Myanmar (Burma) – What we noticed in our first day

An early morning plane from Kuala Lumpur took us to the next destination on our adventure, Myanmar (Burma). We landed in Yangon and shared a taxi with two English girls to our hostel. The ride took about an hour and cost us around 7 Euros. Myanmar has only recently opened its borders to tourists after decades of isolation which means that it is relatively untouched and not quite ready for the rising number of tourists. We knew things were going to be different so we kept our eyes and mind open. The first thing we learned was that the time difference was not just a few hours ahead of GMT, but also an extra half an hour. So, when the time is 12 o’clock in London, it is 18:30 here in Yangon. Don’t know about you but we had no idea that existed. The second thing we noticed was our taxi driver’s teeth and lips were very red and our first thought was that he had been punched in the face and was bleeding. We kept seeing other males with the same red blood-like colour in their mouths and soon realised that they couldn’t all have been in the same fist fight. Later, we started to see spats of the same colour on the ground, everywhere! It looked like the cities roads were covered in red paint from a huge paintball war. Of course, we knew this wasn’t the case either so we kept looking for answers. Then we found it, an old man without teeth, spitting out the biggest red blob of spit and then casually carried on chewing away like nothing happened. It turned out that all these men were all chewing Paan – chopped areca nut wrapped inside betel leaf and sometimes with a little tobacco thrown in there too. Paan is apparently quite a problem in Asia, it is highly addictive and the list of health problems it causes is endless! The third thing we noticed was how they drive in Myanmar. Just like Vietnam, they love their horn and use it everywhere at all time, but what we found strange here was that they drive on the right-hand side but also have the steering wheel on the right-hand side, why is that? The fourth thing we noticed was the golden colour they put on their faces. It is called Thanaka and it comes from the bark of certain trees and is traditionally used as sun protection. Everywhere you look you will see people, from babies to oldies, with golden paste in their faces! And finally, almost everyone is staring at us here. It feels like we are either superstars or aliens, probably the latter as they do tend to enjoy a little laugh with each other after studying us from top to bottom without even trying to be discreet. So, during our very first day in Myanmar, we became familiar with things we didn’t know existed. An eye-opener but that is what we wanted. We wanted to be away from the tourists and experience the “real thing” and here we are. So far so good.

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