Thank You, Myanmar.

I’m not one for sappy posts, but indulge me a little please.

For those of you that don’t know, Myanmar (Burma) has just held it’s first internationally accepted election. While it wasn’t to the standards that we see here in Canada, this is a historic move for the country. What makes this election even more important is that the military-backed party lost to Aung San Suu Kyi’s popular NLD party. While she won’t be able to become president as Burmese law prevents people with children born to foreigners from becoming president (oddly specific) her party has promised to provide her with a position higher than the president. Right now – it’s looking like this is going to become a reality.

Here’s a little but of context to put this in perspective. Until 2011, the country was ruled by a military junta and for most of this time Suu Kyi was jailed. Then in 2011, after international pressure, the country held its first elections. These elections which were won by the military-backed USDP weren’t exactly free and fair and in fact, most Burmese didn’t vote. While visiting the country in the summer, I learned that Suu Kyi is revered by many people in the country – many even refer to her as  “Mother Suu”.

Here comes the amazing part. These elections were so popular with many among the country that lines formed hours before polling began, and people continued to line up for days (check out the BBC’s coverage of the election for some incredible images).

The Burmese people are some of the kindest and warmest people I have ever met – and seeing these results makes me so hopeful for the future of their country. They WANT change and it looks like they’ll get it.

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The images of people lining up around the block really struck a chord with me. Why don’t we see this in Canada? Why do we celebrate a 60% voter turn out? It still means that one out of every three people in this country didn’t vote. Not exactly something that we should be celebrating. Myanmar is one of the poorest nations on earth and yet 80% of the population still showed up out to vote.  So my fellow Canadians, get off your lazy asses and vote. Plain and simple.

These results have also caused me to do a little bit of reflection and soul searching. Currently, I’m sitting on top of a washing machine doing 6 weeks worth of laundry AT UNIVERSITY. Man, does that sentence sound privileged. Looking back on my time in the country, most people don’t have the chance to go to university let alone own enough clothes to not have to do laundry (by machine) for 6 weeks. It also puts my disdain towards my grades into perspective. Yes, they’re not the greatest. But, hey, I’m at university. Something that I know many burmese would love to have the chance to do. It’s also inspired me to work even harder, I have the chance to attend one of the best universities in the country – I may as well make the most of it.


Yet in the face of government oppression (the Rohingya people aren’t recognized as citizens and homosexuality is illegal, among other Human Rights Abuses), the Burmese are some of the happiest and kindest people I have ever met. They greet everyone they meet with a “mingalaba” (hello) and a giant smile. In fact, they pretty much have a smile on their faces all the time. We can honestly learn so much from these people and they’ve inspired me to make some changes to my daily life. From now on, I’m going to smile more (maybe this will cure my Resting Bitch Face), be kind to everyone I interact with and realize how truly blessed I am to live where I do.

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Jezuba, Myambar.

(I’ll go get off my soapbox now)

Travel Blues.

I don’t normally get the travel blues which is why this is so weird/unnerving to me. Yes, I know I missed a post yesterday but this will cover it. It wasn’t that exciting of a day anyway.

Yesterday was a mammoth travel day – we flew from Heho to Yangon then waited at the Yangon airport for our flight to Bangkok. We ended up having singaporean food for lunch, but neither of us were too concerned about that as we were both starving.

Our flight was about 45 minutes late leaving Yangon for Bangkok and we got in a little later than we were expected. We made it safe to the Hostel in Bangkok which was a pretty incredible place – I’m super upset that I was so wiped because it looked like a great place to meet people.

We woke up this morning with every intention of taking the sleeper train to Chiang Mai. But, when we went to book it at the train station it was booked solid for the next few days. Instead of waiting in Bangkok we decided it would be fine to do the loop in reverse.

The plan was for us to be in Siem Reap, Cambodia tonight but that isn’t exactly how it worked out. Our train was 1.5 hours late getting into the Attarnyaphet (the border town on the Thai side) so we decided to find a place to sleep for the night then cross the border tomorrow as we are both exhausted. We met a lovely french couple on the train who have the same plans as us, and we decided to stay at the same hotel so we could share a cab to Siem Reap tomorrow to save money.

Now, it might be because I’m tired. It could be because we’re not doing anything. But I really don’t know. The last 2 days I’ve been super “blue” – I don’t want to say I’m homesick because I’m not. I’m just upset and I have no idea why. I really don’t have any reason to be upset either. I’m on the trip of a lifetime and am eternally grateful to Katelyn for letting me crash her trip. I have no idea what this is but I hope I can shake it soon.

Again, I apologize for not blogging yesterday. I don’t even know why I’m apologizing to you. I should be apologizing to myself for not blogging everyday. But, I’m over it.

Who knew there was a Nepali Restaurant in Myanmar?

Oof. Today was exhausting.

We got up, ate breakfast at the hotel and then were off to the bike rental shop! We scored bikes for $1 for the entire day and were soon off towards the hot springs.
After some navigational issues we were off on our way. It was a tough slug and we were both pretty exhausted by the time we got to the hot springs. We were both expecting the hot springs to be natural but they were 5 small hot tub like things. Not worth the 10$ to us.
Katelyn had read online that we could rent kayaks so that was our next mission. We stopped in a small town but no one knew what we were talking about so we bailed on that idea. We biked a little more and stumbled upon a nice resort. We stopped there as we figured that we could rent something there, or they would at least know where to go. The wonderful lady behind the desk told us she could arrange for us to get a canoe. We were both stoked and two of the hotel staff showed us the way to the jetty.
Our ride showed up and it turns out that our canoe was actually a small fishermans boat which we didn’t have to drive. We were both thankful for that as we were both quite knackered after the biking. Our driver took us around some floating gardens for about an hour. It was quite peaceful and serene – until we got stuck beside a longneck boat full of Spanish tourists. Their boat was a little too big for the canal and we got wedged beside them. But, all was good after.
We made it back to the dock no worse for wear and were back on our way to Nyaung Shwe.  After about an hour of biking we made it back into town and went to a Nepali place for lunch. I had Dahl baht and it reminded me so much of the amazing time I had in Nepal.
We dropped our bikes off napped for a bit and packed our bags. We went off to a late dinner and I had another banana pancake – which I really need to learn how to make.
Back to bed.
NOTE: I WROTE THIS ON THE 11th SO IT COUNTS AS A BLOG EVERYDAY. HA.

No means yes, Yes means Yes, and “Thanks anyway” is confusing

I have to say, its better than being asked if we’re married. It seems that most people here don’t understand that platonic friends can travel together. I guess this one is a pretty large cultural difference.

We had an earlier start than normal today as we wanted to get out on the lake – which is really why we’re here. We ate breakfast and then headed down to the boat jetty to hire a boat for the day. I think the two of us are getting pretty skilled at this whole bartering thing as we knocked the $30 price tag down to $20 – which is an entire night somewhere. Not bad for a 6 hour day trip.

Our first stop was a market directly across the lake from Nyaung Shwe. It took us an hour and a half to get there. It was a little rainy on the way but the contrast between the lush green mountains and the grey clouds was beautiful. Especially when it was occasionally interrupted by a gold pagoda.

We got to the market and passed through it on our way to another pagoda. We didn’t go inside this one but the view back to the lake was beautiful. On our way back to the boat and stopped to get a few things. I got a bracelet for my sister, and Katelyn ended up buying a bracelet that she really didn’t want to (note: don’t try things on and then say no, also there were tears). We navigated the mud back to the boat and were soon on our way to the next stop.

After the market we headed to a silk weaving shop. We got to see how they make lotus fibres into string to weave with, and we also saw how they weave traditional silk scarves. The scarves were gorgeous, and of course the one that I wanted to buy (but didn’t) was $330. Who knew a plain black scarf could cost so much. Yes, lotus is expensive but that is a little crazy.

Our next stop was another shop where they made boats (like the one we were on) and cheroot cigars. We learned that the longneck boats take one month to make, cost $2500 to buy and will last for ~20 years. Add that to the fact that they are completely made out of teak and that makes it a bargain. If you need that kind of stuff. We also saw some fishing boats being made. I have no idea how they guys sit in them as they are incredibly shallow.  After the boats we watched some ladies making cigars from Cheroot (a local plant) and then we were off!

Our driver and guide both asked us if we wanted to go to another pagoda but we both said no. 15 minutes later we showed up at that pagoda. I guess no means yes here. Oh well, it was quite interesting. This is another pagoda where men add gold leaf to statues of Buddha – albeit not as big as the one in Mandalay. Over time the buddhas have turned into giant gold blobs on a table. Fun. Some lady walked over to me and handed me a bag of stuff that looked like food, I thought it was free and she came after me and wanted me to pay her.  I handed it back and said thanks anyway and she walked away confused. A few seconds later I heard some ladies giggling and chatting in burmese about “OK thanks”.

We piled back onto the boat and headed to a silver workshop. It was really neat to see how they hand make lots of jewelry using really old tools. Katelyn bought a few things because she got a “special price just for her”, but I didn’t (mom, if you’re reading this you are the most confusing person to buy for and I don’t know what to get you).

Soon, we were back on our boat heading to see some long necked women. This is one of the local cultures around here and while it was interesting to see it made the two of us feel a little uncomfortable as there were only a few women sitting in the middle of a gift shop.

We were on our way to our final stop shortly thereafter – the jumping cat monastery. There were lots of cats but none jumped. A+ advertising. We took a look around, saw some cute kittens and then made a pit stop. As I was waiting for Katelyn our boat driver walked over to me and we started chatting about life,etc. He asked me if Katelyn and I were married, I said now, and then he said “friends” and banged his hands together. Again I said no, and he was confused. But then told me I should wait until I’m at least 30 to get married.

We were soon back on our way to Nyaung Shwe, but we took a little detour through some floating gardens. They were beautiful and it was neat to see some traditional houses on stilts.

After a long boat ride we were back in town and starving. We ate at a local place and I had the best beef and potato curry ever. I don’t think I’m going to get used to being home where I can’t get a main+ tonnes of sides+ 2 drinks for $4. Step up your game Canada.

We headed back to the hotel and have proceeded to abuse the wifi for the last 2 hours. Sorry guys.

Does it Count as a Museum if there is nothing in it?

Wow, no witty title today. I must be tired.

We got up early this morning and flew from Mandalay to Heho. Little did we know that Heho was 1.5 hours from Inle Lake. It was a beautiful drive and it reminded me a lot of the drive between Bharatpur and Kathmandu in Nepal. Although, I was snapped out of my reverie quite a few times because the signal lights in our cab sounded like a bike bell that had been stuck on Children’s TV for 10 years. It was that bad.

We arrived in Nyaung Shwe (the city where most of the hotels in Inle are) and got all settled at the hotel. We relaxed for a bit and did laundry before heading out for lunch. We had an ok lunch (nothing special) and then headed off to the Shan State Cultural Museum. The museum had hardly anything in it, but the stuff they did have was pretty cool and taught us a lot about the history of the region. The museum takes up two floors in the State governor’s palace but there was NOTHING on the second floor. It was eerie to walk around the bottom floor of the museum and see nothing and no one.

After we were done there we explored town a little, visited ANOTHER pagoda and found the boat jetty for hiring a boat tomorrow. We went to a market in town, but then realized we had done pretty much everything in town and headed back to the hotel.

We were still full from lunch and rested for a bit, checked the laundry and then headed back out to dinner. We ate an excellent dinner (ft. an amazing banana pancake) at the Lotus Restaurant. By the time we finished, it was pitch black outside so we headed back to the hotel. I’ve been downloading lots of podcasts for our trip (if you haven’t checked out Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids, its wonderful) and Katelyn and I started listening to serial as something to pass the time.

Ok, I super need to shower. You can probably smell me from here.

A Real Gentleman Will Never Tell You What He Wears Under His Longyi

Today was a bit of a quieter day, which was a nice way to end our time here in Mandalay. I think its due to the fact that I was feeling a little nauseous AND we pretty much ran out of things to do here in Mandalay.

We got a little bit of a late start to the day as the weather forecast (and my stomach) put a bit of a damper on things. I rallied about noon and we grabbed a cab to take us to Maha Muni temple (yes, another Buddha statue) and the U Bein bridge (we were originally supposed to go later in the day, but alas the weather forecast didn’t like that).

We hired a driver to take us to those two places, but he was amazing and ended up showing us a few other places along the way. We headed to Maha Muni temple first as it was closest to the hotel. It is the second holiest site in the country after Shwedagon in Yangon. What I found to be fascinating at this particular temple is that the men (sorry ladies you aren’t allowed) will walk up to the statue and put gold leaf on it. It looks like this has been a tradition for some time as the statue of Buddha is now sort of an amorphous blob – with a VERY shiny face (it is the only part of the statue that is polished, which happens every morning at 4am by a team of special monks). It was interesting too as I didn’t wear pants to most of the temples in Bagan and no one said boo – but here I was forced to put a Longyi (think a longer, less cool kilt) on. We did the obligatory tour of the temple and then on our way out stopped to buy a few prayer flags. These will definitely be an amazing addition to the ones I have from Nepal!

On the way to the U Bein Bridge (our next stop), I asked our driver where to get a Longyi. I have no intention of wearing it at home – but the fabrics are amazing and would make a nice blanket at home. Grandma, if you’re reading this – please help me. Our driver ended up taking us to this place called Shwe Sin Tai where we could see the process it takes to make these textiles. I splurged a little and got 2 longyis and Katelyn got a skirt. It was really neat to see how they handmade these garments using an old fashioned loom, which definitely played a part in my overzealous spending (if you can call $30 overzealous).

From there, we headed to the U Bein bridge which is supposedly the longest and oldest teak bridge in the world. It spans about 1.2 km and Katelyn and I walked the entire thing. It wasn’t like anything we have at home as there were small gaps between the planks and the thing definitely wasn’t level! After walking across and back, we had enough walking and headed back to the car. On the way, we were handed free energy drinks as there was a street team giving them out. As soon as I started drinking, a few of the people working the tent pulled out their phones and started snapping pictures of me drinking the energy drink (which didnt work at all). I guess I can expect my modelling fee in the mail anytime now.

Before we headed back to the hotel we stopped in the Gold Pounders district to see how gold leaf was made. This was definitely the highlight of the day for me as I found it incredible to see these hand made. They start out with a larger piece of gold which is cut into six pieces then hammered for a 30 minutes to increase the size. They then readjust the leaves and then are pounded for 5 hours. The pieces are then packed onto straw paper and sold. The rhythmic pounding of the Gold Pounders was almost hypnotic and I zoned out for a few minutes listening to it! There were some amazing works of art that the staff there had made, but alas backpacks are not conducive to carrying things like that around!

We made it back to the hotel and napped for a bit before going to the Sky Cafe at our hotel for dinner. It was incredible to see how flat the city is and even though it was very overcast we could see for a long distance. We both ate the “Myanmar Housewife” set menu which consisted of Green Tomato Salad, Lentil Soup, A traditional Chicken Curry and Fresh Fruit for dessert! It was a great way to cap off our stay in Mandalay.

Alright back to attempting to pack my backpack. No gracias.

Making Friends is Fun and Exciting

So, Katelyn and I finally met some wonderful backpackers and spent an excellent evening with them! Yay for making friends.

We got a little bit of a late start to the day (and missed breakfast..oops!) but decided to head out for a few of the sights around Mandalay today. After we were ready for the day we grabbed a cab and headed for the Golden Palace Monastery. The cab ride was a little suspect as the driver had TV on his GPS and was constantly checking it.  It was so neat to see such intricate carvings made out of wood, and preserved for so many years.

After that we decided to take in the Kuthodaw Pagoda – which some say is the world’s largest book. The pagoda features 723 separate slabs each engraved with separate parts of the story. It begs the question though – is it really a book? Like really. But oh well, it was really neat to see.

After that we had our courage up and decided to head up the Mandalay Hill. It wasn’t a true “hike” per se, as it was stairs the entire way. Lots of pagodas dotted our way to the top – but you can only see so many Buddha images in a day before you get a little tired of it. We didn’t even make it to the top as we got to a point which we thought was the top , but it turns out it wasn’t. Classic Burma. We honestly weren’t too broken up about it as the view from where we ended wasn’t that great.

After we regained our breath (and consciousness) we headed off for lunch at the Green Elephant. I had Aubergine Curry with shrimp as a main and fried Banana with Honey after. Both were absolutely incredible.

After lunch we headed off to meet our compadres at their hostel to head to U Bein bridge for sunset. The taxi that their hostel had suppposedly called was super late and by the time it got there, we were all super hungry and decided to go for dinner and drinks instead. An excellent idea if I do say so myself.

We were planning on heading to Mustache Brothers, but after reading some not so rave reviews we decided to find another bar instead. We tried asking some of the locals for help but to no avail. It seems our conclusion that the city shuts down quite early was correct as we had a super hard time finding another bar to go to.

We ended up randomly stumbling upon another bar where we idly chatted for the next few hours which was great. Katelyn (I know.. so confusing) headed back to the hotel a little early and the rest of us stayed for a bit then went out for noodles after. Honestly, Shan noodles are the best drunk food ever. Sorry poutine. You had your place in my heart for a long time.

After we were done eating, the city was pretty much dead and we decided to head back to our respective hotels/hostels. We had a hard time finding a cab and walked for a bit before a kind doctor stopped and told us he would drive us back. Thank god for him as I don’t know how we would have gotten back.

I’m still a tad tipsy so showering should be fun. Lets pray I don’t fall in the mess that is our shower.