Myanmar: What else to say but “Smile!”?

Yesterday we came back from Myanmar, on a direct flight to Bangkok. What a shocking contrast! When in the capital of Myanmar, there isn’t any guarantee of 24-hours electricity, the capital of Thailand zooms with aircons, commercials and Thai TV. When throughout Myanmar foreign TV-channels are banned and considered as “liars” or “the enemy”, in Bangkok it seems that anything is possible (except saying anything bad about the king of course). But what a great trip we had in Myanmar.

Myanmar is not about stunning landscapes: landscapes are nice, but we have seen nicer ones. Especially because the Myanmar summer was hitting in, we actually didn’t see too much green, but more yellow and red colors, making the landscapes look dry and arid. Myanmar is neither about incredible architecture or great archeological sites (ok, Bagan, the 900 year old kingdom, excepted): stunning architecture is reduced to temples and pagodas (and they have a lot of them!) while most people outside cities still lives in bamboo-huts the way they used to live for the last centuries.

No, Myanmar is all about the people. We have never ever visited a country where people are so friendly, funny and smiling. And this is especially surprising knowing that they live in a country with one of the worst dictatorial regimes in the world (although China is very hard on its way of getting there also… :-( ). Personally we didn’t feel all too much of the constant “control” and “repression” of the government, but there are some roads off-limit to foreigners (they say it’s for security reasons, but it’s probably more because they want to keep foreign eyes from seeing the bare realities: forced labour and people being used as landmine-seekers…) and of course on the internet you cannot go everywhere freely. We noticed however especially the fear of being watched when we were talking to people in cities like Yangon or Mandalay. They would continuously look around, trying to see if nobody was listening to our conversation. It seemed to us that people on the countryside finally lived an easier life, not worrying all too much about the government. Probably this is also because they have no access to any information and more important things to worry about as especially Myanmar’s countryside is very poor. Since the protests of September 2007 most foreign NGOs left the country and ordinary people are sure suffering from it. The whole annoying point about this, is that it isn’t the government wondering if it can eat tonight (recently the president bought his daughter a necklace worth 20 million US dollar, because “he wanted to give here something special”…) but local people who need the help of those foreign organisations.

During our 24 days there we hired a lot of local guides (tourism being an important source of income for many people) who not only gave us useful insights in the country but also made for some of those most precious moments in Myanmar, where we just sat and laughed. Luckily this is the one of the most important things the government cannot take from them: their everlasting smile! :-)

Vera & Jean-Christophe


  1. Jenny
    Posted March 22, 2008 at 16:08 | Permalink

    Hey, sympa de vous lire à nouveau ;) Et maintenant, what’s next?? Ici plein de neige, on vient de faire de la poudre, et le planeur recommence bientôt :). Allez, portez vous bien et à bientôt. (Sam + Jenny)

  2. Posted March 25, 2008 at 14:56 | Permalink

    Hallo Vera en JC,

    Blij weer iets te horen/lezen van jullie, het is bijna alsof ik zelf op vakantie ben…wat is dat toch dat mensen ondanks vele ontberingen blijven lachen, is dat uitzicht of hoop op verbetering? Heel indrukwekkend om mee te maken lijkt me.

    We hebben een witte Pasen gehad.
    Liefs, Yvonne

  3. Posted March 27, 2008 at 17:17 | Permalink

    Hallo Vera en JC,

    wederom genoten tijdens het lezen van jullie verslag.
    Ben verbaasd/blij over de lach van mensen met veel ontberingen, is dat omdat ze hoop koesteren, hun situatie kan alleen maar verbeteren?
    Liefs, Yvonne

  4. Posted March 27, 2008 at 17:21 | Permalink

    quel plaisir de vous relire et de voir toutes ces nouvelles photos. Bisous. Marie-Annick

  5. Posted March 28, 2008 at 9:41 | Permalink

    Hier gaat het gewone leven gewoon door, terwijl jullie het bijzondere van de wereld ontdekken, in landen die ik alleen maar op de kaart kan aanwijzen. Veel succes met de volgende bestemming.
    Groet Tessa

  6. Vera
    Posted March 29, 2008 at 13:36 | Permalink

    @Jenny: The next destination is Sydney (Australia) for a few days, before going to New-Zealand, where we will “explore” by bicycle. I am looking forward to that.
    And yes, we are jealous of your snow, but ok that’s just the advantage you Swiss have, you never need to leave your country to see beautiful landscapes or do cool things. :-)
    @Yvonne: One guy told us, that they are laughing/smiling all the time, because that’s the only thing they have left. But then he told us that actually on the inside they are sad and crying all the time. Sad over a country that would deserve so much better than the situation it is actually in. :-(
    @Marie-Annick: Thanks for the comments on the pictures! :-)
    @Tessa: To be honest, there were some countries I could not even point on the map before I left. Hihi! ;-) So I guess it’s a good thing for everybody… :-)
    Love, Vera

  7. Posted March 31, 2008 at 21:15 | Permalink

    I was near the Alps a few days ago and I saw the green minerally colour of a river which was beautyful but not comparable to your experiences. I’m still jealous!

    Thank you again for the wonderful pictures!