A beautiful country tainted by tourism? I know this opinion will not be very popular but I felt it was worth sharing our true experience in Myanmar as well sharing the undeniable beauty of a country so different from its neighbours.
Before I start, I’d just like to say that the country is beautiful and everyone is extremely friendly. The pagodas are breathtaking and it’s true – Myanmar offers a very different vibe than the rest of Southeast Asia. Some of my favourite views and most spectacular photographs have come from Myanmar – the beautiful Bagan. However, the new burst of tourism has resulted in some less positive outcomes.
We weren’t always going to travel to Myanmar but the fact that it was relatively untouched by tourism and persuasion from fellow travellers really encouraged us to go. People who had been recently told us that Myanmar needed to be visited now before tourism took over like it has in a lot of Southeast Asia. We applied for our visas – E-visas which are a really simple process, but then disaster struck: “Myanmar destroyed by flooding” filled the news. Each daily update seemed to be more bad news for the country. At one stage we thought we weren’t going to be able to visit at all but luckily we could.
In Siem Reap we stayed at Naga hostel, a sister hostel to the Mad Monkey. This meant we could use the bar (and pool if we wanted), at Mad Monkey, for free. So the challenge was on to get another free t-shirt. 20 beers = a t-shirt. Challenge accepted.
Our bus dropped us way out of town in Battambang (pronounced Battam-bong) leaving us with only one option… Motorbike taxis. We were in a deserted area with no shops or people besides the dozens of men trying to get us to get on their bikes. Luckily, unlike the big cities in South East Asia, Battambang is pretty tame and the ride was safe enough – at least in Cambodian terms.
We spent our first afternoon in Kampot chilling out at the hostel and avoiding the rain. We stayed at Mad Monkey (a chain of hotels in Cambodia), the dorms are spacious and modern but the food and drink is overpriced. So instead, we wandered down the street for some cheaper Cambodian cuisine.
Once again we spent the night getting to know people over pints of beer and a game of pool.
We arrived in Phnom Penh, after our border crossing bus journey, about 4pm. We were greeted by rain, lots of rain, more than England rain. It was the tuk tuk drivers dream… Loads of westerners soaked to the bone in need of transport to their hostel. We managed to join 2 Austrian girls and got a tuk tuk to our hostel.
journey to the hostel in the rain
Crossing the border into Cambodia was another new experience.
We purchased our tickets from Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) to Phnom Penh (Cambodia), from the reputable travel agent Sinh Tourist for the equivalent of £5.50 each. Our bus was due to depart at 8.30am with Long Phuong bus company. At 8.15, ahead of schedule, a guy came and got us from the waiting room and ushered us on to the bus and we departed. So far so good, this was the first bus in Vietnam we hadn’t had to wait an hour for.
Ho Chi Minh was our final destination in Vietnam, we arrived the morning of the 1st September and we were on a bus to Cambodia 24 hours later.
In our short time we changed hotel rooms to escape the bed bugs we found. (Free upgrade). Walked around the city, tried to go to the War remnants mueseum (but it’s closed for 2 hours over lunch) so instead we went to the Ho Chi Minh Museum and saw a range of equipment used in the war. From weaponary to transport and the history of Vietnamese currency.
The city is the most “English” of those we have visited in Vietnam, with large numbers of shops and restaurants with English signs. The streets are filled with hotels, mini marts and travel agents; it’s definitely a city catered to tourism.
We booked ourselves on to a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, which is about 60km out of the city, for the afternoon. We learnt about the tunnelling system the Vietnamese used in the war against the Americans.
the real entrances were 10% smaller than this one