Stepping off the Tourist Track - Burma

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If  I could give you  only a single piece of advice  for your a trip to Burma it would be that the key to our enjoyment was  stepping off the tourist track. In the season between November and March, Burma is filled with foreigners seeking to see the newly opened country. Whether they've arrived from Asia, Europe or the US they are all going to the same places and predominantly seeing the same things, often in a similar order. There seems to be a very singular notion of what foreigners want to, or should see and even when they should see it. 

"The sunset spot is at the top of Mandalay Hill" said Mr. Win.  Pause, "We'd be happy to go there at any other time!" we said in reply.
The good news is that stepping off the beaten track is incredibly easy and because everyone is at the same places you'll find very few tourists taking the free range approach. You only need to go a very small distance out of your way. Some of our favorite experiences were wandering around Yangon looking at colonial architecture and seeing the market in Mandalay, which was only a few blocks from our hotel. 
It was remarkable how few tourists we saw when we spent the afternoon strolling around the central market district in Mandalay. There was so much to see, dry goods, spices, betel nut in various forms, dried fish, temple offerings, clothes, fruits, vegetables and household items.  This is a very busy market filled with people and goods coming and going.
As we made our way through the  three story indoor market we heard the sound of women singing and saw nuns and novices carrying their bowls through the market, arms outstretched in  a request for food or alms.This was a living expression of religion and fascinating to watch as stallholders brought out small bags of rice or small bills to be placed in their metal bowls. Here are another group of nuns collecting rice at the gate of a private home. Apparently they come into town by bus  twice a month to collect donations and the dates are determined by the lunar calendar.
I had read that the Burmese are very appreciative of foreigners wearing their traditional longyi and so while we were in the market I bought some cloth and was taken upstairs where it was quickly sewn up. Essentially it is a single piece of cloth sewn together (into a cylinder) that you step into, fold and tuck at the waist. As you can see in the photo I wore it the next day. As we walked across the famous wooden U Bein bridge a number of women came up to me with wide smiles on their faces to compliment me on my longyi! Since we arrived home I've been meaning to cut it up to make napkins but haven't got around to it!

After a couple of hours strolling around  and eating lunch at a tiny cafe we walked through the market towards a temple which was quiet in the afternoon heat. This wasn't a place on the top list of sites in Mandalay but frankly we could't see the difference between this temple complex and some of the other more historically important places we had seen. 
Perhaps the difference was the age or the architecture? But to our untrained eyes it was all equally significant and more importantly the single distinguishing factor was that we were the only foreigners here, in a temple we couldn't name and didn't know we needed to see, magic!
 As you can see the locals use the temple to cut through to the market!
Tips: If you have a guide ask them to rearrange your itinerary so you avoid any tour groups. Opt out of any standard sunset spots and make sure to take time on your own to wander around in areas where you aren't looking for specific sites. You are bound to find something just as interesting and it's the best ways to meet people.