“Is that the real color of your hair?” – asked a burmese girl at the entrance of a temple in Bagan.
“It’s gold! Your hair is gold!” – she tells me with a grin – “Whenever you want gold you just need to cut a little bit of your hair”
I look around and I easily understand the obsession with the gold, common to many cultures around the globe: Bagan is filled with over two thousand temples, many of them with a touch of gold. The temples scattered around the flatland in every direction turn Bagan into one of the most wonderful places in the world for watching the sunset. It became one of my favorites, right on top of my list (check out here my favorite sunsets in the world – to the date)
When in Inle Lake I decided to endure another hour of dusty roads to attend the Taunggyi Festival, an annual festival of hot air balloons (see my photo essay on the festival clicking here): some very large and sumptuous with several shapes and symbologies, others very simple, made of basically a little candle. The ritual is buddhist and it means “hope for the purification of the human sin“. Thousands of people stare at the sky and watch the balloons disappear on a warm night in the state of Shan, Myanmar, where they get together every year to celebrate the date. I think I’ve never seen this much people together, not even in the São Paulo’s subway (the largest and most populated city in Brazil). But the funny part was that even though there was so much people in one place I didn’t see another foreigner, besides the people I’ve shared the taxi with. I was constantly stopped to be taken pictures of or to get a “hello” (and they were soooo happy with the “hello” I would give them back) or even other words they might have heard in movies (“Yeah, man!”). The smiles were constant and honest. Everybody was so happy and festive, in contrast to the daily burmese lives, where people work a lot and rarely celebrate. This festival in Taunggyi was the exception, everybody was having fun (they are always very welcoming and friendly but they are also always working…here they were playing, enjoying themselves). A lot of games, fireworks, giant human-powered wheels, fried eggs, sticky rice and other indistinguishable food on sticks. And I felt like the star of the night, together with the hot air balloons filling up the summer night skies of Taunggyi. Where I walked I was greeted. Where I stopped for a beer, a crowd would gather around me, watching. Whoever I smiled at, I’d get five or six smiles back at me.
But it wasn’t only in Taunggyi and Bagan that I felt special. Yangon is an amazing city where on the streets people also like to say “Hello” to you and “Wish you happiness” and whatever they might be able to say in english. Otherwise you’re given a smile, a wide and honest smile. “Ronaldo!” is the word that follows when they acknowledge I am from Portugal and many children wear proudly football t-shirts from european clubs. In a little bar, a lady who was eating with her friend on the tiny table next to me (the typical tiny tables and chairs we see in asia..love them: remind me of my long gone childhood years) gives me a pice of paper with something written on it to keep in my wallet: “It’s to give you luck!” – the lady says, smiling – “You put with money like this (shows me) and it will give luck, you will get rich!” To this day my bank account hasn’t improved, but this lady’s smile and kindness are well kept in my memory. Not only this lady, but Myanmar is well engraved in my dearest memories: a country of an incredible hospitality, of a superhuman kindness, of a honest, genuine, surreal friendliness. And a country of so much natural and cultural beauty… You know when you eat a slice of cake so delicious it makes you crave for more as soon as it’s finished? Myanmar is that slice of cake. With a red, shinny, sweet cherry on top. I really want to go back. I can’t wait to go back! If you have the opportunity, GO.
Visit at least the big four: Yangon, Inle Lake, Mandalay and Bagan… and do not look for the places with tourists; go to the little bar around the corner, the markets, talk to hostel owners and employees, to people on the streets. Myanmar will welcome you. Enjoy it!