“Which country is your favorite?” What a loaded question, eh? Everywhere I’ve traveled, I feel I’ve left a bit of my heart. Myanmar though—that country really stole my heart. Big smiles come to mind when I think of Myanmar—big, toothy, sometimes crimson, betel-stained grins. Genuine warmth radiates from the people there. From the charming mountain town of Hsipaw, we walked through farming communities up into the clouds where we were welcomed into small Palaung villages, and homes of the kindest and most curious folks I’ve met. Trekking in Myanmar was simply unforgettable.
By Emily Taylor, all photos by Emily Sierra Photography
Trekking in Myanmar with Axsai
Aaron and I met our guide, Axsai along with two other girls who were also in our group. With our small entourage, we journeyed through rice paddies and fields, meeting farmers along the way. We pushed past water buffalo and climbed the muddy, slippery slopes toward the villages we were so eager to see. Axsai spoke great English, a skill he worked very hard for. He educated us on Buddhism in their country, taught us about local flora and fauna, and even cracked jokes—pretty much constantly.
We passed through small villages and popped our heads in single-room schoolhouses. The children loved meeting foreigners and hearing English (specifically) straight from a native tongue. Through many hand gestures and heaps of smiles, we made connections. Seeing their photo appear on a camera screen was a strange concept to them, and they loved it. Along the road we passed a young boy holding a rooster by its feet. Axsai explained that he had just finished his schooling and to celebrate, his family would butcher and enjoy this chicken. What a novelty, I thought, and something I take for granted everyday. I loved the way these people savored their meals and life-achieving moments.
This is where we gather
We ascended the stairs and were welcomed into the thatched room where we’d spend the night. There were few decorations on the walls, including a poster depicting a dream life that even the every day American might lust after. I thought of all the beautiful handicrafts from this country I couldn’t wait to bring home and hang on my walls, and here people admired a lavish scene of a sports car parked in front of a mansion. A fire was lit in the middle of the room where we sat with our gracious hosts. Our language barrier was no match for the smiles bouncing around the room and somehow we connected with these beautiful people on a level I never expected. The woman of the house let me follow her to the porch and I helped prepare a local meal for dinner.
Before the sun disappeared, we wandered through the town and gasped at the views. Women returned from the fields with machetes in hand, smiling and nodding the whole way. A swift wind picked up and within minutes we were in a deluge. A woman poked her head out of her home and gestured for us to come in. Rain roared outside and we watched puddles rise outside the door. Inside, we shared a cucumber and mostly gestured and laughed with one another.
Better than a hotel
We stayed at a range of guesthouses, hotels and hostels during our month-long journey through Myanmar. Nowhere impacted me as significantly as our stay in the Paulung villages. Trekking in Myanmar to traditional villages directly supported these small communities. Even though we couldn’t verbally understand one-another, we were still able to share our cultures through smiles and kindness.
Want to learn how to be a more responsible traveler? Read Emily’s tips here.