hear 10 differents songs playing at the same time. Pubstreet was loud and flashy, but among all the noise, we managed to find a laidback bar, where we could enjoy a couple of drinks. The center offers all kind of restaurants, local food, italian, indian, you have a hard time to satisfy your cravings. On our second night we went for street-food, where we paid 2$ for a noodles or rice dish.

As almost every asian city Siem Reap has a night market. If you’ve visited 3 night-markets in your life, you might have seen’em all. This one wasn’t much different.

In Japan a friend told me, that she had a bad experience with too many unfriendly locals in Siem Reap. We couldn’t share the same oppinion. The only unfriendly person we met was our tuk-tuk driver at the aiport, as he wasn’t amused that we refused his offer for a private-tour to the temples.

 

Myanmar.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, definitely was on my bucket list for the last couple of years. After having watched many travel videos of Burma on vimeo, I was blown away by the lanscapes, the pagodas and the special vibe videographers captured on their trip to Myanmar.

However the higher your expectations are, the higher are the chances that you could be disappointed. This actually gets worse when you have a specific idea what your travel videos or photos should look like when you get back home. My expectations were very high! I carried all my photo equipment, which consisted of 4 lenses, my fuji xt2 camera, a go-pro, and a gimbal, to our trip across the country.

As our trip was limited to a maximum of 14 days, we only got to spend 10 days in Myanmar, and we planned to see as much as possible of the country, so we chose to make it to the more popular cities like Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay.

It takes between 6-12 hours by bus to move from one city to the next one. As we were limited in time, we opted to travel by airplane. The lowest faires were as cheap as 40$ for a 1 hour flight. Myanmar makes it easy for travelers to move around, you’ll easily get a cheap taxi, the airports aren’t too far away from the city centers. The mobile app “GRAB” is a must if you wanna get around Mandalay. It works the same as “UBER”, but you can choose between 3 different transportation options: car (taxi), tuk-tuk or scooter. As we were traveling as a couple we mostly grab’ed a tuk-tuk.

We visited 3 different countries on this trip, Thailand, Cambodia and Burma. We often asked ourselves what would be tippicaly “cambodian” or what would make “Myanmar” easily recognizable among the neighbouring asian countries. We couldn’t really tell! As for myselef I refered to Cambodia as a mix of Bali-Vietnam-India.

However Myanmar’s landscapes were easily recognizable by the endless amount of golden pagodas that were spread all over the cities. I can’t remember having witnessed this kind of shaped pagodas all covered in gold (some were white) in another asian country. You could spot them from afar in the mountains, on a hill, next to the river.. pagodas everywhere!

The traditional skirts men were wearing was definitely typically “burmese”. I first noticed them in Bali where they were called “Sarong”, then in India where they’re called “dothi”. In Myanmar it was the “longyis” that were worn by all the men. Even nowadays 85% of the men are wearing the longyis.

Number 3 would be the thanaka face painting, that women (also men) are using as esthetic cosmetics and as sunscreen to avoid sunburn. Thanaka is a white/yellowish paste made out of tanaka wood (the wood is rubbed on a wet grindstone or glasspaper. The mixture of water and the wood-dust makes it a paste. Women are wearing the thanaka as stripes, leaf shapes, or just plain circles on their cheeks and forhead.

As my expectations were very high, concerning this Myanmar trip, I have to honestly admit that I wasn’t blown away by the country. After having visited numerous asian countries, naturewise or citywise, Myanmar wasn’t that much different. For my personal taste, I missed the lively vibes you get to see in Bali or Thailand. After sunset, the streets got quiet, the locals were having food on a streetfood corner, and then slowely faded back into their homes. Obviously as myanmar people have low wages, they can’t afford to spend a night in a bar or restaurant. There wasn’t any kind of entertainment for tourists at night. We were lucky to discover the water festival that took place across the whole country 3 days before the buddhist new year. The locals, especially the children and teenagers were throwing water at us. The waterfestival is supposed to “clean up” the people with water just before sliding into the new year.

In Mandalay there wasn’t really much to do. We felt bored after 2 days. We definitely spend our 3 nights at the best hostel in town called “Hostello Bello”. Despite the welcoming staff and their fancy happy-hour, the nights remained quiet! Many restaurants were almost empty, bars weren’t available, coffee shops were closed in the late evening.

In Yangon, the night started around 11pm (23:00h), the point where are the restaurants and bars shut down. The same counts for Bagan and Inle Lake. Inle Lake was even worse, as most of the hotels were isolated on the outskirt of the lake. There weren’t any bars or restaurants where you could mix up with the locals. And we really missed that!

Myanmar was definitely a beautiful country, and we got to discover a lot of new things! Especially the locals were super welcoming. After all my traveling these last 5 years, Myanmar has definitely the nicest and moste welcoming population of all asia. Many adults were waving at us, as were driving by on a tuk-tuk. Children would touch our arms as they don’t get to see caucasians that often. Everytime when we handed over a tip, they stared back with a surprised look, as if they wouldn’t understand why somebody would leave them a dollar or two. They showed so much grattitude for every coin you would give them as a tip. I really fell in love with the kindness of the myanmar people !

Everything that impressed me in Myanmar travel videos, turned out to be a touristic attraction. Around Inle lake you’ll find the women of the long-neck tribes. As we were expecting a whole village, it turned out to be a ware-house where we were shown how the long-neck women were creating the handmade scarfs. The two long-neck women were very kind but it definitely didn’t feel authentic. The same counts for the traditonal fisher-men on Inle Lake. The real fishermen were casually dressed up in sportswear. The ones that were wearing tradional clothes was a made up show for tourists.

In Bagan we visited the Minnanthu village, where you were introduced to the daily life of a villager. Without a doubt, Minnanthu was worth the visit, however the tour felt once again like a tourist attraction. The women in the village started working as soon, as we approached their cabin or their tiny farm. It all looked like a made-up show.

I will write a separate post about our experience in Myanmar. I’m happy that we made it to Myanmar, and don’t regret it all. However it didn’t feel as authentic as Japan or Bangkok. It’s understandable that Myanmar is trying to attract tourists, as the country opened its borders for tourism only 20 years ago. They’re far behind Thailand or Vietnam, but they’re catching up!