The Travel Tipping Point: Burma
Written by Jaillan Yehia
Recently, while travelling without a set plan around Asia, one destination kept coming up time and time again – if there is such a thing as a tipping point, then for me, Burma has just tipped.
Everyone I talked to who’d been couldn’t say enough positive things about it and I began to formulate a plan in my mind to go, but somehow it didn’t quite happen for me on this trip, and honestly, I’m rather gutted.
A truly unique country with warm people, spiritual sights, amazing cities – and a place which will undoubtedly create diverse memories of its 600,000 monks (that’s over 1 per 100 people in the country), its temples and lakes, and its street markets that have all remained unchanged for centuries – I know I want to see Burma now before major change does takes place.
I call it Burma not Myanmar as I’m informed (at a talk by Burma’s ex British Ambassador Robert Gordon) that Aung San Suu Kyi prefers to call it Burma, and that’s good enough for me. Not so long ago the most famous cartoon to represent Burma was that of a man looking at one of those ‘twinned with’ signs – this one reading ‘Burma, twinned with hell’. The real sign that confronted tourists was not much better, a People’s Desire placard where all the objectives and desires stated are resolutely negative.
But as we all know things have changed a lot for Burma, yet it still isn’t perfect by any means, it’s a fragile situation with Aung San Suu Kyi about to turn 68, and rather alone in her position as Burma’s catalyst for change.
The fact is that one third of parliamentary seats are reserved for the army but you’d need three quarters of the seats to change the constitution and reverse that, which itself tells you something of the challenge that remains.
Still, Aung San Suu Kyi now welcomes responsible tourists with open arms – those who will take the trouble to find out about the country – and a destination full of people like that also sounds like my kind of holiday. Most people choose to either travel solo, or are on a culturally focused small group tour in Burma making it somewhat of a travellers’ paradise, where you’ll encounter only other genuinely interested, committed and educated fellow tourists.
From the one-legged rowing on the Inle lake, to the Shwedagon pagoda – all 6 billion dollars worth of it – at dusk, the Royal Palace at Mandalay and the world’s longest teak bridge, the Irrawaddy river and the Kachin people in their traditional dress plus the Orwellian history, this is a fascinating destination that’s come alive in my imagination – and it seems I’m not alone.
It feels as if everywhere I turn, everyone is full of love for Burma now. There’s a groundswell, an excitement and the traveller folklore seems to be taking on a life of it’s own – and I want to be part of it.
Why wouldn’t anyone want to go and see the biggest ringing bell in the world, explore the planet’s largest teak forest or take a balloon ride over Burma’s answer to Angkor Wat, Bagan?
Even better is the idea of a country boasting a temple which if finished would be taller than Salisbury cathedral – but the Mingun pagoda was destined to forever remain half-built after an astrologer warned that completing it would mysteriously result in a king’s death. That sort of spine tingling story tells you everything you need to know about the enigma that is Burma.
If you want to know more about Burma –
Read the book ‘The Lady And The Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi’ by Peter Popham
Watch the enjoyable, fact-filled but patchy biopic of the lady herself, starring Malaysian-born Michelle Yeoh, and called, yes, The Lady.
Read other travel blogs by fellow bloggers who’ve recently seen Burma for themselves such as this wonderful photo essay of Burmese people by Flashpacker Family or the Burma posts by AnotherTraveler.com.
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