2 April, 2020
Myanmar or Burma is a country in Southeast Asia and has been on our list since 2013, when we first had contact with this part of the world. What aroused our curiosity even more was the film The Lady, the story of Aung San Suu Kyi who played an important role in the country’s transition from military dictatorship to a partial democracy.
Military dictatorship until 2011, it opened its borders for the tourists only in 2012. At that time it was a bit more difficult to travel. There were no ATMs, you needed stacks of impeccable dollars, otherwise they were refused. Now it is more accessible, atm’s are everywhere. The local currency is the Burmese kyat, but the dollars that must be perfect are also accepted.
The visa can be purchased online, it costs $50 and it has a validity of 28 days from the moment of entering the country. I received it by email in 2-3 days after application.
We took a flight Kuala Lumpur – Yangon, because we found great prices. KL is an important hub for flights to and from Europe, you can find great deals on a more detailed search.
Burma is almost 3 times larger than Romania. It is a large country, divided into regions with different ethnic groups.
Tourists are prohibited from traveling in several regions, about 50% of the country’s territory, due to conflicts between ethnic groups. Sources outside the country do not agree, they state that these ethnic groups are persecuted by the government because of the religious differences – see the Rohynga case.
Given the country’s recent history, freedom is still partial, but people recognize progress, yet politics is a taboo topic in conversation with strangers.
As a tourist, you are a bit more restricted comparing to the other countries. There are hotels for foreigners and hotels for locals. We, as foreigners, did not have access to those for locals, but we met locals in tourists’s hotels.
The former capital, Yangon (or Rangoon), is our first contact with this country, being the largest city. It continues to be Myanmar’s commercial center and an important point for trade with other countries. Pretty clean and interesting, it’s a mix of new and old colonial times. The central streets have buildings that were architectural beauties long time ago, left now in degradation.
I have read on internet about some photogenic places, the most touristic ones, including Shwedagon Pagoda, Sule Pagoda and others. We decided to walk. I find it interesting that motorbikes are forbidden in the city, only cars and buses are allowed. Therefore it is nice to walk and stop wherever we find an interesting place. No queues for tickets, no crowds for sightseeings.
A pagoda very close to Shwedagon
Yangon means much more than just pagodas, we passed through some quiet and clean parks, narrow streets neighborhoods where the time had stood still comparing to the main streets 200 m away.
Gold plated Shwedagon Pagoda
An experience we do not want to miss is the trip with the so-called circular train, the name coming from the route it follows. It goes through Yangon Central Station and returns there after 7-8 hours. We like the idea right away. We are mainly looking for interaction with the locals, so we forget the gold-plated pagodas and make the plan for the next day.
Said and done. We go to the train station and buy the tickets.
The train station is an excellent place for taking photos. People, merchandises, old trains, a faded picture of what was a long time ago.
Works are done on most of the route, the train runs to a market located halfway. Danyingone is our destination. It’s good, let’s go there, markets in Asia are something special. This is a market that stretches along the train lines and the sellers pick up the goods whenever something passes.
As a photographer, I like to take pictures in authentic and less touristy places. The circular train is quite popular among tourists, but due to the lack of comfort, there were few who ventured.
The trip takes about 2 hours, with stops in each station. We are hypnotized by the places that come and go out the window.
I hope for a colorful and lively atmosphere where I can take some pictures with people who pick up the goods whenever a train passes. In addition, the multitude of vegetables, colorful fruits and sellers will be great subjects.
Before we arrive, the train stops. We don’t know why. In fact, they are waiting for people to gather their goods from the rails. We see the market in the distance. After 5-10 minutes we continue and quickly arrive.
Great! The market is exactly what we were hoping for. The crowd here makes me dizzy a bit but I try to focus on taking pictures.
We catch the train that comes and leaves 2-3 times, enough to see the whole process of collecting the goods and rearranging them.
We take a tour of the market, eat some bananas and try to interact with the sellers. Too bad neither we, nor them know more about the sign language.
It’s getting late, we leave to catch the next train.
My gear was a Canon 6d with the Canon 17-40 F4 L lens to get a wide perspective, especially since the train and the market are crowded and have tight places. The tele end gave me a little bit of flexibility when I needed to.
The locals are not very relaxed in front of the camera. Unlike Indonesians, for example, who will ask you to take pictures with them. So, in a few situations, I took advantage of the technology that is now found in most newer bodies and triggered the camera remotely with the phone. It’s a function I hadn’t used before, but it was interesting, I was holding the camera to my chest and looking at the phone. Sometimes people take advantage of the fact that you don’t look at them and they look directly at you to study you especially if you look different.
The first 2 days in Myanmar were excellent. The next destination will be 700km away from Yangon and one night by bus.
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