final thoughts about Myanmar and Bali
I have been back in the United States for 24 hours. I have a towering 'to-do' list and limited time, but I keep thinking about the last month back in my beloved Asia.
I continue to lay awake thinking about how special it felt to reconnect with everyone in Laos, bathing in the familiarity of a place that feels home-y. I happily take a shower in warm water with decent shower pressure and think about the rat in my shower at the hotel in Bagan. I apply aloe vera to my itchy back, sunburnt from the beaches of Bali that feels more like Disneyland and less like Asia.
Myanmar was culturally rich. Pagodas are preserved and landmarks still feel sacred. People dress in traditional attire everywhere you go and it isn't a tourist ploy. It's simply the accepted dress code. The landscapes of Myanmar put me to ease, like nature always does, in a place where I felt less than comfortable. The Burmese people are helpful and friendly, but it often feels like behavior steaming from financial motivations. The food was lacking. The accommodation varied.
The circle train in Yangon goes through areas containing shopping malls where you can buy KFC for lunch and a Chanel clutch, then passes through some of the most impoverished villages I've seen. I've seen poverty-- places where babies are starving and dogs eat one another. But, in Myanmar, I realized what I have seen lies on such a small scale comparatively. I told Luke I had never seen slums like the outskirts of Yangon, and I'm not even sure they fully count as slums. It's made me curious to see how Myanmar compares to the likes of Bangladesh and parts of India, places I would love to go to work with Women's Empowerment campaigns.
There were moments in Myanmar when I absolutely wanted to bail and go somewhere else, but after visiting Bali I can honestly say I have grown to appreciate Myanmar. Some of the best laughs were had drenched in sweat and covered with mosquito bites, eating Indian food while the power blinked. Some of the best talks were had on top of Pagoda ruins in Bagan.
Bali, Indonesia //
I haven't explored Indonesia outside of Bali, which is an important distinction to make. I don't want people to think my thoughts and feelings about Bali represent the country of Indonesia.
Bali has capitalized on its tourist appeal. Bali is lush and green in one moment and beachy blue in another. It's peaceful in places and filled with drunken Australians watching AFL replays in sports bars smoking shisha in others. You'll find all the comforts of home anywhere you wander-- convenience shops open 24-hours a day, top quality spas, fancy resorts and golf courses, pharmacies fully stocked with every kind of birth control/medication/beauty product on the market, and every Western food available in recognizable form. Everything you want is there in Bali, easily found. WiFi works at a good speed.
I would love to go back to Bali again someday. I loved the scenery and the food and the beaches. I enjoyed how comfortable it was, how easy.
But...I couldn't tell you the first thing about true Balinese culture. Anything that I do know was pieced together over conversations with our AirBnB host. Thanks to her and her husband, I have insight into Balinese Hinduism and values of the Balinese people. But, ultimately, Bali has had its traditions taken and made into attractions. Temples that are open to the public cost to enter, which seems so strange to me-- needing a ticket to enter a place of worship. The traditional dancing and rice farming is now all a photo opportunity.
I'm not saying I'm above any of it. I visited the rice fields and took photos. I paid to enter the temples. I wanted to experience so much of it. But once I did, it just felt...too touristy to be authentic.
I loved Bali, but it also didn't feel like I went to Indonesia. It felt like luxury enjoyed with one of my very best friends. And, as icing on the cake, we got to meet up with Alina! Yeah, my German sister and her boyfriend were in Bali at the same time. We all went out to dinner and laughed over vegan carbonara and chili.
More and more these days, I feel happiest to share my experiences traveling with people I care so deeply about. I love solo travel and look back on every adventure I've taken on by myself knowing they were special and important in their own right. But I think the reason I loved this last month in Asia was that I had someone to laugh with and snorkel with and try vegan foods with and take ridiculous Instagram pictures with. I shared my birthday with my Lao family, played Uno near the Mekong with loved ones, and had a night with Alina in Bali.
Maybe it is the phase in my life I feel myself coming into. Maybe it's just that I love the people surrounding me so much that experiences without them seem less and less fulfilling. I'm not entirely sure. What I am sure of is that I wouldn't have laughed as hard in Myanmar or smiled as widely in Bali doing it on my own.