The Decision to Go to Myanmar

I added Myanmar.

In the original plan I was going to India on February 9th but, seeing how it’s almost the end of February and I’m not in India, that flight changed along the way; it was more important to go to Holi so now I’m flying to India on February 28th. This opened up a new three-week window in my Southeast Asia itinerary.

When this change happened I saw it as a chance to add another country. Myanmar is the place to go now, everyone says, since it just opened to tourism recently and will probably change drastically in the next 10 years. I’d heard so many great things about this country and knew I’d be just a hop away in Northern Thailand so it sounded like a perfect use of my new-found time.

The land border between Thailand and Myanmar is a tricky crossing, and since I’d had some recent bus frustration I looked into booking a flight from Chiang Mai. In thinking about timing for Myanmar I had outlined the last two weeks of February; the cheapest flight happened to be on Sunday the 15th, which aligned perfectly. Over the past months I’ve had route questions that always ended up working out in the way my first instincts thought they might, so I decided that would probably happen again and I should just book the flight. As much as I hate booking definite things like flights, I prefer buses mainly for the ease of getting tickets on short notice, it seemed like the right thing to do. I had a visa (acquired in Singapore) and a now-unmovable date to India, so this was the time. I was going. Flight, purchased.

Then Shambhala happened. The last day of Shambhala was February 15th, the day of my flight, meaning I would have to go back to Chiang Mai a day before it ended. I was torn up about this. Here I was in one of the best weeks of my trip and I had to leave a day early because I’d jumped the gun and booked a flight, something I rarely do. I cursed my planning self. My mindset at the festival was all about the now, the moment I was living, and the desire for ultimate flexibility. I’d already ditched my Pai and return to Chiang Mai plans, I could ditch my flight too. My visa was good until April, I could go after India; or screw the visa, it wasn’t that expensive. Then I could have more time to go to Pai and hang out in Northern Thailand. Why had I added Myanmar anyway? I should’ve just had more Thailand time.

Every day at Shambhala I was back and forth on this decision, but it was Josh’s encouragement to stay till the end of the week then still make my flight that stuck in my mind. He was right – this was an amazing experience, but for one final day I was going to completely miss out on a country that I had previously been excited about going to. I realized that while I was having the time of my life there, it would soon end, and once back in Chiang Mai I would remember just how much I had given up.

So I left. Goodbyes were hard; it felt like I was tearing myself away from my happy place. I had to convince myself the whole bus ride back to Chiang Mai to not get on the first bus right back to Chiang Dao.

Now I’m in Myanmar and I can, without hesitation, say that I made the right decision. This country is spectacular. It’s not easy by any means – hotels can be expensive, buses are always a question mark, and the signs of a country that is behind in development are obvious – but the sights and the people more than outweigh the hard parts.

As I write this I’m looking out over the town of Kalaw, nestled in between green hills. Single story tin roofs mix with multi-story stucco boxes advertising hotel names in big block letters. This is Myanmar, changing before my eyes, and I have become one of those “everyone” saying: “Go now. Go before the air conditioning tourists change it all.”

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