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Adventures in Myanmar

There have always been two countries which deeply fascinated me and both for different reasons; North Korea and Burma. Looking at both, you’d think I had some sort of military dictatorship obsession that led me to want to become either a communist or total fascist. Wrong on both accounts. I think it was because both were closed countries – albeit at different extents – and somewhere that not many people ventured. Not many tourists and completely untouched by globalisation.

Forget North Korea for the moment as I seriously doubt I’ll ever go and also because it’s just an interest into how weird of a place it would be. Burma on the other hand was achievable and made possible by the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the relaxation (of sorts) in political freedoms of the NLD and a change in overall outlook by the government.

I can remember when I lived in Thailand doing a visa run to the boarder of Burma once and looking back I think this was the start of my obsession. I literally didn’t see much, in one door and out the other without seeing any glimpse of life inside the country. But as I drove back to Surat Thani and looked out at the beautiful countryside, I began to think that what lies beyond the boarder truly is an amazing country with so much to see.

Fast forward to 2010 and Aung San Suu Kyi’s release and later the relaxation of the tourist ban, this meant I was hooked. I just had to go and see the country for myself. Reading Rudyard Kipling’s stories of Burma, the newly published Lonely Planet guide and my favourite Asia Photography book I was armed with everything I needed to inspire me to go.

I wasn’t disappointed upon arrival. The airport was like nothing I’ve seen before and it almost felt like I was back in time. The first quirky sight was that everyone was driving right hand drive cars on the right side of the road. This was followed by the fantastic sight of some of the largest billboards I’ve seen in all of Asia advertising all local – not global – brands. Yangon was a true delight and quite something to see.

Arriving by plane from Bangkok was the perfect way to see the country. As we descended to land, the Himalayan mountains could be faintly seen in the distance and this was followed by the awesome sight of thousands of golden pagodas reaching up out of the lush green landscape. There was plenty to learn about the history and most humbling was the terrible job we (the British) did of colonisation. Myanmar, not Burma was one, along with why it wasn’t Burmese who changed the name of the country and cities it was British who did so and they simply put it back.

Travelling to distant places for me is all about the culture and experiencing things as local people would do. This is what is so exciting at seeing somewhere totally new and that has not been touched by a Starbucks in newly built shopping mall or a McDonalds’ on every street corner. There was hardly any internet and my phone couldn’t connect to the local network. It was an unplugged and totally unique experience and I feel that something which every young person should see to truly appreciate our over-commercial lives.

My top experiences:

  • Seeing the 90 tonnes of gold Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon
  • Drinking and chatting with the locals who’d never seen a foreigner in their ‘Beer Station’
  • Sunset over the awesome temples of Bagan
  • Floating around a village in the centre of Inle Lake
  • Wandering the streets of the beautifully names city in the world – Mandalay

Myanmar, thank you so much.