Travelling Solo in Myanmar

Kalaw, Myanamar

Why do we Fear Being Alone?

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to travel alone in at least one port. And before the voyage began, I decided that, that place would be Myanmar. Many blogs had assured me of the niceness of its people and its lack of creepiness towards woman. In fact, many said that it’s a great place for those were travelling alone for the first time. That was me, a traveler going on a lone adventure for the very first time. That was all it took for me to make up my mind.

The time in which Myanmar fell on the voyage itinerary was additionally very beneficial. I had now experienced four ports where I traveled with different types of people. I began to get a sense of who I am as a traveler, and became more adamant about having the experiences I wanted to have.

While at first I wanted to travel alone for the mere purpose of crossing it off my bucket list, I began to develop other reasons. I wanted to really push the envelope about what I could get out of a country in five days. I sought to challenge myself and free myself from the familiarity and safety of my American friends. Previous ports left me tired of being bounded to the cautions and fears that people brought along with them. I wanted the ability to go places without having an idea of where I was going, and being comfortable in that ignorance. So I did just that.

What we Don’t Know Scares Us

I had been introduced to Myanmar before the voyage with a strong positive image. I had heard of how helpful the people were and the beautiful land that it had to offer. Various travelers said it was a place going through a very dynamic change, but this just meant the ability to be present and a witness. Which is why I was surprised to be met with reluctance and fear on the ship when we began to approach Myanmar. I became saddened, some even vehemently opposed the idea of going there. For them it was a dangerous port, that SAS was even putting us at risk.
It was in this situation that I really understood the power of narrative in shaping our world image. Myanmar was a port that most people had no idea about on the ship. What they came to know about it was a story of instability, blood shed, and persecution. So when I said I was going to travel Myanmar alone, imagine the shock and confused looks that came my way. It was one thing to be travelling alone, but it was another to be travelling alone in Myanmar.

So I Headed for Kalaw

Among the hesitancy from others and their worry that I was just companionless, I headed off solo in Myanmar. With no plans at first, I decided to go to Kalaw where a lot of people go to trek. I originally wanted to do a two-day trek from Kalaw to Inle lake, but because I didn’t plan beforehand, I ended up not having enough time to do it.

The bus ride to Kalaw was a 10 hour ride on an overnight bus. I did not book my ticket yet so I had to do it on the first day. This means I would leave out on the evening of day 2, and not reach Kalaw until early morning on day 3. This would leave me with one and a half days in Kalaw. So, if I wanted to do the two-day trek, I would have to find a trekking guide as soon as I got there and leave out on that same day. I also would have to look for a hotel in Inle lake and buy a plane ticket in order to make it back on time. It was just impossible. So instead I did the one day trek around Kalaw which turned out to be such a great experience.

I only had day two to travel around Yangon since I spent the first day getting myself together. Plus, I planned to spend the rest of my time in Kalaw. I began my sightseeing at the Sule Pagoda which was situated in the center of a traffic circle. Getting to it is was all about finding an opening and then booking it. Luckily, traffic is not as heavy in Myanmar as it was in Vietnam.

Big Buddha
Big Buddha at Shwedagon.

From the Sule Pagoda I went to get something to eat and then caught a taxi to Shwedagon Pagoda. I had a great taxi driver who ended up being my travel companion in Yangon. He pointed out all the popular and touristic places as he drove me to Shwedagon. When we got to Shwedagon he walked around with me taking pictures and explaining aspects of the Buddhist religion. From the pagoda, he then drove me to the Aung Mingalar bus station where I would catch my 7 pm bus to Kalaw. Upon our departure he gave me his name and number so that I could call him when I got back to Yangon. However, Myanmar is not covered under T-mobile so I couldn’t call him. So, that was the last time I saw my friendly taxi driver as I headed off to a small town called Kalaw.

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