Reflections of Burma

July, 2014

After travelling almost a month in Burma, I can honestly say that this country definitely tugs at your heart and the experience won’t leave you in a hurry!

The level of poverty is appalling and the contrast with the rich is astounding; it’s common to see a palatial mansion among still inhabited rundown thatched huts. Inle Lake offers hotels with rooms upwards of US$350 per night (as does Bagan) and much more, whilst many of the floating villages on the Lake have no running water, power, or sewage.

Inle Lake, Myanmar, Burma

Building roads by hand

The disparity between the rich and poor is so great that the similarities reminded me of when I solo-backpacked through India for a month, back in 1985.

At the time of writing, the average hospitality wage in Burma is around US$40-60 per month but if you’re a Graduate working in Yangon or Mandalay, the average wage is US$80-100. It’s obscene to be spending upwards of US$350 per night for accommodation and as a tourist, I felt awkward spending US$31 per night (in low season). Apparently, as a large proportion of the economy is being controlled by supporters of the former military government, thus, the income gap is among the widest in the world.

Myanmar, Inle Lake, Burma

Local taxi

The archaic back-breaking methods with bullocks in farm fields; the laying of roads by women and men by hand, which one would expect to see some hundred years’ ago; the buildings built by hand (concrete slabs poured by bucket load), makes you realise how lucky and soft most Westerners are, but mostly, makes you really appreciate what you have in life.

As expected, the army is prominent in some areas more than others, but typically throughout the country. Travel on most routes and you’ll see many pristine and well-kept army bases; it’s obvious where the country’s money is used.

Signs of tourism are seeping through, such as new flash hotels/buildings in the main tourist destinations, especially Inle Lake and Bagan. Tourism will change the local culture and bring its own set of problems to the country but Burma is screaming for progress.

Inle Lake, Burma, Myanmar

Inle nap

Already, children in the street are asking for money from tourists; it’s an easy way to make everyday life a little easier and not so arduous for locals. Poverty is so ingrained and as children are born into this type of life, it seems that as they grow, there’s not much aspiration for a better life – they can’t visualise betterment as they’ve never known anything else. For me, this makes Burma extremely and morally confronting. But the warm smiles that radiate from the people and the countless “Mingalaba” (hello) you’ll receive throughout your travels, makes Burma an incredibly humbling country!

The natural and ancient cultural beauties of Inle Lake, HsipawBagan, and many more Burma has to offer, makes this country a fantastic destination and not one to be missed!

Visit my Nilla’s Photography Burma Gallery for more images. More blogs on Burma.

Inle Lake, Burma, Myanmar

Ancient methods

Inle Lake, Burma, Myanmar

Market shopping

Inle Lake, Myanmar, Burma

Going home

12 thoughts on “Reflections of Burma

  1. That wage is horrible. What would you say is the average cost of living for those who would earn that wage? And about the lack of ambition – that’s tough. Would you say that with more exposure to our globalised world that ambition will grow?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, thanks for your comment! As everywhere, the average cost depends on the city/town and although food, clothing, and transport are cheap for a local, I didn’t think to ask what rent, hospital costs, etc. are for a month. Also, there’s an awful lot of information online about the cost of living for “expats”, which is opulent compared to a local’s cost of living. The costs I quoted in my blog came from speaking with locals trying to survive, not expats.

      Unfortunately, the military regime, their family and friends reap all or the majority of profits and this is one of the real issues in Myanmar; very little is filtered down to the needy so they’re on their own. Let’s not forget that a lot of money is also donated by locals to Monks and gold-gilded temples throughout the country are pristine with many more being built; shame a fraction of this money isn’t spent on the poverty.

      In response to your second question and this is only my thoughts, but as Myanmar is more exposed to globalisation, thus, locals will understand that it is possible to achieve a better life, then hopefully, the ambition will grow. Having said that, it’s always down to the thread of an individual; why is it that some people succeed where others don’t?

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    • Super interesting. About poverty, this is so sad yes but very true for most of the world. Money very much accumulates, doesn’t it? In Vietnam also (where I’ve sort of stopped for a while), while the economy develops and the country urbanises, said development is off the back of a vast labour force. The poor stay poor and the rich have more fun. As for expat vs local costs of living – it’s actually kind of funny! For about 9 months I worked here part time as a language tutor (to save) and I earn’t $1000USD a month which covered an expat’s rent, eating, going out costs and other essentials like health care and stuff. Now I have quit that job in the interest of spending more time on Sketchpacking, and a new internship with citypassguide…and I earn (and live off) about $350/month. My boyfriend, a Vietnamese student, lives on $200/month. I know people who get by on $150, I guess it depends on how you’re prepared to live and how badly you want to be in this city! Either way, I constantly marvel at the vast gap between how I used to live and how I live now, and after that the gap between how I used to live and how most expats here live!! Most people earn $1500-$2000/month, and many spend it all!! I guess if you can why not, right? It’s just such a huge gap. Fascinating. And in the countryside rent is cheaper, cost of living even lower, so if you’re a local paying $200/month here in HCMC, imagine what you’d be paying in your hometown…crazy. This world is crazy.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, money does accumulate but unfortunately, not always to where it’s needed most – usually someone’s pocket.

      I travelled through Vietnam for 2 months over December ’14 and January this year (more blogs to follow). It is obscene the amount of money that is squandered, especially from some NGOs/INGOs. As an example, the UN paid over US$1,000,000 rent last year for an office in Yangon that a Former General owns and this is just one example, there are many more NGOs throughout SE Asia. Another shining example is Cambodia, a country that has been receiving aid for over 25 years, with total development assistance to Cambodia amounting to about US$5.5 billion during the last decade. If you’ve travelled through this country, you’ll see that not much of this aid has filtered down to the needy or the country’s infrastructure, only into certain people’s pockets. Corruption is rife but the whole world knows about this, doesn’t it?

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    • Absolutely. Poverty is an opportunity for the rich to earn more, and it is very hard to prove that they’re doing it. Also, given international law, it is very hard to then do anything about it!!!

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    • Totally agree! I’m not sure what the answer is unless government’s and laws change; then again there’s corruption. But as you’ve probably found, the more you travel, the more apparent all of this becomes…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Gosh yes, the further I go outside my safety bubble the more I realise about this globe. Honestly I don’t think governments and laws will ever change, I’m a bit of a pessimist. What needs to happen is education – if more people knew these facts, like really knew them and felt them and understood the implications of them, then we could mobilise a grassroots force significant enough to shift the global power structure. THe danger would be though that we would just revert to how we always were – I think the current power structure has a lot to do with human nature. It’s natural for people to want power

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    • Sadly, as long as there’s buckets of money involved, nothing will change. You’re absolutely right, education is the way forward but in many countries, this is not always possible, so the status quo remains, which typically, corruption is worse in these countries – like a revolving door.

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    • You’re a pleasure to discuss with – we’re totally on the same page! I guess we could also consider the role that developed states have in keep undeveloped states undeveloped. The World Bank is not a friend to everyone

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    • Thanks and likewise! It’s great to discuss different views and experiences. We could go on forever naming governments, corporations, etc., worldwide, which keep people purposely poor to benefit from the situation; it’s rampant and evil but nothing new. There’s more than enough money in this world to share around.

      Travelling has a habit of throwing realities in your face at every turn and for me, this is one aspect I can’t escape. Although I can’t close my eyes, some travellers have the ability to shut out reality and continue travelling as ‘none the wiser’ – great if you can!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed! We could go on endlessly and in some ways we might find ourselves looking at our own lives too – I do not directly invest in anything that pushes other people down, but I do love diet coke…

      As for travelling – so true! Travel can open your eyes or your liver, depending on what you choose (and I guess both too hehe)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed! I try not to either…I don’t really like Diet Coke 🙂
      Definitely your eyes and depending on what country you’re travelling in and the cost, definitely your liver!

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