Hitchhiking in Myanmar was an amazing adventure that included getting rides from Buddhist monks, pops stars, military guys, television news anchors, drunken farmers and even managed to have an altercation with a drunk highway police officer….that said, lets first hear about how I entered the country and how I spent my first few days in Yangon, before embarking on that adventure…
After 7 months of traveling without using an airplane, I got on one to get to Myanmar as it has a few borders closed including the one I wanted to enter from northern Laos since I was in the north of Vietnam. Myanmar was formerly known as Burma and used to be a British colony, and after reclaiming their independence they fell into the hands of a military junta that has deprived the country of a lot of freedom. It has also kept the country closed to foreigners and only recently has opened to tourism and is famous for still being untouched and a less touristy beautiful country.
I began my Myanmar experience in the capital, Yangon (it used to be called Rangoon, but the military junta changed the name) and I was pleased to find a pleasant city that can be chaotic, but incredibly colorful with smells, sights, and tastes. I liked that no matter how loud and crazy it sometimes got, I could still hear birds chirping as I wandered around downtown. Here are some images of my first few days in Yangon, and Myanmar.
After having had such an amazing experiences the last four months trying new ways of traveling that intimidated me where Cambodia I did on a bicycle and Vietnam on a motorcycle, I was tempted to try traveling Myanmar by hitchhiking (explanation of what this is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitchhiking) but must admit I was pretty nervous about it. But of course I faced that fear and went for it! In the north of Vietnam I had met Franck, a nice french guy who I traveled with in the north of Vietnam and I asked him if he’d be up for it, and in typical Franck behavior, he said “why not, I’m in.”
After a few days exploring Yangon and not sure I should wait for Franck to I arrive, I decided I would head out the next morning to Hpa An, and I wanted to hitchhike there, and was lucky enough to overhear a guy at the hostel mention he wanted to try to hitchhike in Myanmar as well. He had just arrived that day, but I managed to convince Vincent that we should leave the next morning, and off we went!
We spent around 4 hours in the back of this truck with these three lovely souls. At the end it was FREEZING.
Here is a music video of the pop star, Htike!
After having a successful first day of hitchhiking where we met amazing people and made it to Hpa An around 8pm. We had made it.
The next few days were exploring with Franck who caught up to us in Hpa An, which perhaps was my favorite place in Myanmar. It has some beautiful landscapes and caves and it also has an amazing monastery on top of Mount Zwegabin, that takes two hours to to get to the top, but when we got there it was well worth the views. We spent the night at the top, and I got up while it was still dark to meditate when the monastery blasted Buddhist prayer music, and then watched the most amazing sunrise that looked like you were in heaven watching the world awake.
We then hitchhiked out of town to Kyaiyto to see the Buddhist site of pilgrimage where there is a Stupa on top a huge boulder that sits on the edge of a mountain, and they call it the Golden Rock. It was very interesting to see so many local people flocking to this holy site and seeing some of the rituals.
Then we set our sites on the new capital of Myanmar, Nay Pyi Taw. The story goes that the Military junta secretly built this capital and then announced to the country…here we built this new city that will be our capital! And all of you government employees have 2 weeks to move there if you still want your job! Crazy, right!? And what’s maybe crazier is that they made an insane investment to build a big modern city with huge avenues and streets, but it has no people! For example the embassies didn’t really like this move, so they decided to stay in Yangon, as did a lot of people, businesses and organizations. It’s like a ghost city!
From Nay Pi Taw, we hitchhiked our way to the town of Kalaw, a town that is a popular starting point for a trek to Inle Lake. Here we met up with my friend Max from Belgium who I had met in the south of Cambodia, and were finally reunited for this 3 day trek through some beautiful landscapes with a great group and guide.
After leaving the town of Nyaung Shwe, at the base of Inle Lake, where we spent a few days hanging out after our trek, we hitchhiked our way to Myanmar’s second biggest city, Mandalay. It is a city that also has a wealth of cultural and historic sites such as the Imperial palace, and many amazing temples, and monasteries.
From Mandalay we hitchhiked to a town called Hsipaw, where we spent 2 days taking it easy and exploring and then did a 3 day trek and stayed with families in local villages which was beautiful.
Hsipaw was a great place, and when we finally did leave we wanted to hitchhike all the way to Bagan, which was a bit ambitious and we were only near Mandalay when it got dark, so we had to settle for near Mandalay for the night.
On the way to Bagan the next day we had a hilarious, yet tense experience with a Myanmar Highway Police officer. As we were walking from one road to the highway a guy in a really beat up car stopped and ask us where we were going and he got out and he was slurring his speech and stumbling so we just thanked him and walked by. A few minutes later he appeared again, this time wearing a Myanmar Police uniform, and not very happy with us for ignoring him the first time. This time he was aggressive and told us that we should go with his friend, but they wanted gas money so we declined and walked away like 500 meters up the road and thought we were in the clear. When he came back more aggressive than ever and yelled and made gestures and that’s when I decided to only speak to him in Spanish and walked away and he followed for a few meters harassing Franck threatening to throw us in jail and asking for our passports before turning around defeated.
We were also lucky that we didn’t have to pay the $20 dollar entrance fee to the city as we were lying down on the back of a pick up truck when the driver stopped at the checkpoint they probably just told him, pass as they didn’t see us. Bagan is a very pleasant place and has so many amazing temples to explore that I spent five days exploring them on a bicycle stopping to see as many of them as I could and spend time appreciating them and the landscapes where you see the top of temples for miles into the horizon.
And my hitchhiking adventure through Myanmar had come to an end. I had to return to Bagan to get my India visa when I realized the e-visa I wanted wasn’t valid for the airport I was flying into. They said it would take 3 working days and I arrived 3 working days before with my paperwork, and they didn’t accept my papers that day, but the next, so this actually led me to get my India visa at 3pm and get in a cab to get to the airport!
So, What was hitchhiking Myanmar like? At times it had long waits, at times it was cold, most of the time it was very hot and sunny, and sometimes dusty…. At times it was so easy I couldn’t believe it, but at other times I was reminded why its free.
Overall, the amazing generosity and smiles and kindness of people wanting to help in one way or another made it an amazing experience. Most people did not understand what we were doing and picked us up hoping to be able to drop us off at the right bus or train station…this happened so often that we decided to say when needed that we were traveling without money….and this actually led 3 different rides to try to hand us cash (which was an amazing gesture, that we turned down every time).
In total it was roughly 1,300 miles or 2,000 km traveled in 45 vehicles…and all of this transportation cost me: $0 For one of the greatest experiences of my life, in a beautiful country.
Some links to some interesting and sad things going on in Myanmar:
Country Profile http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-12990563
The transition to Democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi http://edition.cnn.com/2016/01/31/asia/myanmar-aung-san-suu-kyi-nld/
The Horrific treatment of the Rohingya people in Myanmar http://endgenocide.org/conflict-areas/burma/