Where are the kindest people in the world?
It’s a popular question, and something everyone seems to have an answer to. But when I spoke of my plans to visit Myanmar the kindness of the people kept coming up. In fact, many told me that the Burmese were the nicest people they had ever met.
I wasn’t sure I believed them. In Europe I always thought that the Scottish and Irish were the nicest. Then after 5 weeks in Thailand I was sure that the Thai deserved the title. But in the end, my friends were right. I had only one week in Myanmar but that’s all it took for the locals to steal my heart. These are some of my favourite memories of how they did it.
When a Boy Sitting on the Top of a Dump truck Smiled at me until I Smiled Back
The ride from the airport to Mandalay was an eye opening one. From farmers using oxen to the locals riding on the top of dump trucks, I didn’t know where to look. Apparently it took me awhile to look in the right direction though. One of the backpackers I was sharing the cab with nudged me and nodded towards the window up front. I glanced ahead of me to see a young man, probably a couple years younger than me, staring with a smile on his face. I smiled back and, if it’s even possible, his smile just got bigger.
When my Hostel Owner Opened Her Home to Strangers
I booked a bed in a dorm at Yoe Yoe Lay Guesthouse after it was recommended to me by several other travellers. I was greeted with a warm smile, a glass of juice and some watermelon. As I enjoyed my snack I watched two other travellers arrive. The only problem, they hadn’t booked in advance. I’d seen the situation enough times to figure they would be sent away with another recommendation but that didn’t happen at all. Instead the owner said they could stay in her house, just around the corner then sat them down with their own snacks.
When a Taxi Driver Took me to the Palace, for Free
I was so overwhelmed with taxi drivers wanting my business at the airport that I forgot to exchange my american dollars into Kyat. Which meant I went on a bit of an adventure trying to find an exchange office. Two hours later I had my Kyat and was finding my way to the palace. I was hot, sweaty, and had finished my water long ago. I thought I finally made it when I reached the gates but no- I had quite a ways to walk still. As I made my way down the dusty road a taxi pulled up beside me, telling me to get in- no charge. For some reason I trusted him, and I was glad I did. He took my to the Palace, told me the highlights and said if I wanted, he would take me around the rest of the day for 15 000 Kyat ($15). There was no pressure at all, I didn’t feel obliged and for those reasons I took him up on his offer. He took me around for 4 hours, even carrying my shoes and getting me water and a wet wipes to clean my feet after walking around the temples.
When this Local Girl and I “Fought” over who was Prettier
When Little Kids Waved at Me from Below The Tower- and Then Came to Say Hi
Standing on the top of the watch tower in the Mandalay Palace complex is a great place to check out the view, which for me included a gang of school age children yelling hello to those of us on top of the tower. I waved back which encouraged them to run into the palace grounds and greet me as I came down the stairs. What did we talk about? Cold Canadian weather and Justin Beiber of course.
When the Last Master Puppeteer Came to Meet the Crowd
A must-do while in Mandalay is to go to a traditional Marionette show. It’s a little strange, I definitely laughed a couple of times but I was glad I went. Especially when they introduced one of the puppeteers as the last remaining Puppet Master in Myanmar. He was 89 years old and came into the crowd at the end, a proud smile on his face, as he shook hands with the visitors.
When I Caught these Adorable Girls Singing in front of a Temple
When a Monk Moved Me Past the Crowds So I Could Get a Better Photo
As a woman, I try to remain as respectful as possible with monks. While my male friends have no problem running up to take photos and chat I always hang back knowing that, for some, my presence is uncomfortable. I was beyond thrilled when a young monk in Mandalay singled me out from the crowd to talk; telling me about the temple and customs, and then clearing people out of the way so I could take photos.
When a Group of Boys Played the Air Guitar With Me at a Bar
Three foreigners in a local Burmese restaurant tend to get a lot of attention. Especially if you’re the only female and decide it would be fun to bring out the air guitar and rock out to the band. What probably should have been embarrassing ended up in a mini air guitar battle with a lot of thumbs ups and laughs.
When I Got a New Mama and a Boyfriend in the Same Conversation
When a quick “Mingalaba” turns into a full blown conversation and a local woman takes a liking to you and announces that you will be her adoptive daughter, you can’t complain. And any girl would be flattered when a cutie asks to be her boyfriend…even if he’s only about 15.
When The Girl in Pink Wrapped Her Arms Around My Neck for This Photo
When our Waiter Went Out of His Way Rather Than Tell Us No
Hot and thirsty after a full morning exploring temples my new friends and I stumbled across a restaurant for some much needed food and a cold beer. Little did we know that the restaurant we chose didn’t serve beer, but instead of saying no the owner sent one of the staff out to get us some. Sure it was served in black bags to cover the label and called Myanmar juice, but if that’s not amazing customer service, then I don’t know what is!
When Someone Came to My Rescue Every Time My e-bike Died
It happened a lot especially in the mornings going to/from our secret temple for sunrise. But I was never worried, I think every local moonlights as a knight in shining armour.
When all the locals complimented me on my “Beautiful Thanaka”
When an Elderly Man Took My Photo
Putting on the local Thanaka turned me into quite the hit among the locals. An elderly man who spoke no English hobbled over to me one afternoon to take my photo. He didn’t speak, only held up his index finger in a “just a minute” gesture before pulling out his cell phone and snapping a photo of my smiling, thanaka-covered, face. Checking to make sure it was ok he grinned, gave me a thumbs up, and wandered off.
When I Entertained the Crowds at a Burmese Bar
Walking into a bar to use the toilet was one of my most awkward moments of 2015. But they definitely made me feel welcome shouting “Mingalba” when I entered and snapping a couple dozen photos when I left.
When an Lacquer Ware Artisan Invited me Into His Home Show Me His Trade
Burmese Lacquer ware is a popular commodity in Bagan, so of course I checked out a local shop. The owner even brought me through his house to proudly show of his business and his hardworking family making their craft.
When a Toddler Chased me down the Street Blowing Kisses
No explanation needed- it was adorable.
When a Painter Took me Through All of His Work and told Me The Stories
Sand paintings are a dime a dozen in Bagan, but if you want something Unique you need to find Tin Tin and the painted temple. I went on a hunt for this authentic artisan and fell in love not just with his work, but also with his pride in it and the stories behind his paintings.
When the Lady I Rented by e-bike from Hugged me Goodbye
She greeted me every morning with a big smile, pulling forward my trusty orange ebike for me to rent for the day. She also took my laundry and helped me book my bus back to Mandalay. She was kind of my angel and judging by the huge hug she gave me when I left, I think she liked me too.
When the Taxi Driver Told Me He’d See Me Next Year
A big smile and thank you was all it took to get an invite back. And although it may be awhile, with incredibly experiences like these, how could I not want to go back?
Have you experienced the kindness of the Burmese people? I would love to hear your own stories in the comments below!