In November, Jeff’s dad and step-mom met us in Myanmar for two weeks of exploring the country. They had been eager to visit the country ever since it opened up to tourists again in 2010, and it proved to be such a meaningful trip for so many reasons.
First, it was wonderful to spend time with the two of them. So much of the time we spend together happens over quick holiday or weekend visits when many people are together, which is equally lovely time spent, but it was nice to have a chance to be together with just the four of us for such a significant amount of time. Second, this trip was incredibly educational for us. When we entered the country we had so many questions about things we’d heard following the political changes of the last decades and based on experiences we’ve had with refugees now living in America. (Turns out Indiana has one of the largest populations of Burmese refugees, and I spent one summer teaching English to elementary aged refugees in Indianapolis.) We learned so much about the history of the country, its culture, and its people during our time there. And third, Myanmar is an incredibly beautiful place – it has beautiful landscape and magnificent golden pagodas, but its people are what we found to be most beautiful and inspiring.
Our trip began with one very busy day in Yangon and then took us down the Ayerwaddy River from Mandalay to Pyay. Along the way we stopped in many towns, most of them very small villages, as well as the larger city of Bagan.
As you can likely tell, our trip was filled with many authentic, rich experiences that we’ll treasure forever. But the variety and depth of our experiences make it so difficult to sum our trip up in a blog post. We’ve compiled our favorite moments and memories from our two weeks and included an abundance of photos that coincide. Enjoy!
- Visiting Yangon, a surprisingly modern and very busy city, that was the capital of Burma for 120 years. The city was formerly known as Rangoon but the name was changed to Yangon (meaning “End of Conflict”) in 1989. The highlights of our time in Yangon were touring the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, watching a weaving competition at the Pagoda, seeing bustling street life, walking around Royal Lake, and tasting some delicious noodles and tea leaf salads at 999 Shan Noodle House.
- Visiting a school in Pha Hto village where we were greeted by children singing and smiling. A group of young girls performed a traditional song and dance for us, and we had the chance to teach them some English songs as well (I put my teacher hat back on and sang and danced to the Hokey Pokey, which they already knew!) The principal and teachers of the school were so gracious in welcoming us and so grateful that we had come to learn about their school. And, of course, the children were a joy. They were all very energetic and respectful and happy.
- Going to Yandabo village, which is known for pottery making. We watched the adults partaking in the many steps necessary of this art – shaping clay, creating pots on the wheel, hand-decorating the pots, arranging them to dry, and preparing them for selling. At the same time, the children were out playing in the village, which was equally fun and inspiring to watch. We were fortunate to have visited on a school holiday so that they were around the village on the morning we arrived.
- Almsgiving with the nuns of Zayar Theingi Nunnery. We had visited monasteries before, but this was our first visit with nuns in Southeast Asia. We lined up to offer rice to the nuns for their meal for the day, and we were in awe as they graciously walked through the line, smiling as they accepted our offerings. The women at the nunnery ranged in age from seven to seventy, and each of the women we met were happy to show us their home and place of meditation.
- Seeing the sunset at the U-Bein bridge. We witnessed countless incredible sunsets during our time in Myanmar, but the most special was at the U-Bein bridge. Lisa and I stayed behind for this excursion, so Jim and Jeff got to have a solo trip on a row boat to watch the sun go down behind the longest teak wood bridge in Myanmar. They were even surprised with champagne to celebrate the moment. Certainly a memory Jeff will cherish forever.
- Visiting lots of local markets filled with fresh produce, fish from the river, pastries, and handmade textiles, pottery, and jewelry. The colors in the markets were so vivid and the smells were inviting (well, except for the fish 😉 ). Lisa picked up numerous souvenirs from the market stalls, including traditional outfits for all of us to wear while on the cruise.
- The many modes of transportation we tried, especially a horse and buggy ride around Inwa, the former capital of the Burmese kingdom for more than four centuries. Located between the Ayeyarwaddy River and the Myintnge River, the town is lively and pretty. We also took a tri-shaw ride around one of the towns we visited, which was a new and fun way to see an area.
- Sharing many delicious meals and getting to sample some traditional dishes from Myanmar. Our favorite, by far, was the tea leaf salad.
- Viewing the temples of Bagan from the top of the Observation Tower and watching the sunset over the area. After the sun went down, we saw the biggest moon we’d ever witnessed off in the distance.
- Watching the crew of the boat we were on sing and dance to their favorite songs from the land they were born and raised in. Our very favorite moment of the entire trip was hearing them sing a song that translates to “The Simple Life.” It is one they all knew well and were very proud to share with us. So inspiring!
- Meeting so many wonderful people (including Htun, Sar, and Soe, pictured above), and having the opportunity to support them in their work. More on these amazing people (and all that we learned from them) in a separate post coming soon!