In January, we left Cambodia, spent a couple nights in Bangkok and then boarded a night bus for Myanmar (previously known as Burma). For many years, Michelle has wanted to visit Myanmar, though it was not part of our travel plans when we arrived in Vietnam back in September. I’ve never had a specific desire for it, but I was certainly never against it. As we worked in Hanoi and then in Cambodia we gradually made the decision that we should come here.
Along the way we have met other travelers that had been to Myanmar and one frequent theme to their comments was that the people of Myanmar are really, really nice. As you may have read in previous posts, Michelle and I recently spent a couple years living in Morocco. Most Moroccans are very nice people. More recently we spent several months in Vietnam. Vietnamese people are really friendly! So, when we were told that people in Myanmar are really nice, we didn’t fully realize the truth behind those words. I think it’s a case of experiencing it in order to believe.
Sometimes (not always!), when a local approaches a tourist they want something from them. Maybe it’s a taxi driver that wants you to hire them, maybe it’s someone wanting you to go to their restaurant/business, or maybe it’s just someone looking for a handout. Thus far (in our experience), when you are approached by a local person here in Myanmar, they really just want to talk to you. Burma was a British colony and not only is English a standard school lesson in Myanmar, but University classes are taught in English. Because of this, many people just want to practice their English with a native speaker.
One situation that occurs with some regularity here (as well as in other parts of Southeast Asia) is something I like to call “famous foreigner”. Often, when Michelle and I go places, like pagodas (the vast majority of places to visit in Myanmar are pagodas), local visitors semi-shyly stop us and ask if we will take a picture with them. This usually starts a chain of people lining up to take a picture with us. This has happened to us at multiple pagodas, on trails up karst mountain peaks, and at a fire festival (which I will describe at a later date). I find it highly amusing and I enjoy taking pictures of them while they take pictures of us. They are always really sweet and appreciative, as well as understanding when we put a stop to it and walk away after a reasonable amount of time.
Some further evidence of the niceness of the people of Myanmar
Example 1: When Michelle and I first arrived in Hpa An (after taking an overnight bus from Bangkok to the border, waiting for the border crossing to open at 5 or 6 am, and then taking what became a 5-6 hour trip from there to Hpa An) our first intention was to find breakfast. As we stood on the roadside in the middle of town looking slightly lost, a man approached and asked what we were looking for. When we told him, he proceeded to show us the restaurant that has become our favorite.
Example 2: Michelle and I were walking in a nearby city one evening, passed a young man sitting on a bench by the river, and had the following conversation.
“Hello!” the man called out to us, “where are you from?”
I replied, “Hpa An” (the town where we currently live in Myanmar).
“No! I mean, which country?” he said.
“America”, I told him.
“Oh great! I like your beard!” he continued.
“Thank you!” I said.
“Ok, have a great night!” he told us as we walked away.
So, no offense to any other country, but the people of Myanmar really are the nicest in the world!