Myanmar, the golden land

‘How was Burma?”
‘You mean Myanmar.’
‘Yeah that’s what I meant, Myanmar.’
‘It was fabulous.’
‘Where is it again?’

This has been the casual exchange since I have returned from my jaunt to Myanmar (or to be technical the Republic of the Union of Myanmar).

I can understand why people ask where it is. Myanmar has not been included on the holiday packages that take travellers on the South-East Asia ring road of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. It has sat in the shadow of its neighbours. I won’t get into the politics of the country’s forced isolation. But I was happy to hear from locals that they wanted people to visit their country, see the rich and varied culture. Aung San Suu Kyi’s face is immortalised on calendars, framed in photos and splashed across t-shirts. People are not afraid to show or talk about politics. A sign of a peoples hope for their future.

Before jumping aboard my plane, I had conjured up ideas that it is backwards and behind its south eastern Asian brothers and sisters due to it unpopularity. Especially since the travel sanctions have lifted and the travel supplements of newspapers advised that you must get there before everything changes.

How wrong. Myanmar is an organised and efficient country that is catering to the growing swell of interested people. I don’t know if it was travellers luck, but I did not encounter anything that would warrant this country as backwards or slow in the context of its history. I visited Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake. Each place is so uniquely different with history in every nook and cranny. The food is like nothing I had ever tried. There are small overlapping elements from the neighbouring countries cuisine and English colonial influence. The stand out dish was mohinga soup that made for a robust way to start the day.

The easiest and probably fastest way to get around is by plane. The trains are slow and we were advised to avoid buses. I don’t mind a slow train and have been on many (hello Serbia and Cambodia!). But this trip I decided it was better to maximise my time. Instead we enjoyed an 8 hour boat ride from Mandalay to Bagan. Our hotels had advice on what to do in the area and can team you up with local guides. There are places like Bagan and Inle Lake where a local guide is needed to explain the history of the area and help you get about.

If you want a place bursting with kind, humble people and exotic surroundings put Myanmar on your ever growing list of places to visit. I’d say get there before the tourists do, but I have seen they already have.

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