Myawaddy, Myanmar: louder, hotter, more crowded
I had the privilege of spending a few hours in Myawaddy, Myanmar today. I needed to cross the border to renew my Thailand visa for another 90 days. I absolutely loved Myawaddy and was shocked by the differences from Thailand despite the proximity. Though obviously this one border town, Myawaddy, is not representative of the entire country I wanted to share some of my impressions from the trip. For information about the visa run itself please read this post.
Same stares, less smiles
Like in Thailand, the first thing I noticed after successfully crossing the border was the staring. I’ve gotten quite used to it as in many places I go I am a rare sight for the locals. However I also got used to Thailand, where the people will stare and when you meet their gaze they will smile. In Myanmar, when you meet someone’s gaze they will not always smile, but they will keep staring. I found this slightly unnerving after having grown accustomed to the land of smiles. That isn’t to say they weren’t friendly. I could hardly walk ten feet without being asked “where you go?” and being offered rides or directions. In fact I found the people very kind and helpful during my time there. The people in Myawaddy were also much less shy than the Thai people I have become used to. They did not hesitate to say hello and try to hold a conversation. In this regard I actually found the forthrightness refreshing after weeks of trying to elicit the smallest pip from my students.
Friendly and hospitable
As I was walking past a restaurant I caught sight of a fragrant, tasty-looking plate of potato dumplings and paused to take a closer look. Immediately the owner of the restaurant greeted me and invited me to sit down. Not wanting to unwittingly eat meat I was sure to ask about each item first. He patiently told me and asked if I wanted a seat. I accepted and preceded to have a wonderful breakfast and a nice conversation. He asked me where I was from and what I was doing in this part of the world. I was struck not only by his friendliness but his lack of pushiness. In many places I’ve traveled the people get visibly upset when you choose not to eat at their place or buy something from them. During my brief time in Myanmar there was virtually nobody who appeared offended or frustrated when I turned down a meal or a ride. It was a small detail that made my day infinitely more pleasant. Another time I was desperately trying to find the temple with the crocodile building I had read about and I walked into a hotel in hopes of getting walking directions. The young man inside knew were I was trying to go and, being unable to give directions in English, insisted on giving me a ride. I tried to protest but he was hearing none of it. First he refilled my water bottle with cold water, and then we were off on his motorbike to the temple. He even refused my money on arrival. This experience was similar to those I’ve had in Thailand just furthering my respect for the welcoming nature of Southeast Asia.
Hot, Hot, Hot
In Thailand they make an active effort to fight the heat. When you walk into some of the nicer stores you are greeted with refreshing air-condition. If you sit down in an open air restaurant the firs thing the staff will do it bring a fan to sit right beside you. When you order a beer they will bring you a glass of ice or a koozie or both along with that. In my small town in Myanmar the climate was obviously identical to the one I had just left. Yet there was a noticeable differences on the efforts used to fight the heat. I encountered no air-conditioning even in the nice lobby of the aforementioned hotel. There were comparatively fewer fans and many were not even turned on. Perhaps this is linked to the poorer economy or perhaps in Myanmar they’ve simply adapted to the heat better. Or maybe by their standards it wasn’t a hot day at all. Whatever the reason, for me the country appeared hotter than the one I had just left.
The noise and the crowds
In Thailand they honk less than the average country I’ve visited. In my hometown I don’t think I’ve heard a car horn yet. But cross over the border and it’s a different story. On the roads in Myanmar they honk for every reason imaginable. A car isn’t moving fast enough? HONK. A person is trying to cross the road but the driver is not slowing down? HONK. A person car wants to turn/merge but the driver isn’t slowing down? HONK. No particular reason? HONK. It was strange to hear the cacophony of car horns because I hadn’t really noticed their absence in Thailand. In a way it reminded my of Maryland. Also the cars were back on the right side of the road so that was exciting at least. I also walked through a market and found myself surprised. While in Thailand things can be tight, the market in Myawaddy was much, much more compact. Motorbikes driving through, while honking incessantly, would practically be touching you as they incessantly forced their way through the throng. Meanwhile, the people didn’t hesitate to try and walk through you when the lanes became too narrow.
Here are a few more pictures from my adventures in Myawaddy.