Myanmar: Elephant-Poop Paper, Trenches, Blisters, and Pizza

By Teresa,

Overall, we really enjoyed our visit to Myanmar. We spent the first two days in Yangon and then most of our time in and around the small town of Kalaw. After having visited many developing countries, we have learned that our preference is for the smaller rural towns, where we have had the opportunity to get to know the local people and learn about their way of life. To be fair, we are not big fans of large US cities either. Our time in Myanmar was split between Yangon, where we docked, and a couple of rural towns near Kalaw.


While in Yangon, we visited a ginormous reclining buddha, ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant, while sitting Japanese-style overlooking a small pond, toured 5 or 6 money exchange kiosks inside the grounds of the Shwedagon Pagoda, and feasted on the internet in a hotel lobby.
The entire time we were in Yangon, we were harassed by taxi drivers, which was very unpleasant and resulted in Morgan refusing to get off the ship on our second day in Yangon. The volume and presence of trash only added to kids dislike of the city and I was very annoyed that they found my slightly old US dollars substandard. Yet in exchange, they gave me the filthiest of Myanmar kyat.
Our US dollars were rejected…. Who would have thought that a US bill that was older than 4 years, would be rejected by currency exchange agents? This was the biggest scam ever [in history]. Someone has convinced the masses that US bills that are more than a couple years old, slightly bent or torn are worthless. However, if you push, people in this county will give you half the going rate for your slightly worn US bills. The same cannot be said of the Myanmar currency. It seems to me that the older, the dirtier, and more torn the bill is, the better. Someone is making a mint off our old US bills. The question everyone isn’t asking is: where is the scam originating from? The banks, the exchange counters, or all of the above?


Our time near Kalaw was an entirely different experience. In this rural part of Myanmar, we split our time between a farmers’ market, a small village, a school, an elephant conservation project, and, of course, an Italian pizzeria.

Farmers’ Market

I absolutely loved walking through the bustling farmer’s market of Kalaw. This market happens only once every 5 days, and fortunately for us, it occurred during our visit. While this market had a few textile products, it was primarily a produce market. Overflowing with fruits, vegetables, fresh and salted fish, tea, spices, eggs, meat, and every single part of the chicken, it was apparent that the land here was incredibly fertile and that nothing was wasted. The chickens were being butchered on the spot, and every part was being sold. The skin was sold separately from the meat. Apparently, it is often deep fried and used as a crouton equivalent in soups and in salads. The feet, neck, wings, and other small-boned parts were sold separately from the larger pieces, like legs, breasts, and thighs. The inner organs and eyes were another category for sale, and the unlaid eggs, still lacking a shell, yet another. I found this utterly fascinating [despite the lack of cows]. My fondness for this market stemmed from the fact that it reminded me so much of the Mennonite farmers’ market of my childhood.

Small Village

Just outside of Kalaw, we visited a small rural town where the people were clearly living below the poverty line. And yet, they were clearly very happy. Here we had the opportunity to glimpse inside the lives of the locals. While this glimpse was a small one, it was most enlightening. The adults of the community had all taken the day off to engage in a community project to replace old irrigation piping in the town. We built a short length of a gravel road for them, and then helped with the re-digging of a trench to replace piping for the water supply. Despite our group’s numbers, it seemed to me that the help that we had to offer was quite minimal, comparatively. Still, the sediment* was there, and I think the villagers appreciated our efforts.
*this was originally mom’s joke, but she was unable to fit it in very well and I had to rewrite the entire post to accommodate for it- Cameron [Hmm -Mom]

School Visit

After lunch, we visited a local school that had just dismissed for the summer and played games with the children. At first, it was difficult to get many of the children to interact with us, but this quickly changed, and before we knew it, we’d been playing with the children for two hours. During this time, we taught them our games, and they taught us theirs.

Elephant Conservation

The Elephant Conservation Project provided us with the opportunity to learn more about these gentle giant pachyderms. There were only about six elephants housed there, and they had all been rescued and were in the process of being rehabilitated. We learned from the veterinarian about the care and rehabilitation of the elephants. We were given the opportunity to feed and bathe the elephants, and the kids got to make paper from elephant poop. They are now experts. You will have to ask them about this process sometime, if you are interested.


You might wonder how pizza makes it to the top of my Myanmar list. Well, if you were travelling with my three children you would understand. The first night in Kalaw, we ate a very authentic Myanmar dinner. And so, on the second night there was only one option: pizza. I was not interested in a mutiny… or worse. As it turned out, here in this small town was an Italian, who, while doing development work in Kalaw, decided to teach some locals how to cook pizza in a wood fired oven for the tourists to enjoy. It was very tasty pizza. [understatement-of-the-year award]

Classic Room with a Mountain View

As I was trying to write this post, Cameron and I were discussing the accommodations in Kalaw, which much to Cameron’s surprise were very spacious, clean, and luxurious. Cameron had thought “that when the only description of your accommodations is the phrase: ‘classic room with a mountain view,’ you are looking forward to a Motel 6….” To quote a genius and a very wise sixteen year old: “Cameron was wrong.”
“Or worse” has been used twice. Once in and once out of quotes. Either mom is making stuff up, or Cameron is the real author of the whole thing. – Cameron

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