The day before the Big Trip. Bags packed, print-outs printed – everything ready to go.
Except my phone had smashed, my outward flight had been moved (but not the second leg), and my tablet had decided to spontaneously permanently delete all my ebooks while charging. I wasn’t exactly dealing well with the situation.
“Are you sure you’re ready to do this?”
It wasn’t what I needed to hear, but it was echoing through my mind as I all but cried at the Trailfinders agent to help me (they did, because they’re wonderful), pleaded with a local iPhone fix-it guy to repair my screen (which he did, in record time!) and begged my iPad to recover my files (it didn’t – but 2 for 3 isn’t bad).
By the end of the night I’d double checked my backpack, taken the obligatory insta (above) and fell into a nervous sleep.
Arriving at the airport the next day is still a bit of a blur – our plane was delayed on the tarmac and I was super anxious we wouldn’t arrive in time for my connection, but all was well as I was whisked through Doha airport as I waited for my connection to Yangon.
It was the middle of the night when we boarded the plane – it was a LOT smaller than I’d been expecting for an international flight (though not quite twin propeller) and a lot older, but I was so exhausted I hardly cared. The turbulence during the flight would have freaked me out in any other situation, but I’d been on edge for more than 24 hours and so, somehow, I managed to sleep through it.
I got to the airport, took out some cash and anxiously searched for the driver that was picking me up, my itinerary from OneStop Myanmar clutched tightly in my hands. I found the driver easily enough, and before I knew it I’d taken my first steps as a solo traveller into Yangon – at the height of the monsoon.
Myanmar was probably a bit of an intense choice for a ‘first’ solo trip – I’d visited Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos all in the past six months, and I was keen to continue my South East Asia odyssey.23 At the time I visited, I didn’t know about the genocide occurring in Myanmar, as the story broke a short while after I returned to the UK – I’m not sure if I can, in good conscience, recommend visiting Myanmar as it currently stands.
However, I did want to write about my experiences there, as it is architecturally and landscape-wise a stunningly beautiful country. The quality of preservation across the temples of Bagan and at Inle Lake is mind-blowing, and a real treat for those interested in carvings, history and just general atmosphere.
I’d arrived into Yangon at around 7AM – at the time, it was bright and sunny, and my driver kindly pointed out landmarks as we wended our way to my hotel. He told me all about how that day, the 19th of July, was Martyr’s Day in Myanmar – a national holiday. Unfortunately, I was so exhausted, I could barely keep my eyes open, and despite his kindness I was half asleep in the car. I got to the hotel, found my way up to my tiny, cramped and damp room, and promptly fell asleep on the bed (after intensely checking for bed bugs).
I gave myself until 1PM to recover from my jet lag. When I woke up, I reassessed the situation. The room was a nightmare – crawling with ants around the door and bathroom, absolutely minuscule and with almost literally sweating walls from the damp and humidity. Still, I hesitated to leave. Taking my first steps outside – with the advice from the driver of It’s a national holiday today! ringing in my mind – was the real first challenge. Was I brave enough to do this? Or should I just give in to temptation and stay curled up under the scratchy blanket for a bit longer?
About half an hour of self motivation later, I took a deep breath and stepped outside. It was bright and sunny and very warm. I took the trusty Lonely Planet with me and decided to take it easy with their guided walk around the town centre. I pottered along quite happily for a while, taking in the sights (though far too terrified to take out my camera for fear of a mugging and/or just looking like a mug), keeping a measured distance from the other tourist-looking family up ahead with a similar blue-spined book to my own. After about half an hour, we both came to a confused stop – one of the ‘highlights’ and directional spots of the tour was boarded up and hidden away – for renovation and restoration.
I asked the family if they were doing the tour too, and minded if I tagged along behind them just to make sure I was in the right place. They agreed happily, and ended up being a very genial and bubbly Australian family – two adults and two tweenage boys. We got to chatting, and I spent the rest of the afternoon with this exceptionally kind family – who took the first ‘proper’ photo of my in Myanmar, escorted me around Yangon mall took me along to their favourite Yangon restaurant and even showed me around their traditional AirBNB.
We parted ways at the end of the day and I didn’t get their contact details – but I’ll be forever grateful to them, as it was the perfect introduction to solo travel. I felt a lot more confident for the road ahead – which was a good thing, as I had another flight first thing in the morning, on to the majestic temples of Bagan…