Faces of Myanmar in Black & White
Myanmar, formerly Burma, is recognized by the world as the Golden Land. Many pagodas in Myanmar are covered with gold leaf. According to a legendary tale, over 4 million pagodas were built in Bagan (which is certainly not true, because archaeologists today can find only the traces of over 5000 pagodas). But it's not the pagodas which makes Mynamar unique, it's the wonderful and amazing people. Take a look at the Black & White portraits and enjoy the wonderful faces of Myanmar.
Myanmar is one of the most devout Buddhist countries in the world. About 89% of the people in Myanmar are Buddhist. People in Myanmar practice the Theravada Buddhism, which is more austere and ascetic, but also harder to practice than the Mahayana Buddhism, the other main branch of the Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism is also followed in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Laos and Thailand. No one really knows, but experts estimates that in Myanmar live about half a million monks. It's customary for a male in Myanmar to enter a monastery twice in his life. Once as a samanera, a novice monk, between the age of 10 and 20, and again as a hpongyi, a fully ordained monk, sometime at the age of 20. Some might remain a monk for just a few days, while others stay for life.
Monks hold the highest status in the society of Myanmar. The overwhelming majority of the monks and novives in Myanmar wear maroon-colored robes. Monks receive two meals per day, breakfast and lunch and they are not allowed to eat after 12:00 noon. Early in the morning the monks and novices go out carrying a bowl to get offerings like rice, curry or other food. Usually a monk has his own family where he goes every day. It is not begging, since the family invited the monk to come to their house. It is a ritual that expresses a profound bond between the monks and the ordinary Buddhist and gives the locals the chance of doing the deed of dhana and to acquire merit.
Many travelers like Myanmar because of the wonderful and amazing people. And I think they are absolutely right. Especially in areas away from the popular tourist destinations. And it is still very simple to explore the authentic way of life in Myanmar. Visit a big market in the outskirts of Yangon for example, or stay a couple of nights in Sagaing, take enough time to visit the monasteries there and get in touch with the monks and the Buddhism way of life. In a monastery in Sagaing I asked the monks if they receive a lot of visitors, they answered that I am the second tourist since a couple of years!
Here a few practical tips if you like to visit Myanmar any time soon. The travel guides like for example the Lonely Planet from 2011 are already partly outdated. Things are changing too quickly in Myanmar right now.
Changing money: Don't listen to the travel guides like Lonely Planet! You get by far the best rates at the airport. You should change money directly when you arrive in Yangon. Or you go to Bogyoke Aung San Market, leave all the black market moneychangers behind and go to a small bank at the far end of the market to change money with a very good rate. They also accept smaller banknotes for the same rate, which the black market moneychangers don't do.
The Annapurna Circuit is still considered as one of the best treks in the world. The scenery is outstanding: this trek takes you through breathtaking sceneries of rivers, flora and fauna circling the Annapurna massif. The trek goes usually counter-clockwise from Khudi to Pokhara and reaches its highest point at the pass Thorung La (5416m). Three eight-thousander can be seen on this trek: Manaslu (8156 m), Annapurna 1 (8091 m) and Dhaulagiri (8167 m). The trek goes through Buddhist villages and Hindu holy sites, most notably the village of Muktinath, a holy site for both Buddhists and Hindus.
The best time for the trek is in October and November, right after the raining season. Beginning of October there is still a chance of rainy days, but from middle of October to end of November you have always blue sky and almost no rain. In December/January it can be very cold and the pass Thorung La can be blocked because of snow. We had rain the first 4 days of the trek (beginning of October) and the path was blocked on the third day because of a landslide. We lost almost one day which we tried to catch up the fourth day, and we reached a small simple teahouse very late in darkness and heavy rain. As a 'welcome present' we got a bucket of hot water for a shower, a place at the huge tiled stove to dry the clothes, a simple but tasty Nepalese dinner and a place to sleep. Luckily the next day all the rain was gone and since then we had beautiful weather every day.