Myanmar: not just another karst landscape

Most people don’t go to the South of the country and fly in and out of Mandalay. Since we were in the South, we decided to explore a bit. We went to Hpa-An, a small town that I read about in an old traveler’s blog the day before. The guy said it was pretty and unexplored yet.

When we arrived, all the guesthouses were full… Clearly things have changed. It is not crowded but there are more tourists than accommodations to greet them. We were lucky to find a very “basic” room with our own bathroom (our standards are now extremely low… most of the time we share a single bed because double beds don’t seem to exist in most places and we don’t care for private bathrooms, we’re used to no window and cold / hot rooms, insects are OK too – sounds like a London studio apartment description hahaha).

Anyway, the surroundings of the town are absolutely gorgeous. It reminded me of Vang Vieng and Ninh Bin, with all those karsts out of the fields, but with very few tourists. On top of that, there are crazy temples everywhere. What is so great and specific to Myanmar temples is that they’re outdoors and open. That means that in every cave you’re guaranteed to find some Buddha image, and pagodas are like mushrooms in the forest, at the most random places. In Myanmar you also have to take off your shoes and socks in all those places, which means walking bare feet in caves, pavements, dirty pavements, stairways that never seem to end etc… Not for the fainted of heart. I get the spiritual meaning behind it, but for non religious like me it is not so nice to feel like warts and mycosis are just around the corner. It would be too bad to miss on the beautiful and incredible religious displays of the country (some say the most beautiful in SE Asia), so you end up walking bare feet half of the day. And it’s never clean, but that’s Myanmar in general, hygiene standards are not the same than in the Western world, and it’s OK though, I have not even been sick.

We walked around those caves and temples, seeing some cheeky monkeys as usual, taking a pirogue back on a tiny water stream surrounded by beautiful karsts, watching rural life going on… You can tell how much of a touristic potential there is but I hope it doesn’t get too big… In our hotel, we had breakfast on the rooftop, with an unobstructed view of the misty mountains. I hope it stays that way and keeps attracting slow travelers rather than package tourists.

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In this cave, there’s a whole lot of Buddha images carved and painted directly in the rock.

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That monk kept smiling at me on my way up to the stupa next to his home. On my way back, he asked me to take pictures of him, then started talking to me. He mimed that he rock climbs to the top of the mountain on which is his monastery every other day! He could barely speak English and kept pointing to my bottle of water, but I wasn’t sure if he was offering me a drink or wanted a sip, so in the end I opened it and gave it to him. I think we were both very shy, and he drank a little bit before offering me to eat with him inside. Silvere joined us and I made a mess of myself, spilling all my rice on the floor… He cleaned it. It was one of those times where things keep getting more awkward and I am 100% the monk felt as awkward as me, but we both maintained our smile, and everything was fine! 

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There are hundreds of Buddhas at the bottom of that mountain. Some are in different directions but they are all aligned.

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Can you spot Silvere? I think he is told he looks like a monk at least once a day.

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Women carry crazy heavy stuff on their head in this country.

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