Myanmar (Burma) - where Buddhist monks and tattoos meet

Day 1,961 since October 10th 2013: 173 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross)

Welcome to Southeast Asia people!


Your surroundings matter. Put a plant in the office. Paint a wall blue. Surround yourself by people you like. Buy some earplugs. Open a window. Go to Myanmar ;)

Crossing the border into Myanmar might have been the best thing I could have done to my health. In last week’s entry I told you about the narrow mountain roads, the strikes and the villagers closing the road due to an untimely death. Then I reached Myanmar at the Tamu border crossing and life just got easy. The gardens looked neat. The faces around me were smiling. Food became ridiculously cheap. The fauna and flora of course did not care which side of the border they were on. There was plenty of natural beauty on the Indian side across which is known as the “Seven Sisters”. Religion appeared plentiful up there around the Tamu border. Churches, temples, mosques and more. Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, name it. It appeared peaceful in every sense of the word. It didn’t resemble the “headline warnings” which I have received from people: “don’t go to Myanmar!! Be careful in Myanmar!”


My $0.65 USD serving (I had two portions like this for that price).

I was told to take caution in regards to the food. Apparently a lot of people have stories about falling sick. I picked a street vendor who looked like she knew what she was doing. Noodles, soup and salad. Here are your chopsticks. It was delicious. I ordered a second plate but got everything double: noodles, soup and salad. No worries. I was hungry and it went down. It was SO good!! Then I paid. The cost of two servings was $0.65 USD. A $20/day budget will get you far in this country!! The money is called Kyat and is pronounced “Chat”.


It didn’t take long before I noticed that a lot of people were wearing a yellowish-white cosmetic paste on their faces. Both men and women. I also noticed that women wore tight clothing revealing the exact shape of their hips. And Shakira already taught us that hips don’t lie. Anyway, the facial paste is called thanaka and is made from ground bark. Something very distinctive of the Myanmar culture and yet I had seen something similar before? I remember noticing it in Comoros (Island Nation in the Indian Ocean) back in 2016. There it consists of a ground sandalwood and coral paste. Amongst Comorians it's known as "msinzano". In both Myanmar and Comoros they say it smells nice, it’s good for the skin and it protects from the sun. I found a place in Tamu for the night. I bought a simcard. I bought a ticket for a bus which could take me to Mandalay the following day. A bus ride which was set to take 12-14 hours but they wouldn’t leave until 11am? Why not leave at 07:00am and reach Mandalay in the evening and not in the night? Well you won’t get that answer from me because I have no idea.



Everything seemed so easy just by crossing the border. Getting a ticket, having a spectacular meal at low cost, purchasing a simcard, setting up in a hotel and I was surrounded by beautiful smiling faces. I began to notice other things. People would receive or hand over things with both hands or the right hand only. And when only using the right hand they would simultaneously touch their right arm with their left hand. So I began to do that too. In Myanmar it is impolite to point at people. It is also impolite to stand with your hands on your hips as it resembles challenging someone. It is polite to cross your arms while in conversation or fold them in your back. It turns out that per default I will often put my hands on my hips which I would throughout my visit in Myanmar comically quickly move to behind my back. Where I come from it can be impolite crossing your arms as the body language demonstrates that you are closed to the conversation. This is the stuff which makes traveling precious. That night I worked late finishing the Friday Blog for you guys. I sat outside on a rooftop terrace and typed away under a large moon. Writing a blog and getting it online rarely takes less than five hours and often more.


TCP bus

The following day I had a delicious breakfast and got ready to board the bus. I would later find out that it wasn’t a bus at all. It was a “puke-mobile!” :) No, it was a bus and it was a pleasant bus apart from that I had no leg space which is really annoying after a few hours and more so after ten. However the scenery was spectacular!! Fields of sunflowers, rivers, idyllic homes, tall green hills, nature, cows and blue sky. Service on board was good too. A bottle of water, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a black plastic bag and a quilt to snuggle under. And then people began vomiting. And that became super common throughout the rest of the bus ride. I held up fine and found it somewhat amusing. These kind smiley faces people apparently do not have a stomach for bus travel? The steward on board was accustomed to this phenomenon because he handed out pills, replaced everyone’s plastic bags with new ones. He also offered more water and what looked like chewing gum. How interesting? Then later on the bus pulled over to the side in the middle of nature without a single house anywhere around us. Everyone then left the bus to go and pee. Men on the left side of the road and women to the right. It would have made for a great picture with some fifty people lining up along the side of the road, however I would much rather prefer to give everyone their privacy so close your eyes and imagine it instead.


Mandalay Hill. Everyone wants to see the sunset ;)

We reached Mandalay past midnight. sounds great! Perhaps a place we all should visit. Mandalay was the former royal capital in northern Myanmar. Today the administrative capital is Naypyidaw (Nay Pyi Taw) while the commercial capital and largest city (7 million) is Yangon. A motorcycle taxi got me most of the way before I walked towards the hostel I had picked out the day before. The receptionist was kind and getting a bed in a dormitory was no issue whatsoever. Everything was easy. I do feel like I need easy. The Saga isn’t easy on a general note...not with all I’m trying to accomplish. My fiancée hinted that I should stop complaining because people don’t want to hear it ;) I’ll just say that my workload remains over fifty hours a week but it feels lighter now due to the nice and easy circumstances. I was lucky with my dorm room: nobody was snoring, the air was good, the temperature was right and I slept well.




Betel nut. Chewing betel nut is a national pastime. Small street stalls sell the palm-sized green leaves filled with betel nut, spices and sometimes a pinch of tobacco, then folded and popped in the mouth and chewed.


When chewing betel nut it builds up a red juice which is spat out and creates a read stain. You'll see that everywhere.

The next day at breakfast I met Stephanie and Fabian from Switzerland and we joined forces in exploring Zegyo Market, which is the oldest and most important market in Mandalay. A place where we found fish, chili, onions and much more in abundance. Truly a buzzing place! Then I explored Mandalay Palace which in its own right was impressive. Finally I made it up Mandalay Hill and caught the sunset while chatting with some monks. The monks are happy to speak with foreigners as it is a way for them to practice speaking English. Tattoos appeared very common across Myanmar. A lot of monks had them too. And not traditional or spiritual tattoos but modern-hipster-sleeve-type tattoos to my surprise. I also managed to buy a train ticket for Yangon the following day. I went like this: walked to the train station, was guided to the interstate counter, said I wanted a ticket to Yangon, paid, received a ticket, end of story. Why can’t everything be this easy?!? :) The train ride between Mandalay and Yangon was one I’d been looking forward to for a few months. It was supposed to be scenic and slightly faster than the bus. However rumours also had it that it was bumpy and that there would be no sleep to be had. 


Mandalay Palace.

That night I had a long anticipated video conversation with my fiancée. She was super excited about something and had asked if I could stay away from social media throughout the day. She wanted me to guess what her surprise was. Are you pregnant? No. Is your sister pregnant? No. Is your sister getting married? No. Did you get your PhD financed? That would be nice, but no. Did you win something? suck at guessing!! Okay, then tell me?


In fact my fiancée did something AMAZING for me!!! In Denmark we have a popular radio program called “Sangskriver” (Songwriter). It’s hosted by Jonas Gülstorff on P3 radio (national radio). The concept is that an artist joins the program for two hours and creates a song based on a listener’s request. Well, yesterday the very talented Nelson Can were in the studio. They listened to my fiancées request for a song to cheer me on for the remaining leg of the Saga...and they DELIVERED!! So not only do I have the most wonderful woman waiting for me at home!! Now we also have this precious memory set to the amazing music and voices of Signe, Maria and Selina :)

The song features on the podcast at 1:47:45.

Link to podcast:


I tried to write down the lyrics for you:


Once upon a time you were mine, but I had to let you go. 


And once upon a time you were mine, now I long to get you home.


You went out to see the world, and I am fine, with that you know.


And when you’re tired and in doubt, I am still with you.


Once upon a time you’ll be mine if you stick to your ambitions.


And once upon a time we’ll be fine we’ll be kissing in the kitchen.


You went out to see the world, and I am fine, with that you know.


And when you’re tired and in doubt, I am still, I’m still here with you.


Just keep keeping on.

Just keep keeping on.

Just keep keeping on.

Just keep keeping on.

You should keep keeping on, even if it means you’re leaving.


You should keep keeping on, even if it means you’re leaving.


You should keep keeping on, even if it means you’re leaving.


You should keep keeping on, even if it means you’re leaving.


You should keep keeping on, even if it means you’re leaving.


You should keep keeping on, even if it means you’re leaving.


You should keep keeping on.


(I’m actually in doubt if they sing “leaping” or “leaving”)


Edit: March 12th 2019 - Jeanett was so currious to know if it was "leaving" or "leaping" that she wrote Nelson Can and asked. They sang "leaving" ;) I have since then corrected it in the song lyrics above.



Smartphones and social media has long taken over this planet.

I finished working at 01:00am and I was up at 5am the next morning to make my 6am train to Yangon. My seat was pretty comfortable and away we went. It felt like I was the only one on the train who spoke English. It was definitely an experience. Myanmar is ridiculously beautiful to look at! So lush and green. So peaceful in its appearance. At times the train ride got fairly bumpy but if you’re tired enough you can sleep anywhere.


This little girl and I were the only ones looking out the window.

Such a train ride is the kind of thing we should all do once but I don’t need it twice. It is quite noisy and 14 hours on a noisy train is a long time. I measured that the volume never came below 93dB while the train was moving and it was often above 100dB. Whenever the train stopped the isle way between the seats would become a market place. So I stocked up along the journey on various local delicacies (often rice). At one point I bought three hard boiled eggs from a very nice lady for $0.31 USD. The windows were open for the entire journey so it was rather dusty. Bunny, noisy and dusty...doesn’t sound nice when you put it like that but it was worth while.


Those are chilis on the side. My rice dish came spicey enough as it was.

Late at night the train rolled into Yangon and I was greeted at the station by Susanne Klitgaard who’s a Danish Red Cross (DRC) delegate in Myanmar. She specializes in logistics and was working in the private sector long before she joined the DRC. I reached Yangon the day after she turned sixty, which would be impossible to see from looking at her?!? Fifty seems more like it. Susanne walked me to her hotel were she sponsored three nights for me. She’s been following the Saga almost from when it began and she knows what it has been like: “you deserve a nice clean bed”. Thank you!!! She did not need to do that but Susanne wanted too and I appreciate it! :) That night we had a beer and talked for a while. It was only then I realized that I had met her before back in 2013!! Within the Red Cross you have a specialized rapid response unit called the ERU (Emergency Response Unit). The idea is that a team of specialists can rapidly reach a large scale natural disaster and sustain itself while the rebuild of society takes its first steps. Then within the first months after the disaster the ERU can leave and the National Society within the country can take over on the continuous work. Back in 2013 I applied for the position as a logistics delegate within the ERU and had a meeting with Randi Bjerre and apparently Susanne Klitgaard!! She had known all along but it was only during our conversation that night that I realized we were united again. Fun! :)


The Danish Red Cross in Myanmar. Susanne is on the far left. The second last on the right (in red) is Nuria who is the country coordinator.

The next day I visited the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) together with Susanne. The DRC has been supporting the MRCS since the 80s and as such has a unique and very close presence within Myanmar. Actually this goes back all the way from when the country was known under a different name. It was known as Burma until 1989 when it was renamed Myanmar and the former capital, Rangoon, became Yangon. And on that note Naypyidaw became the new capital in 2006. I guess the name Myanmar is more inclusive as not all of the 55 million people in the country are Burmese. The country hosts 135 distinct ethnic groups and multiple languages are spoken all over the relatively large country. Now I can’t write this blog without touching upon a certain subject. Several of my followers have written to me regarding people fleeing violence in the southeastern part of Myanmar and have asked me to focus more on that. Myanmar is made up of seven states and seven divisions and people fleeing violence in Rakhine state are currently seeking safety in Bangladesh. It is a very complex matter which goes back many years and I would kindly ask anyone to make some broad spectrum research before jumping to headline conclusions. I have spent much time researching this matter and I would prefer not to go into depth. What can be said with certainty is that the Red Cross and Red Crescent are highly active in alleviating the suffering of the most vulnerable people. Since the outbreak of violence on August 25th 2017 the Red Cross Movement has actively been providing humanitarian assistance. The following figures are up to May 25th 2018: 

 - 263,700 people have received food.

- 800,200 liters of water distributed to affected communities.

- 13,200 people have received cash grants.

- 10,500 people have received seeds and fertilizer.

- 9,800 people have received sanitation services.

- 211,000 people received emergency assistance including hygiene kits, mosquito nets, blankets, tarpaulins and oral rehydration salts.

- 160,000+ patients have been served through mobile clinics, first aid trainings and donations of medical materials and medicines to 17 different facilities run by the ministry of health and sports.

- 5 prison visits have been conducted in Rakhine to monitor treatment and conditions of detention and to restore communication between detainees and their relatives.

- 2,000+ messages and tracing requests have been collected from both sides of the border. And 295 families have successfully had communication restored up until May 2018.

RC president


(Click on image to see article).

At the MRCS I met with the DRC before joining the President, the Secretary General, the Deputy Secretary General and many others at a meeting in which I was welcomed and congratulated. Then we spoke about how the MRCS has changed from having its governing board appointed by government in the past to having everyone elected. As such Madam President Prof. Dr. Daw Mya Thu is the first female president of the MRCS. She came from a background within the health sector which is highly relevant across MRCS work within health and safety nationwide today. The ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) recognized MRCS as a National Society in 1939 making them eighty years today. However the humanitarian work goes back to 1920. They have a splendid website which you can find here: Myanmar Red Cross Society. Check it out to learn more about volunteer programs, blood donations, disaster risk reduction, first aid and much more. You’ll also find information on how you can get involved.

TCP map

My drawing of the world. That's about right! Don't you think? ;)

Susanne brought cake to celebrate her 60th successful trip around the sun so the DRC all gathered in the conference room where we sang for her. I was also asked to present the Saga and that ended up in a session where I had to draw the world map on a whiteboard and explain where I’ve been. That map might not have been to scale. Then the DRC staff surprised me as I was handed an envelope with USD, which they had collected among themselves in support of my efforts. If I didn’t have tears in my eyes when I was writing about the the 295 families which had communication restored...then I do now!! Thank you soooooo much!!!

RC log

The formidable logistics team! Logistics rules the world!!! ;)

Finally Susanne brought me upstairs to meet the logistical department. My people!! The world we live in is nothing else than logistics and us logistics people are just waiting for the rest of you to wake up and realize it ;) More cake was served and we all socialized as the logistics experts we all were. Then I casually asked how I should go about reaching the Thai border by bus. I halfway had it figured out and was just making small talk. However there is no such thing in a logistical department. Susanne had for a while been influencing the team with her extensive knowledge on the subject and she had implemented some English training sessions. So the team and I got along marvelously as they began making phone calls and eventually handed me a price, departure time and location. They even insisted on getting the ticket for me so I forked out some money right there and then. Myanmar must be one of the easiest countries I’ve been to anywhere on this spinning blue dot of ours. Then the logistics team surprised both Susanne and I! We each received traditional Myanmar shirts and tried them on immediately. Thank you guys!


Shwedagon Pagoda.

The next day I did some sightseeing which is basically mostly content creation for the Sagas social media. Of course I still want to see and experience things but these days I can hardly look at anything without thinking if there’s an angle in it to promote the country I’m in. I found my way to the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda which is a pilgrimage site for Buddhist around the world but primarily Buddhists from Myanmar. It is believed to enshrine eight hairs of Gautama Buddha and is one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites. Then I headed down to Kandawgyi Lake in Yangon and went for a stroll. Free entrance. I had a video chat with a friend back home while walking about. The connection was perfect for the entire time and my simcard was both easy to get and cost efficient. I spend a lot of time scratching the back of my head when it comes to how some countries are portrayed across media versus how I experience them? Myanmar has been nothing but a delight!! The people, the culture, the scenery, the food, safety, architecture, parks, infrastructure, costs, has all been so overwhelmingly pleasant, surprising and interesting. 


Kandawgyi Lake (free entrance).

Then in the late afternoon I walked over to Maersk and made a presentation of Once Upon A Saga at their Yangon office - and we had a GREAT time together!! It was my 85th presentation worldwide across schools, events and companies. Maersk has been pivotal towards the success of the Saga and it’s always my pleasure to give back by inspiring and motivating. Afterwards there was time for snacks and selfies. And believe or not...THEY HANDED ME AN ENVELOPE WITH $500 USD!!!


That’s certainly not why I came. My intention was to connect with the team and share the experience. I’m so grateful to everyone! And yet my visit offered another very special #MaerskMoment. Between Maersk in Bangladesh and Maersk in Myanmar the $820 USD it cost to visit Bhutan have been paid!! I’m always exhausted after making a presentation so I slept like a baby that night for about 4.5 hours before the alarm went off again. I had a 06:15am departure from Yangon to reach a 08:00am bus. That bus got me to Myawaddy (13 hours) where I spent my last night in Myanmar. 


Myanmar is very rich in natural resources, nature, beauty and kindness. In recent years Myanmar has been opening up to tourism in a big way and visitors agree that it is a remarkable country. Myanmar is a mix of the new and the old which makes for a colorful experience. The country is among the 25% largest in the world and I felt safe wherever I went. I lost a piece of my heart in this one people...I will be back. But for now we will keep on keeping on. I woke up in Myawaddy, got dressed, had breakfast (chopstick), left the hotel and walked across the bridge into Thailand: country number 173 in a single unbroken journey completely without flying.


This helpful guy insisted on carrying my bag. He was immediately surprised about its weight :)



Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - It has been a while, but I'm smiling again.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"


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