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Saying “Mingalaba” in Myanmar

Small child in Myanmar

“Mingalaba” I say and smile at the small child whose face is streaked with the traditional paste like face paint call Thanaka.

I’m rewarded with a genuine and happy grin—the kind that extends from depths of eyes to wiggle of toes. He’s thrilled to hear me say hello in  his language.

I’m meandering with the Belmond group through a small, remote village in Myanmar, where foreigners are very rare. We’re as much of a novelty to this child as he is to me.

Remote Village in Myanmar

He lives in a small bamboo house with his family and probably grand parents. Meals are cooked over an open fire. There’s no running water or bathroom facilities. He probably will not receive more than five years of education. He will spend from one week to several months in a monastery.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been in the news of late because of the apparent loosening of the grip of the oppressive military dictatorship.  The leadership of Aun Sun Suu Kye has generated lots of publicity. It’s an exciting time in this country. I felt really lucky to be able to experience it first hand as a tourist. “The Lady” as she is called there is generating a new optimism in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Nuns and Monks in Myanmar


More and more people are going to Myanmar to see this exotic country for themselves. Actually almost 5 million in 2015. Many go to Yangon, the capital with his decaying buildings from the British era. Great Britain ruled Burma when it also controlled India, interested in acquiring teak for ship building.

One of very few buildings from the British colonial days that has been restored.

The major site to see in Yangon is the huge Shwedagon Pagoda—oldest in Southeast Asia. It is gold and glorious and the center of civic and religious life in Yangon. But other visitors go to Bagan (I’ll blog about that in the future) and Mandalay, the former capital the country. It is the religious center of a very religious country.

Pagoda in Yangon


We also found Inle Lake fascinating. I think it is a “must do” if you are going to this part of the world. I’m sorry we didn’t stay there longer.

Paddling a boat using one leg. Inle Lake, Myanmar

We had an opportunity to take an eight day River Boat cruise (Belmond) from Yangon to Bagan, where for hour after hour we cruised up a river never seeing another tourist boat, resort, hotel, bill board or many signs of modern life. Instead we saw small villages, people plowing fields behind oxen, women washing clothes and their children in the water and many fishing boats. There were no docks to tie up to….instead our crew dug down and inserted stakes to hold us each night.

Ox carts in Myanmar
Plowing fields in Myanmar
Children who came to watch our River Boat go by.
Life by the River, Myanmar
Life on the Irradwady River, Myanmar
Tying up the boat

It was spectacular. I loved the morning sunrises with views like this.

Sunrise in Myanmar

Late afternoon I did tai chi on the deck, trying to master an ancient form of exercise, challenged both by the exercise but also trying to stay focused with the gorgeous and distracting views on either side of the boat.

Sun sets in Myanmar

I expressed awe continually over the pagodas—sometimes a dozen around a small village. I will write more about what they were and why so many in another post. It was fascinating to see the monks going from hut to hut to collect something to eat. And the nuns in their pure pink robes, gentle and sweet.

Myanmar: the land of a thousand Pagodas
Villages and Pagodas
Gentle nuns in Myanmar

My memory is flooded with images of golden temples, the sweet Thanaka painted faces of women selling produce at the markets while tending the children and the fishermen on Inle Lake, balancing on one leg, paddling with the other.

Myanmar: typical face treatment

It was Magical. Mystifying. Magnetic. Myanmar.

Belmond Orcaella Myanmar
Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Jan 25, 2016 Reply

    Susan, you and Jack have had such wonderful and exotic adventures in countries that are a step back in time for you as travelers. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us and, for good or bad, are adding to our ever-growing list of places to visit in our lifetimes! Will add Myanmar to my list of places to visit!!

  2. posted by
    Jan 26, 2016 Reply

    Thanks, Margaret, I appreciate your comment. I hope you get to Myanmar before it is spoiled or changed too much. I highly recommend the Inle Lake area if you do. I’ll be doing a blog post on that part of the country within the next month. Hope you enjoy.

  3. posted by
    Feb 12, 2016 Reply

    Reading your blog is like going back in time. Your photography and descriptions are truly captivating! Thank you for making Myanmar come alive for us.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Feb 13, 2016 Reply

      Thanks, Kathy,
      It is another world that is for sure but my guess is that it will catch up quickly. I hope Myanmar doesn’t lose the culture and charm while becoming more modern with good schools and health care. They are needed.

  4. posted by
    Inle Lake: Quite unlike any place you know | DesignDestinations
    Mar 7, 2016 Reply

    […] place, what first drew me in was the chance to take an 8 day trip up the Ayeyarwady River on a Belmond river boat Orcaella. I love being on boats and think exploring a country by water is a great way to […]

  5. posted by
    Pagodas in Myanmar | DesignDestinations
    Apr 27, 2016 Reply

    […] The Pagodas are truly the center of religious and community life. Images of them will be with me forever. For more about Myanmar, click here for a previous post. […]

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    River Cruising in Myanmar | DesignDestinations
    Jun 13, 2016 Reply

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