Something happened over the last few days that has changed my attitude towards Myanmar. We decided to come here (instead of the beachy Philippines or jungly Borneo) after every single traveler we met who had been here told us that Myanmar was amazing, their favorite country. We were further compelled by political changes happening right now and figured ‘if not now, then when?’ As evidenced by my complain-y blogs about the weather and state of transportation, you can tell that we didn’t drink the same kool-aid as everyone else. Until now.
True, it is hotter than hell here and transport is designed for maximum discomfort, but there is magic here and we have found it. Our trips to Inle, Hsipaw, and Bagan have been increasingly spectacular and we have also discovered, more and more in each place we stop, of the famous Myanmar hospitality. When we asked people what their favorite places in Myanmar were or why they liked it here so much, we were often told ‘it’s the people’. Which sounded kind of weak to me. We are travelers, we like meeting locals, but we aren’t flying around the world just to be smiled at a lot (the language barrier often limits interaction to buying souvenirs, buying food, or responding to children who wave and yell ‘Bye!’). A couple things have happened to change my mind about that, though; our visit to the village outside of Hsipaw , where we were welcomed warmly by the locals, the phenomenon caused by R’s new NLD t-shirt, which is the source of unlimited thumbs up and smiles, and the wonderful family we met in Bagan.
Khin Mg Oo is an ex-school teacher who opened up an unassuming restaurant along the Old Bagan-New Bagan road. We stopped in because it was the only game in town. We went back the next day because the family who runs the place was so friendly and encouraging and the food was really good at a decent price. On our first visit, we stopped for a quick lunch but were brought out extra dishes, chatted with the owner at length about his country, our country and learning English, then on the way out I was presented with a laquerware bangle and R was given a handcrafted bottle opener. We were also invited back for lunch the next day. The exact invitation went ‘My wife would like to invite you to come for lunch tomorrow.’ We spent the next morning trying to decode this: was it a general suggestion, ‘Hey, stop by for lunch tomorrow, too!’ or an invitation to something more personal? We were happy enough with the food and charmed enough with the family that we did go back the next day for lunch. When we arrived, there was another American couple finishing their lunch, who, we assume, had gotten the same invitation. But they just got an extra salad and some juice; we had the red carpet rolled out for us.
Before we even sat down, there was a cold beer and two glasses on the table (how did they know??). Following shortly were about 6 dishes of salad, vegetables, fish and chicken, bottles of cold water as fast as we could drink them (fast!) and fried bananas for dessert. It was obscene. We ate, chatted with the Americans- who were very cool- and chatted with the family, mostly with their teenage son translating. R got some recipes and took some photos that we promised to print up and send once we get back home. We were there for almost 2 hours and only got up to leave when we realized that we were cutting it close for time to catch our evening bus. The temples of Bagan are spectacular, but the thing that made the most lasting impression of our stay was they people we met.