Lynne B was the March winner of our monthly blog competition - £150 in Explore travel vouchers are on their way to her. Read on to find out more about her experience in Burma (Myanmar).
"Mingalaba! A country of contradictions, not least in its name, with many of the local people referring to The Golden Land as Burma with others preferring the name Myanmar, which they believe to be more representative of the 135 tribes that call it home.
Some have embraced the recent increase in tourism and make it their living, becoming the hounding sellers that we love to hate across South East Asia, yet others continue their self-sufficient farming ways and just wave and smile as the tourists pass through.
After 50 years of military conflict it is surprising to not see more evidence of decades of violence and the people we met all seem to live harmoniously and there is little poverty. From the sprawling cities to the hill tribes in the highland regions, the people are all happy, curious, friendly and welcoming.
Food is abundant and the simple Burmese cuisine is not heavily seasoned or spiced. Many of the dishes involve nuts, and a traditional salad dish is known as Let Thoke - fabulously made from fermented tea leaves, peanuts, onion and tomato.
The people are as diverse as the country; monks lining up each morning to collect alms; almost every person adorned with the wood paste that acts as their sunscreen; the last few Padaung women with conical neck loops that give them their nickname ‘giraffe ladies’; the hill tribes of Danu, Chin and Shan. Almost everyone has bright burgundy stained teeth from prolonged chewing of the mildly intoxicating betel nut, yet still greet you with a beaming smile and genuinely do mean welcome.
Travelling throughout the country via every means of transport available - local flights that work more like a train and ox carts slowly meandering through communities to horse and cart, tuk tuk, motorbikes, electric pedal cycles and bicycles. We took the Kipling-famed Road to Mandalay and saw how the country changed every few miles. Followed by cruising on the day-long ‘Express Boat’ from Mandalay to Bagan, taking hours longer than advertised as the dry season came early and hot (averaging in the 40’s) meaning the water level is too low so early in the season.
A country that is also eco-diverse from rolling hills and plantations, communities living in stilt house on Inle Lake and their floating gardens, to apartment blocks teaming with people and electric cables perilously overloaded.
So many pagodas, temples and stupa, many prefixed with the local word ‘Shwe’ meaning gold, and some of the best teak monasteries, temples and the famous U-Bein bridge. It is a shame that the government can’t stop the traders from sprawling their wares across crumbling remains of temples and tourists crawling over them with little thought to the fact that their vantage point for the perfect photo is on the ridge of a 12th century religious monument.
Away from the cities there is evidence of traditional crafts continuing as they have done over the years, with skills still passed down through family lines. Cigarettes made from locally grown tobacco flavoured with star anise, others of corn husk and as huge as a Cuban cigar; delicate gold leaf sold to the locals to overlay on various iconic Buddha; silks and cotton weaved by hand to the most detailed designs; intricate overlaid lacquerware.
A country so historically, culturally and religiously rich, proud of their heritage and happy to welcome visitors. Go before it changes too much 'ce-zu beh' (Thank you)"