Myanmar – First Impressions

The traffic snarls as we drive into Yangon, even with the ban on two wheelers within city limits, are reminiscent of Bangalore. But the roads are surprisingly wide and well laid (mostly). And they are garbage free! Pristine lakes and gardens abound. Splotchy red betel stains on sidewalks are familiar. Spotless public toilets, not.

Vehicles with right hand steering ply on the right side of the road! Why? Because an eccentric general decided, one 1970 day, to change the (colonial) direction of traffic from left to right. Imperial units eschewed by most ex British colonies, however, still remain in use.

Wallets are boldly stuck to the back of men’s longyis (traditional wraparound attire) in an assertion of safety while the multiple coils of barbed wire adorning high walls of affluent (military?) homes belie the claim.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

It’s been five days since we landed in Myanmar. We haven’t visited the Shwedagon Pagoda and we are not due to reach Bagan until the day after tomorrow. And yet, we are blown away by everything we have seen and experienced so far..quirky contradictions and all.

We just had a half day in Yangon before hopping on a flight to Heho and continuing onward to Inle lake. Ringed by the greenest hills the lake area had enough to keep us captivated between one legged Intha fishermen, a large farmer’s market and some stunning ruins to rival those in Cambodia.

Mandalay, the former capital, feels more crowded and grittier. Its market strikingly different from the farmers gathering in Nam Pan (Inle). We are now on the Irrawaddy Explorer on a slow cruise downstream back to Yangon through a magical pagoda studded landscape. 

It is most definitely not all exotic romance. Domestic airports are stark evidence of stalled progress. As is pathetic internet connectivity. A vast majority of the population is very poor, but the poverty is accompanied by unexpected grace and dignity.

And faith. 

Poised on the cusp of momentous change, the hope and excitement is palpable. There is much expectation from ‘Ameya’ Su (Kyi).

Intha Fisherman, Inle Lake
Intha fisherman on Inle Lake
Rapeseed fields enroute to Pindaya from Heho, Shan State
Rapeseed fields enroute to Pindaya from Heho, Shan State
Pindaya, Myanmar
Gilded Buddhas inside Pindaya cave in Shan state, Myanmar
Nyaungshwe, Myanmar
A misty dawn in Nyaungshwe

Myanmar Beer

Farmers Market, Nam Pan village (Inle Lake)
Farmers Market, Nam Pan village (Inle Lake)
Indein, Myanmar
Indein ruins, Myanmar
Sunset in Mandalay
Sunset from our hotel room in Mandalay

Stay tuned for more from Myanmar.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on

46 thoughts on “Myanmar – First Impressions

  1. Merry Christmas to Madhu and all her readers! 🙂

    About Myanmar, well it’s great that you’ve began to get a glimpse of the magic and mystique of this country. Bagan will rock your socks off! 🙂

  2. What an unexpected place to find you! Myanmar is completely unknown to me and you make the introduction so beautifully in words and exquisite photos. This post is the climax of a lovely year travelling with you. Thank you for letting me stow away.

  3. So far Myanmar has been treating you quite well, it seems. Of all the places James and I went to, Mandalay was our least favorite. Moreover the weather there was the least favorable anyway throughout the Myanmar leg of our 6-month trip. We both loved Yangon, Indein, and Bagan. How do you find the Burmese food? To me it was a combination of Indian, Southeast Asian, and Chinese culinary influences. Have a great time and weather in Bagan and Shwedagon towards the end of your trip!

  4. What a great introduction on Myanmar 🙂 Looking forward to read more of your perspective on this country. Enjoy your trip, and may there be more travel adventures in the coming new year!

  5. beauiful pictures.. and a nice write-up.. Guess it would not be an exaggeration if I said am waiting for a cliche pic of Bagan….! have a good trip!

  6. Oh Madhu, we so much loved our time in Myanmar. You brought back some great memories. And your photos are wonderful. Looking forward to more.

  7. I hope Su Kyi does something about the Rohingyu people. The situation is disgraceful and she hasn’t paid much attention to it so far.

  8. Myanmar (Burma) has an interesting history and before independence was the rice bowl of Southern Asia. My first visit in 1970 was only for a permitted 24 hour stopover in transit. There were two newspapers in English with exactly the same content and that was news on visits of one army officer or another to different parts of Myanmar. For those who knew Yangon (Rangoon) in former times they would have shed tears over how the once elegant buildings were now rusted hulks of their former glory. On one of those occasions I visited the mother of Aung San Suu Kyi who was under virtual house arrest but permitted visitors still. That is one my memory highlights. I used to stay at the Thamada (formerly President) hotel and was followed by an assigned government official where ever I went. The roof of my room had a permanent leak which required the collection bucket to be emptied frequently. That’s the bad stuff. However “The Burma Way to Socialism (Communist) government did not in any way spoil the hospitality of the people. I love the people of Myanmar. They had to go to incredible lengths to get permission to entertain this foreigner but somehow they did it and I enjoyed each encounter. You are seeing a much improved Myanmar and with the recent election I believe Myanmar will eventually become a rapidly developing country in Asia if the army keeps their promise and lets a civilian government make those improvements.

  9. Beautiful pictures, especially the sunset one, looks so magical! Looking forward to read more stories from Myanmar.

  10. wow.. am looking forward to my visit there…
    stunning pictures… 🙂

  11. Myanmar is a complete stranger to me and you introduced it so beautifully. Ye dil maange more Madhu!

  12. As always you transport me. The pictures? Beautiful and accompanied by your words, I felt as if I was sitting on your shoulder seeing what you were seeing. What wonderful sights to see.

  13. Lovely first glimpses of a country that has doggedly beckoned me, for many decades….1 among a long list of “must see” neighbouring countries… Will my yearnings be fulfilled…time awaits no man, sadly! Happy travelling & a great 2016…

  14. Such excellent captures of these awesome scenes Madhul. They look like they belong in one of National Geographic’s magazines or even in a travel book! It’s always so great to travel with you. Thanks for sharing and wishing you and yours a wonderful and happy 2016! 😀 ♥

  15. Madhu, this post resonates with me like no other as I love Myanmar ~ so much diversity and you have captured the heart of this place. A beautiful way to bring in the New Year ~ a great post and best to you with your writing and photography in the New Year. Cheers to a great 2016.

  16. We just left Myanmar after two amazing weeks. I would love you to see our blog and give feedback on our posts from there. It was magical ( Bagan in particular) but as you say not always easy. Your photos are gorgeous…making me miss it already.

  17. Beautiful! We just left there and posted photos. Bagan was magical! I miss it already. Interested in hearing your feedback on our posts 🙂 enjoy! Great photos! Thank you.

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