When I decided to go to Myanmar it was one of those spur of the moment things-my friend Izy is only here for a few more weeks, and I had a couple of weeks to kill before I really needed to get up to Chiang Mai and start getting some work coming in.
I’ve been to the border of course, in fact last year when I lived in Chiang Mai those visa runs were the bane of my existence-six hours each way in a van with a driver who likes to overtake on blind corners is not my idea of a good time. But I hadn’t yet made the trip across to actually explore this country, although I had planned to go twice.
Myanmar is expensive compared to most other countries in Asia, since it’s only been open to tourists for a few years, and you really want to go with someone else so you can split the cost of accommodation. Luckily Izy and I both figured it was either now or never, and booked the flights, while squealing with excitement.
While arriving in Yangon airport, I was immediately entranced by the intricate golden design of the terminal.
The buildings here are an interesting mix of old and new, elaborate, and contemporary. The city seems to be under construction almost everywhere, probably to make room for the many tourists that are expected to visit in the next few years.
We’re taking it easy for the first few days, and focusing on simple interactions with the Burmese. These people have a kindness that radiates from within, and being here feels like a gift to myself.
Yesterday I went to the ATM to get proof of funds for a Thai tourist visa. It was first thing in the morning, and I was enjoying being out as the locals began their day. As I inserted my card, the machine suddenly flickered, and turned into a windows computer screen. I watched in horror as a mouse curser pressed the start button, and the machine began to restart, with my card still inside.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, and general procrastination, I’m traveling with only one card (newsflash: this is a bad idea). And I tried to keep calm as I imagined the worst since when my wallet was stolen in Beijing the thieves managed to get into my account and clean it out.
I quickly began calculating how soon I could get to wifi and transfer all of my money out of that account, and I imagined someone sitting in the bank watching the dumb tourist and sniggering.
I spotted a security guard, and mimed to him what had happened. He called for one of his friends, who spoke a tiny bit of English and they then called someone from the bank. The men wore longis and their mouths were blood-red from betel nuts, but it was their smiles that struck me the most, and how quickly they jumped into action when they could see I needed help.
The bank employee came down, asked me for ID and opened the machine for my card. Within five minutes I had my card back, and the men were smiling and laughing with me. They could have simply ignored me, shrugged and turned away, since it definitely wasn’t their problem, but instead they immediately helped me, smiling and gesturing to tell me to wait while they got it sorted.
This sums up exactly what travel is to me. It’s not rubbing shoulders with tourists at historical sites, and it’s not taking selfies and posting them on Facebook. It’s making small connections with people, laughing with strangers with whom you have nothing in common except that you’re both human, and being left feeling like the world is a beautiful place.