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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.