Kristi Eaton finds the language barrier to be no hurdle during a solo trek through Burma.

The 77-year-old man did not speak a word of English and my Burmese vocabulary was limited to "thank you". Somehow, though, we were able to connect over an open fire in his tiny home in the mountains outside Pindaya, Burma.

I had just finished trekking through the nearby jungle, when my guide told me we were stopping for lunch at the man's home.

Wearing the traditional Burmese sarong known as a longyi, he asked me - or, more accurately, gestured to me - to write my name and nationality in his notebook beside the previous European visitors. He, in turn, wrote down his name in beautiful Burmese script on a torn sheet of paper.

I asked my guide, who knew limited English, to help me translate it, but even my guide could not help. Instead, I had the man repeat his name over and over until I phonetically spelled it out in English: "U Kah Poh."


Just a few days before this encounter, I had left a network of friends in Cambodia to travel on my own for a few weeks before returning home.

I was exhausted, second-guessing my life decisions and wondering if I had it in me to travel on my own for several weeks.

Then I arrived in Burma, a country I had wanted to visit since a nominally civilian government came into power a few years ago after decades of military rule.

After flying into the largest city of Rangoon, I took another flight to Heho and then made the one-hour drive to Pindaya, a town in Shan State, which is known for its limestone caves that include more than 8000 carvings and images of Buddha.

Big, small, cracked, shiny, every imaginable type of statue is crammed into caves that are open to the public.

Visitors take a lift up to the Shwe Oo Min Pagoda and navigate the cave like a maze, trying to avoid getting stuck in a dead end.

Earlier, I had taken in Pindaya's local market, which runs every five days. Vendors sell a variety of food, handicrafts, electronics and more. Though the language barrier was a constant issue, I found everyone friendly and helpful.

When I ran into a mobile phone shop to seek help with my sim card, it only took a few hand gestures before the staff understood that I needed help connecting to the internet.


I later hopped back on my bicycle and rode through town before heading to Pone Taloke Lake, where I sat and reflected on the fact that, despite the challenges of navigating a new place and an unknown language, the people I met in Pindaya were friendly, accommodating and eager to help.


Getting there: Emirates connects from Auckland to Burma, via Australia with their codeshare partner Qantas.