‘This is Burma’, wrote Kipling. ‘It is quite unlike any place you know about.’ How right he was, and more than a century later Myanmar remains a world apart. Contemplate 4000 sacred stupas scattered across the plains of Bagan. Stare in disbelief at the golden rock teetering impossibly on the edge of a chasm. Encounter men wearing skirt-like longyi, women smothered in thanaka (traditional make-up) and betel-chewing grannies with blood red juices dripping from their mouths – and that’s just the airport! Meet the multitalented monks who have taught their cats to jump. Ride a Wild West stagecoach past grand British mansions. Trade jokes about the rulers who move capitals on the whim of a fortune teller. Indeed, this is Burma.
Turn back the clock with a trip to this time-warped country where the adventure travel of old lives on. This is the authentic Asia with creaking buses, potholed roads, locals who greet you like long lost family and not a 7-Eleven in sight. Forget the internet for a moment and connect with a culture where holy men are more revered than rock stars and golden buddhas are bathed every day at first light – in Mandalay, the Mahamuni Paya houses a buddha re-covered in gold leaf daily. Drift down the Ayeyarwady in an old river steamer, stake out a slice of Ngapali Beach or Ngwe Saung on the blissful Bay of Bengal, trek through pine forests to minority villages around Kalaw – there are so many experiences awaiting in Myanmar that one trip is simply never enough. It’s a country that fuels your emotions, stimulates your senses and stays in your soul.
You no doubt know that Myanmar is a troubled land. In 2011, following the previous year’s election, a quasi-civilian government was sworn in and Aung San Suu Kyi had been released from house arrest. The tourism boycott that persuaded many to steer clear of the country for over a decade has been lifted. It’s still up to you to decide whether it’s time to visit. Keep in mind that the long-suffering people are everything the regime is not. Gentle, humorous, engaging, considerate, inquisitive and passionate, they want to play a part in the world, and to know what you make of their world.
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