Sunday, 19 February 2017

Why to visit Burma in 2019

From a tourist's perspective Burma has a vibe like Sri Lanka's: genuinely friendly, simultaneously laid-back and energetic, and on the road to recovery from horrific recent events. The memories here are raw, and it ain’t all over yet, but you know that some locals are loving seeing tourists for the first time since the start of World War II.

Where it all Bagan
Unless you are of a more adventurous disposition, we suggest you hold fire on a visit. Why? Because getting anywhere takes an age as the roads are still being sealed (the commonest roadside sight is villagers breaking rocks). Hotel demand sometimes exceeds supply, which sends prices up. Several parts of the countries are off-limits to tourists. And standards generally need to come up a notch or two.

Here are some reasons why we think you should eventually come. If it's not obvious, we loved the place.

The people


No bribery was involved in this pose
While generalising about nationalities is something we normally discourage... we found everyone in Burma cheerful, guileless, hospitable and polite, seasoned with a dash of mischief. The little children in particular are imprinted on our memory: their exuberance on seeing a couple of sweaty white foreigners was a wonderful thing.

We were met with two-handed high fives and enthusiastic greetings of  "Bye!!"  wherever we went. Never a request for money, sweets or even pens.... just the unadulterated joy of an exchange with Whiteys. In less tourist-visited areas this resulted in us assuming a Santa Claus persona whereby kids would rush from their homes just to wave and catch a glimpse of our talismanic forms lolloping by.

Sights

Extraordinary


We have travelled a fair bit and have never seen a sunset like a Burmese sunset.

The clouds seem to catch fire.


There's work here for someone
Imagine London's Oxford Street 20 years after a neutron bomb attack and that's pretty much what downtown Yangon looks like, except there are also lots of very-alive people, dogs, cats, pigeons and occasional rats.

Yangon has the most complete set of colonial buildings in southeast Asia, and the streetscapes are a delight if fading grandeur is your thing.




The country's flagship tourist site is Bagan - a dusty plain punctuated by over 4000 stupas and temples.

The view to the horizon from one of the higher temples is unforgettable if you can see past everyone else's mobile phones.



The beaches in the south are a simple extension of Thailand's beaches. Only they have never seen a reclining chair or Singha beer. We found the most beautiful, clean and empty beach of our lives and stayed there three days. In two years I reckon it will still be the same way, unless they have upgraded the road. Contact us for details!



The food

The Myanmar people are masters of combining flavours and textures in a single dish: soft but crunchy; spicy, salty with a hint of sour - so perfectly encapsulated in the tastebud-awakening breakfast staple, Mohinga (spicy fish broth with soft noodles and crispy chickpea fritters; it may sound disgusting but tastes sublime).

Tea Leaf Salad - it'll give you wings

And then there is the iconic fermented Tea Leaf Salad with its assault-on-the-senses overdrive so perfectly summarised by Emma, one hotel host's eight-year old daughter as having "Too much taste!".

This is the only salad we've ever eaten that needs a plain rice accompaniment. I could go on but Dave rations the words in this bl




Curiosities

Where to start? Just five minutes' walk down a Yangon street is guaranteed to throw up a bizarre object/behaviour you cannot fathom. Among the top head-scratchers are:

The capital's motorways. I think the man on the bike needn't worry.
The new (2006) Myanmar capital, Nay Pyi Taw. Have you ever wondered what a city designed by someone with no qualifications in town planning might look like? Here it is. Nay Pyi Taw allegedly covers 2700 square miles, has empty eight-lane highways, perfectly manicured verges, world-class hotels, conference centres and ministry buildings and no people to speak of. The place is devoid of character, charm and personality and it is fitting that it is the beating heart of the Military-majority government. Only one embassy (Bangladesh) has succumbed to the pressure to relocate from Yangon.

Popular now in Burma
Buddhas. There can never be enough, and the bigger the better. We witnessed not only the world`s biggest reclining one but also the outline of its half-built replacement on the opposite hill. It brought to mind Star Wars' Death Star in scaffolding phase. Weird enough, one might conclude, but the presence of a monstrous Frank Sidebottom looming out of the nearby canopy (left) sealed the deal.(Video and photos on Flickr)

George Orwell was a policeman here in the 1920s. No doubt his witnessing of colonial racism and brutality fed straight into 1984 and Animal Farm. A curious thing is that he wrote his angry, semi-autobiographical Burmese Days while an impoverished bottle-washer in Paris. And then went to live in sleepy old Southwold. Great writer. Odd bloke.


We actually don't want to see this again


An important rule of Burmese kickboxing is you can kick your opponent anywhere. Anywhere. No surprise then that several boxers we saw collapsed in a heap after a knee-ing in their soft parts. The monks in the audience seemed to take particular delight.


Burmese festival music. Sorry but this sounds like someone has taken a screeching parrot, a set of drums and several xylophones and pushed them off a steep slope, with bumps on the way down. There's no rhythm, melody or accuracy that we could tell. It is cacophony. But judging by the delight in the onlooker's faces, the loss must be ours.

Click for copious illustration of the above

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