Evan, Fiona, Kohji and I all just got back from our winter travels this past Monday morning. It feels like ages since that trip started already, and yet I am still shocked that it’s January 14 already. Time truly does fly when you’re having fun!
For those who don’t know, here’s a rundown of our itinerary:
- 2 nights in Yangon, Myanmar starting on December 26
- 2 nights in Bagan, Myanmar
- 2 nights in Mandalay, Myanmar
- 2 nights in Vientiane, Laos
- 1 night in Huay Xai, Laos (north against the border of Laos very close to Chiang Rai)
- 2 nights in Bokeo Nature Reserve, Laos
- 2 nights (sort of) in Luang Prabang, Laos
- home by 10am on January 9
We were able to see and do so much in that short time, it is really pretty amazing. Although it’s very obvious that Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia share a lot in common, now that I have been to all four it’s clear to me that they are very different from each other too, both culturally and socio-economically.
Myanmar felt a bit more wild and less developed than Laos did. That was apparent just from walking down the street. In Laos the streets were generally pretty quiet. There were tuk tuks, but not a lot of motorbikes. Even in areas of high traffic there wasn’t a lot of honking and beeping in the streets either. In general, the cities in Laos felt more laid back and chill, and nobody seemed like they were in too much of a rush to get anywhere. In Myanmar there was a lot of traffic pretty frequently and tons of motorbikes on the road with two or more people on them (often whole families) except for where motorbikes were illegal, like in Yangon. The roads felt really hectic too, with pedastrians crossing at all times and a general disregard for street lights and signs. Add in the constant honking from all directions, and the simple act of walking down the street quickly ends up feeling like a high stress survival situation. That’s how it felt to me, anyway.
It wasn’t until we reached Mandalay and met a really nice cab driver with very good English that we started being able to decode the method to the driving and honking madness. We asked him how he could stand to drive in all the chaos and he seemed pretty mysitified that we were percieving the roads that way. He said the honking was just a way everyone communicated on the road, not a sign of rage or impatience like we thought. One honk means “I’m coming from behind you,” two honks means “I’m going to pass you,” and three honks means “I’m in a rush and going fast.” And while going through a four-way intersection, throw your hazard lights on to let everyone know you’re going straight. I wish I had known all that before riding our scooters around Bagan, a mildly harrowing and white-knuckle experience for someone with as little driving experience as me, even without all the sand threatening to put me in a tail-spin left and right. After learning the signs I do admit things did seem more orderly than I had realized before, but regardless I just don’t think I can get used to all that noise.
Something that stood out about Myanmar especially was how different the local fashion was. Practically all the local women wore long sarong-type skirts to at least the calf or ankles, which isn’t so different from Thailand, Cambodia or Laos. But in Myanmar, the men wear skirts too. The skirts are called longyi and they are actually over-sized tubes of fabric you slip on, grip tightly on the left and right side, then tie in a special knot in the front near your belly button. The majority of guys we saw all wore them starting from teenagers to elderly men. By the end of my time in Myanmar, I really learned to love the look of them.
Another Myanmar fashion that I haven’t seen anywhere else is thanaka. Thanaka is a yellow-white paste made from grinding a special type of tree. It is then applied on the face (mainly on women and children but sometimes men) in different patterns like stripes, circles and leaves. The designs are decorative, but the properties of the thanaka itself is supposed to protect against sunburn, cool the skin, and also prevent acne and fungus. Although I think it’s striking I wasn’t sure if I particularly like it, and I found myself wondering often about whether Myanmar men found thanaka attractive. Does a Myanmar man walk down the street and get drawn to a girl with the leaf patterns? Like, dannnnng I like a girl with leaf thanaka, look at her work that paste. Just a thought I had.
I uploaded my pictures to my computer just a bit ago, and I haven’t had time to go through them properly and pick out my favorites (the two pics above aren’t my own, just a couple I found in a Google image search). Tonight I will organize them so that I can post pictures between my rambling bits of writing. So for now I will cut this post abruptly short, and then finish my epic saga later!
To be continued…