Thursday, September 27, 2007

Myanmar, Part IV

Before I get back to Myanmar, a digression: How did Dunkin' Donuts become so ubiquitous everywhere in the world but the West Coast? I ran into them all over the place in Bangkok, and they have "Dunkin' Coffee" here in Barcelona. Of course, they don't have any locations in Myanmar; instead, Yangon had "J' Donuts," which was definitely a Dunkin' Donuts ripoff. It seemed to be the cool hangout for kids with money in Yangon.

Other than the lack of international brands, the most obvious difference between Thailand and Myanmar to me was in the vehicles that you'd see on the streets. In Bangkok, for instance, the taxis tend to be fairly new cars. By contrast, here's a couple of pictures of a pickup taxi that we used in Mandalay:

In addition to being a heap of junk that's about to fall apart, this truck has a subtle problem: the driver sits on the right-hand side. It's hard to tell from these photos, but they drive on the right in Myanmar. Practically every vehicle in the country has the same problem. So, for instance, the doors on every bus open out into the middle of the street, instead of onto the sidewalk. Also, most buses have to carry a "co-pilot" to help the driver pass other vehicles.

Why are all the vehicles backwards? It's the government's fault, of course! They used to drive on the left in Myanmar, but then in 1970 the government decreed that everyone would switch, so now they have a bunch of backwards vehicles.

Another factor is that Myanmar gets most of its vehicles from Japan and Thailand, where people drive on the left. Often, they don't even bother repainting the vehicles after importing them---I think that every bus we rode in had Japanese writing all over it, inside and out. Sometimes you could identify exactly where the bus came from---one bus that I saw said "Holiday Inn Narita" on the side.

Okay, on to more sights. This looks like a fairly typical village scene in Myanmar, right?

Well, sure. Except for all the macaques hanging out on the left-hand side... This is the base of Mount Popa, which is a shrine to nats, or animistic spirits. It's about 777 steps to the top of the mountain; along the way, these macaques try every trick they can think of in order to steal food from you. One jumped on the back of one of our group members; another grabbed onto a girl's skirt and wouldn't let go. It's pretty funny, as long as you're not the target!

After Mount Popa, we headed on to Kalaw, where it only took about a 10-minute walk to get out of town and into the countryside:

Then we went on to Pindaya Cave, which houses more than 8000 Buddha images. Whoever designed the cave floor should be fired; they didn't think very hard about the fact that tile is a really bad idea in caves, where it's usually wet and slippery. This picture shows a few of the Buddhas:

The Buddhas get kind of repetitive after a while, but there's a "meditation cave," which was pretty cool. You have to crawl through a small tunnel to get to it, but it is very peaceful. Here's Daina and Kathy in there:

Closing thought for this post: You've got to love it when a government tries to censor the internet; they never realize just how hard it is to plug every hole. Right now in Myanmar, Gmail is blocked, but in a really stupid way. If you go to, you get an error message. But if you use https instead of http, it works fine! Morons.


Blogger Unknown said...

Ah, Ben, way to call the Burmese gov't morons. Did you hear about the recent skirmishes there?

September 28, 2007 at 3:01 PM  
Blogger Cheryl FM said...

Found your blog through an e-mail from Diana - wow, this sounds amazing! Enjoy, but please stay safe, given all that seems to be going on over there right now...:(

-Cheryl (Forest, for 12 more days) and Eric Morganson

September 30, 2007 at 9:22 PM  
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Have a nice day..
Stay Blessed!

November 28, 2011 at 5:45 AM  

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