www.groovekorea.com / June 2014 56 venture, something that was going to require more planning and more perspective. Obtaining a visa in Seoul turned out to be relatively easy. The embassy, located right by Hangangjin Station, has limited hours but can process visas in just four days. The flights in and out of Myanmar from Bangkok were also relatively cheap ($58 one-way), though the significant hurdle for budget-travelers had not yet revealed itself: finding accommodations. The country is slowly embracing tourism, but people are coming at a rate that outpaces the development; as such, hotels are scarce and must be booked in advance. Once in the country, though, it’s a surpris- ingly liberating travel experience. Outside of Bagan, the number of must-see locations, famous museums and blogged-about foodie joints starts to dwindle. Instead, I was free to let my route be shaped by my interactions and senses, relying on locals and forming close bonds with the few other backpackers I en- countered. We started our trip in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, which is best described as a massively overgrown village. Legitimate, metered taxis were nowhere in sight, so we opted for motortaxis, or men who charge a small rate to take you around on the back of their ride. We ended our first day watching the sunset on Mandalay Hill, a 40-minute bare- foot climb through towering Buddha statues and aesthetica lly diverse temples. The sunset wasn’t spectacular, yet the energy at the peak was electric. The hilltop pagoda was packed with people: teenage monks, Burmese med- ical students, young backpackers, English and German tour guides — so many conver- sations and connections happening all at the same time. Living in Korea, where that sort of thing is usually confined to the screens of our smartphones and reliant on a 4G connection, it was truly moving to witness the young and old, male and female, Buddhist and Christian, Burmese and tourist, all communicating their curiosities under a hazy red sky. After a few days in and around Mandalay we were in Bagan, an ancient city of bronze brick-and-stucco religious structures. Here you can witness, perhaps more clearly than anywhere else, Myanmar’s prominent past and the corruption of today. Since it’s the main tourist spot in the country, elaborate new ho- tels with cascading waterfalls, pristine pools and lush landscapes are everywhere, symbols DESTINATIONS Edited by Shelley DeWees (email@example.com) Living in Korea, where that sort of thing is usually confned to the screens of our smartphones and a reliant 4G connection, it was truly moving to witness the young and old, male and female, Buddhist and Christian, Burmese and tourist, all communicating their curiosities under a hazy red sky.