Why We Didn’t Fall In Love With Myanmar

Why We Didn’t Fall In Love With Myanmar

Before we decided to go to Myanmar, we heard story after story from other travellers about how amazing the country is. How exceptionally nice the people are, "the friendliest people in Southeast Asia" they all said. How it's such an untouched land and how it will be such a life-changing experience.

As you can imagine our expectations were high. We couldn't wait to get to Myanmar and experience what everyone else was talking about. But for us, that didn't seem to be the case.

We found the people to be quite emotionless towards us. Nothing like the stories we heard beforehand. Walking into restaurants, checking into guesthouses, even trekking through remote villages, we were greeted by blank faces. There is, of course, the exception for the groups of children we would pass by, as in most countries in Southeast Asia. Other than that, we felt as if we were being tolerated only because we were tourists.

 

Myanmar People Sorting Chillies

As for being untouched, there were guesthouses popping up everywhere, bus loads of tourists arriving at the temples of Bagan and souvenirs stalls set up around every main temple.

Now don't get us wrong, we didn't dislike Myanmar. We still had a great time trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake and getting lost throughout the smaller temples of Bagan. But this wasn't enough for us to fall in love with this country.

Our Reasons Why We Didn't Fall In Love With Myanmar

Price Of Accommodation

We knew the price of accommodation was going to be high but what we got for 20$ was not value for money. Now, 20$ doesn't seem like a lot for western standards but in most of Southeast Asia, 20$ will get you a nice clean private room, private bathroom and a hot shower.

When we arrived in Yangon, we were given the most basic room with urinal cubes hanging on the walls as air fresheners, and a shared bathroom with cold showers, when advertised as hot showers. This turned out to be the case for most of our stay in Myanmar.

Now, we are not the type who needs luxury. Actually, 90% of our time travelling, we stay in basic accommodation. But having to pay twice the price for a basic room with urinal cubes on the wall was not what we were expecting.

 

Accommodation Reasons Why We Didn't Love Myanmar

No Prices On Menu's

19th street in Yangon is where all the action happens during the night. The street comes alive with eateries, bars and street vendors. On our first night, we decided to take a stroll down and found ourselves a small little restaurant. That night we shared a large fish, veg, rice and three big beers for a reasonable price.

It wasn't until the next night that we felt a little ripped of. After ordering a simple meal each, we ended up paying pretty much the same price as the night before. But there was not much we could say or do as there were no prices on the menu. After checking prices along the street, we noticed we paid three times the amount it should have cost.

Followed Up And Down The Road

During our time in the small town of Nyaungshwe at Inle Lake, we were followed up and down the river by men trying to sell us boat tours. Not something you expect from a country that is so "untouched" and "still pretty closed off to the rest of the world".

 

Inle Lake Reasons Why We Didn't Love Myanmar

Inle Lake

Freezing Cold Night Buses

Night buses in Asia can be pretty uncomfortable as they are. In Myanmar, they have found a way to make it a little less comfortable for you. Loud music plays during the whole night, while the aircon reaches a low of 7 degrees. On these buses, you will definitely need warm clothes.

Inches Away From Death

Everyone knows mini bus rides in Southeast Asia can be quite the experience, especially if it's your first time. So when we jumped on a mini bus from Inle Lake to Bagan, we knew what to expect from the driver. What we didn't expect to find were no seat belts. We could have understood if this had been an old 70's van, but this was an early 2000 Toyota Hiace. But hey it's Myanmar, right?

After an hour of reckless driving, we hit the mountain roads as it started to rain heavily. As we took the first turn the van spoon out slightly from the rear. This didn't seem to faze the driver at all while he continued speeding through the pouring rain.

Further up the road reaching the top of the mountain, our driver lost complete control of the van. Spinning left to right, he tried frantically to regain control. Everyone grabbed onto the closest thing they could find, while the front of the van left the road heading towards the edge of the mountain. Luckily for us, the driver gained control of the van and stopped inches from the mountains edge.

If we had of went over, everybody in the van would have been gone. No exaggeration. There were no road barriers or trees along the sheer drop which could have stopped or slowed us down. Adding the fact there were also no seat belts, we would have been thrown all over inside the van.

Safely making it to the bottom of the mountain, we stopped midway for lunch. When we checked the rear of the van, we noticed the tyres were completely bald.

Lied To

When we arrived in Bagan, our bus stopped just outside of town at a guesthouse. Paul jumped out to ask for the price of a room for ourselves and another couple. The guy at reception said he had two rooms for 15$ a night. As soon as we took our bags off and the van had left, the room price suddenly changed from 15$ to 23$.

Another occasion was again in Bagan when we went to buy our bus tickets to Mandalay Airport. We specifically asked the guy at reception in our guesthouse if the bus will stop at the airport. After telling us yes (so we would book with him), we agreed to buy our tickets. That night we were picked up by a small shuttle bus which took us to the main bus station in Bagan.

Handing over our tickets, we asked again if the bus stops at the airport. Only this time to be told "No" with a surprised look. Trying to explain to him that we were told it would stop, he had no interest in entertaining us. With an early flight the next morning we jumped on the bus anyway, only to be dropped off 33 km from the airport at 3 am.

 

Alina Sleeping At The AirportReasons Why We Didn't Love Myanmar

Napping at the airport in Mandalay

We travelled to Myanmar back in January 2016 and this was our experience. Although we didn't love it, we still had some good times. We still recommend and tell others they should still travel to Myanmar and experience it for themselves. After all, not everyone's experiences are the same and many people have fallen in love with this country. We had our expectations so high from the stories we had heard, that we felt they just didn't live up to all the hype surrounding Myanmar.

 

Have you been to Myanmar? Did you feel the same way we did? We'd love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Reasons Why We Didn't Love Myanmar

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8 Comments

  1. adie human on July 7, 2017 at 11:23 pm

    Just like to say i love the honesty in the blog. After travelling on and off for 15 years you don’t hear/read much about the “off” days and times. I think alot has to to with who you meet along the way and of course how you feel yourself. Sometimes you turn up at a town/city after a bad bus/train ride in not feeling the best and it can go down hill from their.
    Anyway i hit Myanmar in 2013 and had a great time overall, but you could sense what was on the cards. A year before a $20 basic room was only $7. Locals in certain places were quickly realizing that tourists = money. Best example for me was the 12hr boat ride from Bagan to Mandalay. The boat company which was recommended on line and in guide books had tripled price in a season (since book and most online reports) and service etc had got down hill, but boat was still fully booked. I when down to water front a day before i wanted to leave and ended up going with someone else for half the price. Ended up on boat which seated 50+ with 5 other tourists and a dozen locals and the friendliest crew i could have hoped for. Watching the sun rise then set whilst on that boat is something i will never forget.

    After a month travelling around Myanmar i left and was telling all (who would listen) head there before it’s too late but the thing is it will settle down. After years with only organised government tours then a sudden explosion of independent travelers it’s no surprise that visitors will be seen as walking ATMS.

    If planning a tour of south east Asia i would strongly recommend a trip into Myanmar. Just don’t expect a land that’s untouched and tourist free.

    • Paul & Alina on July 8, 2017 at 7:57 pm

      Hey Adie, thanks for stopping by man. We totally agree with you about who you meet along the way. We feel the same way, a part of travelling is all about the people and we didn’t seem to meet the right people like the many travellers who fell in love with Myanmar. For us, it felt like it was just one thing after another and it’s the reason we only stayed around two weeks instead of the month we had planned.

      Delighted to hear you loved it, and we wish we had decided to get there early to experience stories like yours and the many other travellers who were there before us, telling us these amazing stories. We guess it just wasn’t meant to be and not everyone will fall in love with the same countries. That’s the beauty of travelling, not every experience is the same. Maybe one day we’ll come back with a better view of Myanmar, instead of basing it on all the great stories we heard before we went. Having such high expectations really let us down.

  2. Katie on May 27, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    I went a month before you in December 2015 and my experience was quite different. While I wouldn’t call it untouched, the level of tourism there is much less than the other countries in Southeast Asia and I did find the people very friendly – especially in Mawlamyine which was the most ‘off the beaten path’ place I went in Myanmar. Thanks for sharing your experience. I travelled with my Dad who is in his sixties – I wonder if that made a difference to how we were treated.

    • Paul & Alina on May 29, 2017 at 7:10 pm

      Hi Kate, so glad to hear you really enjoyed it. We know so many people that have loved it. Maybe we just bumped into the wrong people, one after another and had a not so great couple of weeks. Thanks for reading 🙂

  3. john rodgers on May 25, 2017 at 8:02 am

    Some of my experiences were the same as you, we did have a lovely guest house, the Shwe Na Di in Bagan with the best free breakfast we have had before or since in any country. Only putting them in to save someone the process you had getting a good room there.

    We did not do Inle Lake simply because of the things you mentioned in your article. We did catch a bus and then the colonial train to Hsipaw and we did have an excellent room there at Mr. Charles. I think we paid around $23 for that room but it was it did come with a free breakfast as well.

    Would I go back to Myanmar, probably not, there are to many other places in the world to visit that are on my list.

    • Paul & Alina on May 25, 2017 at 9:09 pm

      Hi John, nice to hear you felt the same with some of our experiences. We did plan on spending our remaining time up north but after two weeks, we just felt it was time to move on. Agreed, there is still way to many places to visit. Where are you now and where are your travels taking you next?

  4. Finding Beyond on May 25, 2017 at 1:36 am

    That’s really sad to hear. Myanmar has been on our list for a long time and reading this makes us fear we have missed the boat with it ☹️

    We felt very similar when we went to the Philippines. We had such high expectations but due to the amount of tourists and the cost of things we came away slightly disappointed. We are sure there are plenty of off amazing places there, we just needed to find them 😄

    • Paul & Alina on May 25, 2017 at 8:53 pm

      Hey guys 🙂 Thanks for reading, hope we didn’t put you off going to Myanmar too much. We still recommend going if you’s are thinking of it. Many people seem to love it so it must still have the magic spark. Maybe we didn’t look hard enough or just had a bad couple of weeks. That’s a pity about the Philippines, Paul wanted to go last year but it didn’t match our plans. Thanks for the heads up.

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