Photography by Annapurna Mellor
Wander aimlessly and don’t be afraid to communicate with locals
Make sure to catch the sunrise and sunset in every single location
I LOVE TRAVELING BECAUSE…
I love the feeling of being in a foreign place, in a lot of ways, I feel more at home. I love seeing difference in culture, habits, food, landscape and spirituality.
What made you decide on this destination?
I first visited Burma in 2013. Back then it was still slowly opening itself up to tourism. There was no mobile phones, ATM’s and very little wifi. Traveling there felt like a secret. It felt like finding somewhere new that most people didn’t make the effort to go to. That appealed to me so much.
How did this trip come together?
I was in Thailand and really tired of the party backpacker scene. I wanted to get away and be by myself for a while and reconnect with writing and photographing. After a horrific night train from the South of Thailand where I had food poisoning, I headed straight to the Burmese Embassy to get my visa. A few days later I was flying into Yangon
Best form of transportation?
I love train travel all over the world and the rickety 8 hour journey from Mandalay to Hsipaw highlights exactly why this is such an amazing form of transport.
From the dustbowl city, you rock up through mountains, over ridges and past villages. At each stop women sell snacks from trays which they carry on their heads. For some of the journey I would sit in groups of pink robed nuns, as they all laughed and giggled to each other. A few hours in, the train broke down, a usual occurrence. I used the time to take portraits of some kids who had taken a shining to my camera. In the modern world, this would be a huge nuisance, and everyone would spend the time calling family or work or generally stressing. In Burma, kids ran up and down the aisles, adults relaxed and had lunch and when we eventually got going again, we arrived in Hsipaw to a glowing sunset.
Highlights and favorite things?
The highlight of my first trip was the trek from Kalaw to Inlay Lake. It’s a three day trek through the Shan Hills and on each night we stayed in family homestays, ate dinner lit by candlelight and slept on the teak floor above moaning buffalo. In the day we passed remote monasteries, and swept through the hills until we reached beautiful Inlay Lake. As a traveller the aim is always to discover something new and this area really felt like we were some of the first tourists to pass through.
Amarapura is one of my favourite places too. It’s a small village just outside of Mandalay, a dusty, dry city I spent a couple of months living in. Often in the morning I’d motorbike out of the city to catch sunrise beneath the U-Bein Bridge. Fishermen would walk on glasslike water and monks would wander up and down the bridge. Later on you can go and eat lunch with the monks and chat to them as the practice their English. The area encompasses everything that’s so magic about the country.
Under the radar must-see or do?
Outside of Mandalay near the lovely town of Pyin Oo Lwin there is a series of turquoise blue waterfalls called Anisakan Falls. It’s hard to get to unless you hire a motorbike but the journey is worth it. The falls are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in Asia, and very clean for swimming. In Pyin Oo Lwin the local market is one of the best in the country.
To get deep into the Shan hills, head up to Hsipaw on the train from Mandalay. The town is peaceful and beautiful, with only a few tourist attractions around. Wake up early for the candlelit morning market, hire a bicycle and cycle round the old pagoda ruins just outside town and walk up to the viewpoint at sunset for one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. It’s also a good place to base yourself for trekking into nearby villages.
I was in the country a few years ago for Thingyan, the New Year Festival which is essentially a giant excuse for a water fight. The palace walls in Manadalay are transformed into giant water shooting structures and the youth of the city come out to play. It’s really fun but in a city which is otherwise very quiet and sleepy, it’s tremendously bizarre.
Did you encounter any challenges leading up to or during the trip?
Things have rapidly changed over the past few years, but when I first went you could only get a visa in the Burmese embassy in Bangkok. You also had to take all the money you wanted to spend in cash in crisp, new, US dollars. The roads are still pretty shaky and some of the night buses are the most uncomfortable in the world. There’s also many areas of the country you still can’t go to so you are in someways restricted to the tourist trail. The country is opening up more and more now and things are changing rapidly.
3 words that sum up your experience.
Golden, peaceful, transforming.
Looking back, what do you miss the most?
I miss the people. For there are few places in the world where the people are as kind and curious as the Burmese.
You get a 30 day visa for Myanmar and I really recommend using it all. This is an incredible country with so much to see and explore. You’ll want to take it slow in some places, meet the locals, going trekking and doing home stays. Do some research but leave things open for change and unpredictability. Relax, drink lots of Burmese tea and be open to the locals who are often curious for conversation.
DESCRIBE YOUR INSTAGRAM PHOTOGRAPHY AESTHETIC
My photography focuses on people and culture, and I aim to get a strong sense of place through my images. I love golden light, fleeting moments and a captivating face.
I don’t take photos specifically to share on Instagram and I think this is important. I take photos so they tell stories and represent a country and hopefully say something interesting about a place and it’s people.
Annapurna Mellor currently writes and manages an online magazine called ROAM, where she encourages photographers, travelers and writers to capture their world through photos and text. She is an avid traveler who loves to photograph people and places.