Weird but wonderful

Myanmar is welcoming ever more tourists, but a trip here needn’t be all Shwedagon and Bagan – there are plenty of quirky attractions for those who prefer to holiday outside the box

Greg Holland
May 16, 2014
Weird but wonderful

Myanmar is welcoming ever more tourists, but a trip here needn’t be all Shwedagon and Bagan – there are plenty of quirky attractions for those who prefer to holiday outside the box

Text and photography by Greg Holland

The National Races Village, Yangon, Myanmar
The National Races Village: Lovingly referred to as the People Zoo by Yangon locals, this is a condensed version of all Myanmar has to offer. Divided by state, there are miniature mountain ranges, pagodas and lakes, while each area has its own traditional house showcasing the fabrics, garments, tools and products of each region and its peoples. Rent a bike for a dollar and see the whole country in an afternoon, without the torture of a night-bus ride. Photo: Greg Holland

The Nat Pwe Festival, Myanmar
The Nat Pwe Festival: Over the years, this festival in Taungbyone has become a mecca for Myanmar’s LGBT community. Offerings are made to nats, who act as conduits to the spirit world, straddling the divide between earthly and supernatural, past and present, man and woman. The nightly performances are frenzied displays of ecstatic thrashing and primal fits. Outside, human-powered ferris wheels and carnivals rage, while an endless night market will satisfy all your consumer needs, from machetes to Justin Bieber t-shirts. Photo: Greg Holland

Crocodile Farm, Yangon, Myanmar
The Crocodile Farm: This is not a place for families, people with heart conditions or anyone who travels sans insurance. Located in Yangon, the rickety wooden walkways over the croc-infested swamps double as a surprising destination for canoodling young lovers, all of them oblivious to the very sharp teeth located just centimetres away. Hunt out the old lady selling crocodile teeth, or for greater thrills, the old man who will poke a croc with a bamboo rod and then put his head between its jaws. Photo: Greg Holland

Drug Eliminate Museum , Yangon, Myanmar
The Drug Eliminate Museum: This place has to be seen to be believed, but it will never be understood. A monument to Myanmar’s legacy of propaganda, this Yangon museum turns the bizarre up to 11. Scale model re-enactments of narco-wars, photo galleries of citizens being forced to destroy opium poppy crops and, best of all, a button-operated drug-burning simulation. A truly peculiar day out. Photo: Greg Holland

Yangon Amusement Park, Myanmar
Yangon Amusement Park: Situated in the southern corner of the Zoological Gardens, this vast theme park has been left to rot for the past three years, although visitors would be forgiven for thinking it has been closed for ten times that long. Never officially opened to visitors, it is possible to sweet talk your way in to frolic among the roller coasters, bumper cars, log flumes and sheds full of old Sega arcade games all covered in vines. Photo: Greg Holland

Taunggyi Balloon Festival, Shan State, Myanmar
Taunggyi Balloon Festival: This festival takes place on the full moon of mid to late November in southern Shan state. Unmanned balloon competitions take place all weekend, with daytime balloons modelled on gorillas, ducks, dragons, frogs and elephants. Nighttime balloons, on the other hand, are packed full of fireworks. As far as can be ascertained, the objective is: Do not get killed or blown to pieces. Fans of health and safety need not apply. Photo: Greg Holland

Happy World, Yangon, Myanmar
Happy World: It’s unlikely that Happy World will be putting together package holidays or opening a Paris-based franchise any time soon, but it does provide respite between the honking madness of downtown and your inevitable pilgrimage to Shwedagon Pagoda. Situated across from the famous pagoda, Happy World has all the bumper cars, arcade games and boat rides one could hope for, while any opportunity to see a group of young monks playing Street Fighter II has to be taken. Photo: Greg Holland

Snake Monastery, Thwante, Myanmar
The Snake Monastery: A short taxi ride, 20 minutes on the ferry to Dala and a motorbike taxi for 30 minutes gets you into the middle of nowhere pretty quickly. The road to Thwante is hot and dusty, but there are a few worthwhile stops en route to this pottery destination. The best one – obviously – is the snake monastery. Situated in the middle of a lake, this small hexagonal room is home to some 35 Burmese pythons. When the inevitable remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark comes around, this is where they’ll film it.

Pegu Club, Yangon, Myanmar
Pegu Club: This Yangon club has had a rough journey over the years. Starting life as a gentleman’s club during the British occupation, it spawned its own signature cocktail, was once a watering hole for Kipling and became a brothel for Japanese officers during their brief sojourn in the country. The complex has fallen into disrepair, but its years of decadence still echo through the dusty ballrooms and lounges. Photo: Greg Holland

Cosplay, Myanmar
Cosplay events: Since Myanmar opened up, a variety of cultural quirks have arrived in the country. One such import, via Japan, is cosplay – a youth-dominated subculture that by and large involves dressing up in wacky costumes influenced by manga comics and anime characters. The weekend-long events take place three times a year in Myanmar and constitute the ultimate destination for people-watching. Photo: Greg Holland

Keep reading:
Partying for Panglong” – Celebrating Shan National Day at the mountaintop headquarters of the Shan State Army-South
“At the mercy of the winds” – Artisans fear their skills won’t survive the onslaught of time and increasing modernity in Myanmar

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