Matt Bailey is a Canadian who grew up around the oil industry where six-figure jobs are a “dime-a-dozen”. Realizing money isn’t everything, he moved away, unleashed his entrepreneurial soul, and dug into his adventurous side by attempting to visit every UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world. He has spent more than 700 days traveling in different countries during the last three years.
After five months traveling with his fiancée around Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Laos, he finally made his way into Myanmar; a country he had been dreaming to visit from the start. Please enjoy this a week-in-the-life of Matt Bailey and his fiancée in Myanmar.
This post was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
Day 1: Matt Bailey in Myanmar
Wake up at 4 AM to get ready to catch a ferry down the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. Last night was my birthday and although it was very low key, I’m crazy tired today. Nonetheless, we hop in a cab, head through the dark streets of Mandalay, and get dropped off at the local ferry station for our eight-hour trip to Bagan. It’s not completely local anymore as half the upper floor has been taken over by tourists. Still, more than half the boat is used for locals and that’s why we are here.
We grab a plastic lawn chair, which is packed in very tightly with other tourists and their lawn chairs, and wait for it to depart.
As we coast along the river, we see many temples, bridges, and villages, before I finally decide to abandon the tourist zone and my comfy plastic chair and head downstairs to mingle with the locals.
The mingling doesn’t amount to much since English is my only language but I find a monk and we become friends for the trip, trying to communicate as best we can.
It’s truly amazing to witness local life when the boat stops at villages along the way. When the boat does stop at small villages, chaos ensues as people quickly move on and off the vessel to sell food while others try transporting stuff.
I quickly remember that this is why I travel.
Eight hours on the river and we reach magnificent Bagan. We find our guesthouse, grab a bite to eat nearby, and settle in for the night.
We wake around 9 AM and eat our free breakfast consisting of white bread, bad jam, eggs, and fruit. We then rent a couple bikes and head out to see some ancient temples.
Mystified by the beautiful temples scattered across the field, we take time to stroll through the cool inner halls, stare at some Buddha statues, and talk to many locals, all of whom are trying to sell us stuff. We politely decline.
For lunch, we decide to try out a lonely planet recommended Indian restaurant with some very tasty vegetable curries.
With our bellies full, we visit more temples before finally stopping at one of the bigger ones so we can climb to the top to witness a lovely sunset while gazing at more than 3000 temples scattered among the land.
We leave before it gets too dark and try a new restaurant set up by a local. The fresh baked bread is absolutely delicious (and a much-needed change from what we have gotten accustomed to) as is the baked Irrawaddy river fish I ordered next. We have a very interesting and educational conversation with the owner who we befriend during our stay in Bagan.
Once again, I’m reminded of why I travel.
We gather up three other travelers and rent a taxi to go see Mount Popa. The temple, which is located on the very top of the volcano, looks as if it ascends into heaven. We don’t know much of its history but are astounded by the views over Burma.
We’re also having a ton of fun watching monkeys chase each other around and eat peanuts given to them by the locals. We snap some pictures of our “distant relatives” before a group of local high school students ask us for a group photo. After having our mugs snapped, we head back to Bagan.
We rest a little before heading out to another great restaurant located right beside a small temple.
On the way home, we bike by three young guys playing guitar near the river. My fiancée decides to go back to the guesthouse to rest while I hang back and make some new friends.
Although it’s a strange and very poor country, not to mention it’s pitch black outside, I nonetheless feel safe here.
In minutes, a dozen others show up and begin to entertain me. One guy is rapping in Burmese while one plays an acoustic guitar. Another drives off on his moped and brings me back a beer, which probably cost him a half-day’s wage.
I’m extremely grateful.
They keep asking me if I’m happy to which I delightfully reply…yes!
Then a woman appears from the dark street, apparently the wife of the rapper, and yells at him in Burmese. A huge fight ensues with punches resembling that of a bar fight. The woman is twice his size but the fight lasts quite a long time before both finally leave.
Everyone else tries to entertain me again, apologizing over and over, embarrassed by their very drunk friend.
Finally, as 1 AM approaches, all have to go back to their homes. I head to the guesthouse and see that Karla, my fiancée, has been worried about me the whole time. I tell her I’m okay and head to bed for another short sleep before waking up at 5 AM to catch a bus out of Bagan.
We wake early again and board a packed bus en route to Inle lake. I stock up on peanuts and snacks for the twelve-hour journey.
Eleven hours later, we get dropped off in Kalaw, which is about two hours’ driving distance from Inle lake. This is where we prepare for a three-day hike, an alternate option for getting to Inle lake. We meet a local hiking guide followed by a group of Europeans, who we join for the trip.
Again, we don’t rest much, and the next day we wake up and begin the hike at 8 AM.
Although it’s rainy season, we luckily have great weather for the morning hike despite the cool mountain air.
There are nine of us and we pay $40 each for a guided three-day hike, two nights accommodation and food. What a deal!
We hike for eight hours, passing many minority villages, and a school where the kids are super excited to see us.
We then stop at the top of a mountain for some extremely delicious Nepalese food while looking out over a tremendous view of the valley below.
Eventually, we all force ourselves to stop eating, and finish the day’s hike at a local family’s house where a separate building houses us for the night.
We use the awkward bucket shower outside, eat more good food, and lay out our mats on the floor to sleep for the night.
When 8 AM rolls around we begin the hike again. This time it’s raining and the trails are very muddy. Our group is awesome though and the laughter and enjoyment erodes the wet weather from our souls.
We stroll through lush green rice fields and farmland before walking down a railway track. As we approach the station, a train coming our way stops to pick up passengers.
As the rain trickles down, it feels like we have been transported back in time. The old train comes to a grinding halt as hordes of people dressed in traditional village clothes rush to the train’s windows selling all sorts of fruits, vegetables and meat.
I take some pictures but decide to indulge myself in the moment by just taking a step back and watching the scene unfold before me.
As the train sounds its whistle and heads off down the track, we continue onward before stopping at a local store for a beer and some chips.
Passing load-carrying mules marching their way through the thick mud, we eventually find our home for the night; a monastery for “little” monks.
We have a brief cold bucket shower outdoors before settling down for a big dinner. When the fried banana dessert is finished, we share a couple more Myanmar lagers before heading to the monastery floors to sleep the night away.
Waking to the morning chant of young monks, we wake early for our last day of hiking. We stretch our legs, our backs, and then give a small donation to the head monk.
We then hit the road, passing beautiful valley views along the way. We make it to the edge of Inle lake around noon and catch a boat for the final one-hour ride to the town of Nyaungshwe.
We grab a guesthouse near each other, take a nice cold shower, and finally rest for a few hours. We all meet up for a lovely dinner and make plans for the next day.
The nine of us get together and rent a boat and a guide to bring us around Inle Lake for the day. Gliding over the beautiful water surrounded by green mountains and blue skies gives the moment a surreal feel as we watch local fisherman propel their fishing boats using their feet.
After more amazing scenery and some interesting lotus silk weaving, we realized most of the trip was spent visiting tourist attractions like blacksmith factories, cigar makers, and other shops.
We end all that as quickly as we could and have lunch at a very slow albeit scenic restaurant. Then, as we head back to the town, a storm comes up quick and we have no choice but to dock at a nearby lodge and wait it out. Thankfully, our driver is smart enough to do this because the storm hits hard and fast.
About an hour later, the storm subdues enough for us to head back to the guesthouse. We all meet up for our last dinner together, exchange contact information, and I realize that we now have friends in Russia, Italy, France, Portugal, and Spain.
We say goodnight to each other and head back to the guesthouse for a good night’s rest.
Matt Bailey is now in Canada visiting family and skiing down the slopes of the Rocky Mountains. He is focusing on his travel hacking business Canadian Free Flyers, planning to rock out at SXSW, and getting ready to launch Livelimitless.net; a brand new site dedicated to helping people push their limits, become true to themselves, and really live their own remarkable life. By mid-2013, Matt plans on moving to South America and continuing his quest to experience all 962 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.