Minding myself in Myanmar

My experience in Myanmar has been vastly different than the other countries I've visited. To be honest, I don't really like it that much. I've had a hard time admitting it because I feel for some reason that I must love every place I go and talk excitedly with other travelers about how marvelous it is. But I just don't love it here. It is an extremely corrupt and impoverished country and I've felt very outside of my comfort zone. I am grateful to experience it, to understand how much of the world lives, and I am beyond grateful for all of the blessings in my life that these people could not even dream of.

It hasn't all been unpleasant. The street food in Yangon was delicious. Sharing a border with India means there is a lot of Indian influence on the cuisine and it is a vegetarian paradise. At the same time there are parts of this country, Bago in particular, that actually feel like you are in India. Complete sensory overload; cars, trucks, busses, motorbikes, cows, and bicycles all crowd the streets honking and yelling and blowing black fumes into the air. It's hard to believe I ever had any reservations about riding a bike on the streets of Boston! After peddling along that crowded highway I think I could handle biking in any major US city. I felt so dirty in the 2 days that we were in Bago. I refused to eat at any of the restaurants and survived instead on bananas and avocados, the only foods I could find with skin and therefore felt safe to eat.

Arriving in Bagan in the middle of the night with no place to sleep, I had resolved to change my flight to an earlier date. I had all but reached my breaking point when we found a comfortable guest house that opened its doors and let us stay the night free of charge. The next day we walked through the market and had a real meal at a nice (and clean) restaurant. Bagan is much quieter and cleaner than Bago and I felt my trip turning around. We climbed to the top of the highest temple at 5:30am to watch the sunrise over the city, saw hot air balloons floating through the sky, and we watched the sunset from the top of a pagoda while chit chatting with some friendly locals. If the rest of the country is anything like Bagan, I thought, I'll actually really like it here.

A 7 hour bus ride brought us from Bagan to Kalaw, the starting point for the 3 day trek to Inle Lake. There really is nothing in Kalaw and the only reason for going is to trek. We ran into a lot of rain the next day and had to postpone our trek. Although the day was extremely boring, I welcomed it because it wasted a day of our trip. It's awful but everyday I wake up and think about how many days we have left to endure. I have a countdown in my head of when these 3 long weeks will be over. Even though I have been enjoying some of them, for the most part I can't wait to leave. Part of me wishes that I saved this country for last because being here has made me want nothing else but to go home. I want to feel clean again, I want to sleep in a comfortable bed, I want to use a toilet that I can actually sit on and not a hole in the ground. I want to make my own food, take a proper shower, and see all of my friends. I want all of the comforts of America and none of the people who constantly insult where I come from.

But. I just can't go home yet. I still have too much to see here and although I have my moments, as every backpacker does, I truly do love traveling. Plus it's cold at home and I want no part of that.

There are 11 days left on the countdown. We are finished with day 1 of the trek, 15km down and another 38 to go. Sleeping on the floor of a local villager's hut with no electricity and no running water. I think to myself, I am so lucky to have been born where I was born. I can't wait to get to Inle Lake, it is supposed to be breathtaking and despite my overall lack of enthusiasm for this country, I am actually really looking forward to it.

Update: We finished the trek today. My toes are covered in painful blisters and I think it will take a few more showers until I actually feel clean again. The boat ride across the lake to the main village was beautiful- a placid lake surrounded by mountains. I've been here for less than 2 hours though and I am already bored. 9 days left, there is no way I can make it. I am putting my stubbornness aside, throwing in the towel and booking a flight back to Bangkok for tomorrow morning. Afterall if I'm not enjoying myself then what am I doing here?

Molly Rose