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08:11Emilija A

It was late in the evening and Fayme and I were on a bus home. Whilst driving past Quarry Bay (in Hong Kong) we decided to get off after spotting a Starbucks. Even though it was late, we both wanted to warm ourselves up with hot beverages since it was so chilly outside. We re-caped our day of exploring, which then lead into the conversation of travel, here's Fayme's remarkable story about going to Myanmar.

"You know, when I told people I was going to Myanmar most people haven’t even heard of such a country before. To be honest neither did I a year ago, but it was the most spectacular place I have visited. However, getting into the country was a nightmare. I was in Cambodia for six days beforehand and on my way over I had a layover in Bangkok. I was stuck in the airport for over 2 hours because they were trying to translate my visa letter which was almost impossible since it was in Burmese. I was travelling alone so as you can imagine it made me really nervous to be in that situation, Myanmar is not exactly known for its stable political system. The entry is strict and everything pretty much works backwards. It’s like going back in time fifty years, if I’m being honest. 

I was there for only nine days, which is not enough time to spend in such an amazing country. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, but what I saw and experienced, was not it. I was surprised to see how highly modern it was, with its state of the art infrastructure. Cambodia and Vietnam are far less developed in some places, actually. I was in Yangon first which is the capital, and I loved it, of course. I hired a guide to show me around and we went out of Yangon to local Myanmar. The experience was unlike anything else I’ve ever gone through before. The guide took me to an orphanage, and it was just so lovely there. The children seemed so happy despite their troubles. 

Actually, this is true throughout all of Myanmar; the people were friendly, welcoming, and just so happy to see westerners. Their hospitality is infectious. The locals were all so inviting and more than willing to talk and tell me abut their way of life. There was one time when I had a lady sit down next to me and she explained Buddhism and the life of a monk to me. 

My next stop was Bagan. There weren’t many tourists there and that alone made the experience extra special. The absolute best way to discover Bagan is by a bike. The scenery is out of this world, every way you turned you could spot a stupa (which are dome shaped Buddhist shrines), and the most spectacular temples were in Old Bagan, which is actually where I recommend for people to stay if they ever go there. Throughout my first day in Bagan, I kept seeing a group of monks, and at the end of the day we ended up talking and taking pictures of each other, it was really nice. 

After Bagan, I went up to Mandalay, which is the old capital. Half of Myanmar’s monks live in Mandalay and the surrounding areas so naturally, I talked to a lot of monks. They told me about their life and I told them about mine. I went to visit the biggest monastery in Mandalay one day, and there are about 1000 permanent monks who live there. They eat only twice a day; once before 5 AM and then before 12 PM and all of the food is donated by donor families. Also, during the summer families send their children to either monasteries or nunneries, at least once in their life, so that they could learn about the Buddhist scriptures and Buddhism. I was lucky enough to spend a day at a monastery, I had lunch with the monks then I helped them to clean up after. It was such a peaceful and mind clearing experience. I will never forget it. 

My last stop in Myanmar was Inle Lake. Since I went in March the Water festival was taking place, it was amazing to see. It was for Myanmar’s New Year and people pour water over each other in the belief that they’re cleansing the body and soul. There were actually a couple of children who creeped up and poured water over me. That's a really fun memory for me to have, it always brings a smile to my face. What I had trouble wrapping my head around was the amount of diversity I saw in such a small area. Around the lake there are many villages and tribes and in all of them people speak in different dialects of Burmese. What I found particularly interesting was the fact that they all got together on a market day to sell their produce, but those markets were never in the same place. I also did a cooking class in a home and it was the best. We made chicken curry, vegetable tempura, pork dumplings, peanut and green bean salad, oh the food was just great. 

I am so happy I visited Myanmar. The culture, traditions, and the people are so real and it was probably the only country I have been to in my life that didn’t feel like it has been diluted by the western culture. This is the place to be if you still want to see what an untainted Asian culture looks like. The people here are humble and inquisitive who have been hidden from the rest of the world. The people welcomed you into their lives, it wasn’t a show for them, it’s their culture. 

On my way back to Singapore, I bumped into a lady who was also travelling alone and we ended up talking about Myanmar and how much its people had affected us. So much so that we both started tearing up. It simply is a magical place." 

- Fayme Patel 

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