Archive for the ‘28 Days in Burma’ Category.

Burma Afterthoughts

Nearly 18 months after my trip, I decided that the few pictures of Burma I’d originally posted were completely inadequate to describe such a fantastic trip. I decided to re-open my photo album and select all the pictures that brought me back there, and am posting them now with short commentaries. For chronological ease, I’ve put them back in 2008, when it all happened. The first two are up.

28 Days in Burma

As we flew closer to Yangon, we could see a green rice paddies glimmering in the sun, like a fertile mirror. Here we were, no turning back now, our Myanmar adventure had begun.

I first thought of visiting the country when Laxman announced, almost a year earlier, that he was now ready to go and see what was going on there. I thought I wouldn’t mind going along, accompany him on a first time adventure for both of us. He had postponed his visit for two decades because of the political situation in Myanmar. Till my first trip to India the year before, I’d never really thought of where I’d like to go, and I certainly hadn’t thought of myself as someone who’d go anywhere ‘dodgy’. All I’d heard of Burma was about Aung San Su Si on house arrest and 1940′s soldiers building railways in jungles, but suddenly the names of Mandalay and Rangoon sparkled with poetic wonder in my mind.

Our friend Charlotte had been a tour guide on several organised trip to the country, and spoke of it and of its beautiful people with warmth and enthusiasm.

I started reading up on Burma, her history, also contemporary real stories, and talking about it. Some of my friends had seen documentaries about the tourist infrastructure being built on slave labour, the Burmese had called for a boycott themselves and the regime brutally repressed the people. But now on the internet, some other Burmese were decrying the boycott as more harmful than tourism, saying that there is no worse fate for the people of Myanmar than isolation. It seemed the leader herself started to hint at discrimination.
What was really going on?

In the middle of my research, the September 07 monks’ rebellion started. Now, with some background information, our visit looked quite unlikely. Laxman continued to gather practical information, and I kept on following the news and reading background info till January, when I really needed to make a decision – I was leaving by the end of the month…

Reading the latest forum posts from people who had just returned, I made my mind. They were saying that we must go, tourism had dropped to almost zero, and the budding independent tourist industry was decimated. Isolation was painfully severe to ordinary Burmese, and used by the regime to control people further.

The important thing, insisted the travel book and individual travellers with a conscience, was to avoid putting money in the pocket of the government, and use as far as possible local, private and independent services. Put money directly in people’s hands.

So, sharing this information, we still both wanted to go.
I took off with the intention to get to Bangkok first, and see there if I’d get a visa there.

We got a visa without any hassle or trouble. There were only another 7 or 8 tourists applying, and it all went very quickly. At the embassy, the guys behind the window, presumably ‘baddies’ in league with the regime, looked like ordinary family men trying to earn their living. So it was going to be a lot more complex than the new Rambo film, just coming out these days and much talked about, made out….

As the old, near empty plane prepared to land, I let my thoughts wander – what were we going to find down there?

Bago and Taungoo

The very next day we were off North by bus. First we had to get a taxi to the bus station. We got on a rickety bus blaring a Burmese cabaret video for a few hours. Then we got to a town that made us feel more at home, as it felt less controlled (a bit like India, in other words). This town, Bago, harboured treasures. A giant reclining Buddha, and magnificent payas.
After a brief visit, we got another bus to Taungoo, to stay in a guesthouse described in the infamous LP guide, to catch our breath. Strolling round the market and shaded alleys on the outskirts of town was a great pleasure and constantly held surprises for us.

Yangon and Shwedagon

First day in Burma. We’re a bit unnerved by the strange, expectant atmosphere in Yangon and don’t like it much here. The long deserted avenues to Shwedagon Paya. The lack of motorbikes. But Shwedagon itself more than makes up for it, and we stay till well after dark.
Last, the extraordinary White House Hotel, more of a folly than anything else, with its vertiginous views, and staff cooking a bountiful breakfast.