Dear Burma. I mean Myanmar.

Burma, Burma, Burma, Burma, Burma.

We spent three weeks together and I’m not really sure what to make of you so I wrote a list of words that remind me of you.

Yangon
Mt Kyaiktiyo
Bago
Inle lake
Kalaw
Bagan
Mandalay
Pyin Oo Lwin
Temples
Stupas
Pagodas
Payas
Dusty
Feet
Nuns
Monks
Markets
Monasteries
Military
Horse
Cart
Sand
Sewage
Chapati
Rice
Noodles
Cold
Curry
Yuck
Blisters
Sweaty
Back
Dead
Snake
Mice
Shiny
Spider
Eyes
Swatting
Flies
Sun
Burnt
Fingers
Sun
Rise
Sun
Set
No
Power
Cold
Shower
The
End.

I took some photos that remind me of you too. You can see them below soon.

I might come back one day when you’ve sorted out your bus system. Arriving at 3am isn’t really okay with me. Though I did like your smiling face very much. Smiles are good with me.

Love Hollie x

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Sule Pagoda, Yangon

First impressions of Burma: pagodas, payas, temples. Everywhere. I could see them if I leant over Michael and looked out the aeroplane window. Just EVERYWHERE. Three weeks on and it’d be okay with me if I didn’t ever see another in my life, or for at least the next week or two.

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Burmese man skirt known as a longhi

Within about fifteen minutes of arriving in Yangon Michael decided to get kitted out in the local dress, a longhi. Turns out there’s quite a knack to tieing this bad boy and keeping it up. Also turns out that the locals didn’t mind showing him how.

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“One knot good, two knots better” followed by a slap on the bum. Cheers Burma!

Everything seemed kind of cool in Yangon, except for our guest house which was less cool and more like a prison where you pay $15 US a night to sleep. People smile. People stare and then smile. The streets and teeth were stained red from betel nut, people had thanaka tree bark paste as sun block on their cheeks. People use phones. Real phones, not cell phones. I hadn’t heard the land line ring so many times a day since the mid nineties. A real land line. What a novelty! I thought I’d give it a crack like everyone else in town on the corner of the street.

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Turns out having a conversation with someone whose second language is English, on the phone, on the corner of a main road doesn’t make for easy banter

The only thing that was letting Burma down as far as I could see was the food.

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Our first dinner in Burma. Do not be fooled by the smiles. This was hands down one of the worst meals I’ve ever eaten

Yes, by day three I had packed a paddy. Even some of Dad’s boiled mince with frozen mixed veg on toast sounded more appealing. I don’t even like mince on toast! Gosh darn it Burma. I love food and you killed me with your oily, cold curries, fish flavoured soups, and dried up shrimp which I thought was delicious dried onion and garlic. For a moment, I contemplated being a vegetarian, but even the vegetables were crap. Don’t worry the food situation improved when I found delicious local pizzas, pancakes with cheese, giant avocados, amazing chicken sandwiches with the tastiest little herby sauce, ahhhhhhhh get in me! And potatoes! I love potatoes in any form and I ate them in every form in Burma (even in a cold curry might I add, which, and I hate to admit this, but it was actually kind of good.) And I can’t forget the strawberries on the side of the road. Do you know what I did with the strawberries? I put them in my mouth and I ate them right there in front of the lady who sold them to me. Then I discovered the strawberry shake, and the pineapple shake and the watermelon shake and the any fruit you want shake. You know what I did with the shakes right? I put them in my mouth too. Gaaaaargh!

We took in the local streets of the city

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And then I bought a puppy for 5000 kyat (850 kyat – $1 US) from the side of the street

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Stop being so cute or I’ll have to take you all home

I didn’t actually buy a puppy. Michael said no.
So I bought a cat instead.

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Gee whizz kitty! You sure are wrapped around that them there pole

That didn’t actually happen either but it sure was a crafty cat in a super shady spot.

We visited the Shwe Dagon Pagoda

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Nice longhi

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So shiny

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And then like Creepy Mc Creep Creep I took photos of people when they weren’t looking

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The absolute best thing about Yangon though was that Ruby’s name was all over the show

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Red Ruby cigarettes! Dream result. I’ve taken up smoking just so I can feel closer to Ruby while I’m away.

That’s also not true. Sorry Mum.

With great anticipation we left Yangon and made our way to Mt Kyaiktiyo to see the famous Golden Rock precariously perched on an angle as if it’s about to roll down the cliff face. It was all very exciting. 5am we’re up eating a boiled egg and bananas the size of a pen listening to the pick up trucks filling up with people to make the 11km trip up the mountain.

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That shit cray

We counted 45 people on our truck. It was oh so snuggly and similar but more exciting than a day at Rainbows End.

Once we were near the top we had to walk another 45 minutes to get to the rock. I almost died and sweated out at least twice my body weight. I’m serious. Even other tourists were concerned, offering me water while the locals favourite comments were “you okay?” and “you tire!” (not tired, tire) No shit buddy! Your country is friggin’ hot and this hill is steep and I haven’t exercised since year 10 P.E and even then I didn’t do much of anything.

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These guys had a field day trying to get me in their chair. I secretly think they just liked my shiny red face.

Anyhoo, the third best part of climbing the hill was meeting this little guy

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I pull out my camera and he pulls out his best Postie Plus catalogue pose. Legend.

The second best thing about climbing the hill was finding out that locals can take a truck right to the top and skip the walk. Dang.

But the very best part of climbing the hill, you’re going to love this, the best part was discovering that it was UNDER MAINTENANCE

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Saddest boy in the world

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This is what we were expecting to see

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This is what we saw. And you still want $5 US to go and see it. Bite my ass Burma.

So after all that excitement we went down the hill caught a bus to Bago and made friends with these little dudes

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Sweet helmet

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Probably THE cutest kid I’ve ever met

Fast fast forward 14 hours to 3am and we’re in Nyaungshwe near Inle Lake and nothing is open. Welcome to the Burmese night buses. They arrive hours ahead of schedule, which would usually be okay but in the middle of the night in a country that’s not ready for this many tourists, nah ah. I got pretty good at sleeping in a chair with my head on my bag. Give me a towel and the suddenly the footpath is just like a bed!

Inle Lake was perdy

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Aw oh. There you go again Burma stealing a little piece of my heart

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Who needs asphalt when you have water?

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Throwing back another Red Ruby

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Washing her knickers, perhaps

In the evening we saw Traditional Aung Puppets by a third generation puppeteer. That guy had skills.

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Then, after a few days relaxing we did something pretty crazy and out of character. We paid money, real money, for a guide to take us on a three day, two night trek from Inle Lake to Kalaw. Here are some more words that remind me of Burma

Unfit
Unprepared
Ill equipped

We’re both travelling with a pair of jandles and white canvas Kmart shoes. Neither of these were designed for a 75km walk through the Burmese countryside.

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It started with a thumbs up

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Angry Birds

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Is that the same sun that we have in NZ, because it looks different

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Our guide was also our chef! Impressive.

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Bed at our home stay.

A night full of mice eating the offerings to Buddha above our head, people having a casual whizz off the balcony at 2am and the old men lighting up cigars in the pitch black. Fair enough, I mean I struggle to make it through the night without a cigar in bed.

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Day two lunchtime and things aren’t so flash

Shoes are off. Blisters. Lucky we didn’t carry either of the two first aid kits we had on this trek! I have a sneaky sleepy while our guide whips up a culinary delight. Michael’s carrying my bag as well as his, cause he’s the strongest person I know, apart from you Dad. Our guide insists on washing my feet before we get going again and he accidentally rips the skin off by baby toe. I’m stoked!

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Nek minnit SNAKE ATTACK.

So this guy jumps out of the middle of nowhere and starts firing rolled up balls of dirt at the bushes with his sling shot then pulls out a dead snake on this stick. I don’t know what to say. He killed a snake with a slingshot. I don’t like dead things but it was kind of impressed.

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Quick water stop (or drug drop? we’ll never know) before arriving at our second home stay

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The most I washed in three days. No showers in this hood. Lovely home stay family and good English. The husband said, and I quote “I learn my English from a book!” Ahhh just like Manuel. You guys know Fawlty Towers right? If you don’t, you should.

Another night on the floor which was surprisingly comfortable. I think i was getting used to it. What was uncomfortable were the eyes staring back at us when you shone the torch on the walls. Naively I write them off as geckos until I see one walk over a poster. The walls are covered in spiders with bodies the size of fricken’ mice. They belong in a museum. There’s no power so I can’t turn on the lights to deal with the situation so I tear back the curtain to the families bedroom, wake the poor old lady and get her up. Turns out they’re not poisenous, just scary and hairy. The man even tells me that they’re lucky spiders and are his friends! I don’t believe him for a second. It’s here that he does something that I can only describe as a stupid, slow old man action. He picks a spider off the wall and the DROPS in on our bed and starts laughing! We can’t find it anywhere. I could have kicked him in the head but I can only smile as he pulls out his book on Buddhism in English and asks for help with pronunciation as he reads it to us. He’s gets to the part about not killing another living being and suddenly the spider being his friend makes sense. Things are going to be okay in this bamboo house for one night of my life. But thank god in my country we have fly spray and doctors who prescribe zopiclone.

We finished out walk the next day around lunch time, had a baby wipe shower on the steps at the bus stop and spent the next nine hours exploring Kalaw.

Arriving in Bagan at 3am the next morning. Hotels shut. Sleeping on the footpath. Our spirits are pretty low. The hotel opens and doesn’t have out reservation. Ugh. After finding a room at a hotel that had no windows and smelt like raw sewage, I have to tell you, we tried to book a flight out of Burma. Feeling the pinch and struggling to get the gorse out of our pockets, we drew up a cost benefit analysis and decided to stick it out. So, for a celebratory treat we did our washing in the shower. Why use a machine when I packet of power is cheaper?! Tomorrow has to be a better day.

And it was! Lucky we stayed in Bagan because it was pretty shabanging.

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Ah. Sunset. See! You’re doing it again Burma. Making me love you and things.

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Sunrise

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Balloons over Bagan

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Bike rides in Bagan to the Amazing Bagan Resort swimming pool. Creative name.

What? You paid $300 US a night to stay here? Sorry! I cant hear you over my CANNONBALL!

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Boat rides in Bagan

This is Jill and Ray who we met at the temples. We pretty much double dated for three days straight. Keys in the bowl any one?!

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Bagan you treated us well. Your food was tasty. I’m pleased we didn’t book a flight out.

From here the trip winds up pretty quickly. We learnt from past mistakes and took a day bus to Mandalay. We take in the main sights of the city and eat chapati cooked on the street.

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Half the city is up at 4am to watch the brushing of Buddhas teeth

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Sunrise over the teak bridge

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Giant Buddha #4683

My favourite thing in Mandalay had to be this dog, before sunrise, sleeping in a restaurants giant deep fryer come wok

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Yeah but Darl, what did ya put on it?

I later spotted him not too far away curled up just like he was back in the wok

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By golly that’s one sneaky sausage

We spent our last few days in Pyin Oo Lwin where the main attraction is a the 240 acre botanic gardens which were established in 1915

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A cross between Queens Park in Invercargill and the Alexandra Blossom Festival

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There were orchid gardens

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And a whole lot of flowers that are pretty standard for us but exotic over there

But let’s be honest. Who doesn’t love a pansy or a johnny jump up?

We also had a few meals at this place because they offer a fair price and we hoped that if we ate the food, we might start to look more like the fine specimens on the poster.

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This is what Burma thinks Westerners look like

We shot back to Mandalay on the back of a pick up truck

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The 3 hour trip took 1 hour 45 minutes because our drive was on speed

When we arrived we freshened up and went for a quick dip in the local stream

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This stream smelt like a dead mans anus and for some reason was constantly bubbling

First thing the next morning we’re back on a flight to Bangkok, straight onto an overnight train to Chiang Mai and I tell you, I couldn’t have been happier for the change of scenery.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of our Six Months Without Ruby where I tell you about how I’ve had meat on a stick for breakfast for the past three days, consumed multiple Kit Kats and Mars bars. Also hear about my adventures of mooching around and doing a whole lot of amazing nothing!

2 thoughts on “Dear Burma. I mean Myanmar.

  1. Man you are the most hilarious person I know. Sounds like an incredible experience and I totally take my hat off to you, brave girl!!! Sounds like you two will have a billion stories to tell over a kiwi BBQ when you get back xxxxx

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