Good evening from Yangon and welcome to the first post from Indochina Unscripted!
Leading up to this big 5 week trip my mood has been one of intrigue, to not know what to expect and to carry no expectations. I am a blank canvas open to have all my expectation challenged. When it comes to challenging preconceptions Myanmar has totally delivered. Borders were only re-opened in 2011, so it’s not hard to see why Myanmar has held the most intrigue for the approx 2M tourists who now visit annually.
I don’t even know what I expected from Myanmar. I’d seen the pictures of the temples, Lake Inle (thanks,#instamags!) and I knew what I’d read and heard from Lilli Saxer our MD in Yangon. I also knew Myanmar shared a colonial history with it’s regional neighbors which as a Brit I try to be pretty cognisant of. My first day in Yangon was seriously full on (more below!) but my 3 STANDOUT observations after 24 hours –
- The locals of Yangon. The most genuine, friendly, super modest and unassuming. Everyone I met spoke incredible English. I’m not sure why that surprised me, maybe the fact the country lived under military control for 50 years had something to do with my misconceptions
- There’s an astounding mix of cultures. Burmese, Chinese, Indian, European. Every faith you can think of live in Yangon and from what I can see in relative harmony, respecting one another’s faith whilst co-existing in a relatively small city. Catholic churches, Synagogues, Mosques. You name it. So grounding to see especially in today’s world where ignorance seems to creep into the mainstream t0o often.
- In Yangon you can feel the growth all around you, so much it’s almost tangible. New hotels, new retail, new high rise buildings and global corporates moving into the city all set against the contrast of gorgeous old colonial buildings, many still in a state of haunting disrepair after the allied bombings during the war.
Over tea I asked a few of the locals how they feel about the rapid change in Myanmar society and there’s a feeling that although there are challenges to overcome (the democratic administration won the last election in a landslide under State Counsel Aung San Suu Kyi), the young people of Myanmar are feeling more FREE. The young (and super fun) tour guides I met and the fabulous DOS at Shangr-La Yangon Ms. Zin Min Tun talked optimistically, but cautiously, about the future. They know anything can change at the drop at the hat at the will of the government. I saw this first hand in the Diethelm office where the team were discussing how the govt. just arbitrarily changed the dates of the country’s public holidays with zero notice!
My first day was FULL ON. After hitting the ground at 5am (running on 5hrs sleep for 48hrs…) I met Mr. Thomas my awesome tour guide e (full time with Diethelm since 2013) who helped me through Yangon airport fast-track service in record time. We pit stopped at the Belmond Residence to drop the bags followed by heading straight out for 6am traditional Burmese breakfast at ‘Feel’, a local restaurant popular with diplomats from the embassys close to Belmond. Perfect first stop and somewhere Diethelm takes clients if they’re up to it for breakfast on arrival on a super early flight – totally recommend. Afterwards I joined Mr. Thomas and Pierre LeDuc from our Yangon office at the local Catholic church for mass – a gorgeous and very photogenic church (popular on trip advisor it’s so beautiful!)
We headed out for lunch followed by watching a few rounds of boxing (yep, totally ‘me’!), one of Mynamar’s most popular national sports. After that we hustled over to the highlight of the day, and why everyone comes to Yangon 0 the Shwe dagon Pagoda. Beyond amazing and more to come on a dedicated post. IN-CREDIBLE – just wait for the pictures.
Dinner was with Lilli Saxer our MD of the Diethelm Yangon office followed by dessert at ‘Seeds’, the newest and most awesome restaurant in Yangon. Okay now THAT woke me up… new post about this place to come tomorrow as it’s a total ‘do not miss’ in Yangon for fabulous dining. Seriously cool, challenges any top restaurant I’ve been to in any major city and already Diethelm are sending clients there as a total must. I am their new fan boy.
Incredibly busy day, but as they say, sleep when you’re dead… until tomorrow.