Click on the video below to get a taste of what it’s like to travel through Burma.
I wake up in a pool of sweat at 6:30 a.m. It feels to be a sizzling 90 degrees yet the fan has powered out. It’s the daily electricity shut-off by the government to save them money…I hop on a rickety bus for our next destination. On the main highway, connecting two of Burma’s largest cities, we travel down the dirt road, sharing the one lane with ox carts, bikes and cows. The man next to me dressed in his lungyi (the traditional ankle-length skirt) vomits in a plastic bag as we wind around the mountainous roads. The journey of 30 miles takes seven hours…Upon arrival dreams of a cold drink to quench my thirst quickly fade. All the ice has melted for the day. As I sip my lukewarm water, I attempt to cool myself with a fan made of mulberry bark…It’s dinner time. I peruse the food stalls lining the streets. I eye meats covered in flies next to pickled fish and fish paste. My stomach grumbles…I wonder how the Burmese do it, what it would be like to live this way, always.
What’s in a Name
Most people, myself included, would have a hard time pointing out where Burma is on the map, let alone Myanmar. They are of course, the same country. So what’s the deal? Is it Burma or is it Myanmar?
When the British colonized the country in the mid-19th century they called their newly conquered empire Burma after the Barma people, the largest ethnic group inhabiting the land. Fast-forward a hundred and fifty years and the current ruling party, an oppressive military regime, changed the name to Myanmar.
Ask any local and you’ll learn the official name of the country, Myanmar, has stuck. But outside of Southeast Asia, however, it’s still better known as Burma. Most refuse to respect the demands of an illegally-elected government. Even Burma’s democracy movement prefers the form ‘Burma’ because they do not accept the legitimacy of the unelected military regime to change the official name of the country.
Where is and Who is Burma
The country of roughly 55 million people borders Thailand on the east, India and Bangladesh in the northeast and China and Laos in the northwest region of the country. With more than 135 ethnic groups, it’s one of the most diverse countries in the world with a large percentage of the population still living in hill tribe communities in the mountains of central and northern Burma. Adding to the diversity, Chinese and Indians were brought in by the thousands for cheap labor under British colonization in the mid-19th century.
On the road, we’ve met some veteran travelers whose adventures would make you scoff at our mere 14-month journey around the world. We’re talking travelers who’ve been on the road for two, three and, in one case, seven years. We thoroughly enjoy swapping travel stories with these folks, but most importantly, we appreciate getting advice from them on those undiscovered, less-traveled gems that most of us don’t have the knowledge about or time to discover.
What we’ve heard time and time again from these experienced travelers: “Make Burma a priority.”
So as not to let our travel gurus down, we did make Burma a priority. It earned a coveted, two-week spot on our Southeast Asia itinerary.
Our visit to Burma was many things. It was taking a step back 75 years in time. It was a grueling, emotional journey that fueled my emotions and stimulated my senses. It left me physically and mentally drained, yet I found it eye-opening and equally rewarding. Let me share the good, bad and ugly truth.