Postcard of the Week: Burma
I have to confess that I’ve never been to Burma (or Myanmar as they’d like it to be called). On my 4-month backpacking trip around Asia in 2008 we were contemplating visiting Burms as we travelled through northern Thailand, but there were political struggles at the time so they weren’t allowing tourists into the country. Annoyingly, exactly the same thing happened in Tibet just as we reached Shanghri-La in the Chinese part of the Tibetan plateau…
I was actually given these postcards by my boyfriend, who travelled around Burma this April, and I loved hearing about his explorations on a scooter among the temples and sand dunes in Old Bagan (in the postcard above). Apparently they are scattered as far as the eye can see from the banks of the Irrawaddy River, and turn a lovely red colour at sunset.
He also gave me the postcard below, which shows a fisherman on Lake Inle using conical bamboo nets and propelling himself along with the traditional method of wedging the paddle into his calves. You can take a boat trip onto the lake catching sight of herons, these fishermen, local markets and villages built entirely on stilts, with water lillies and lines of vegetation being cultivated between each house, craftsmen at work, a large temple and even a monastery on stilts!
My aunt is the only other person I’ve spoken to about Burma, which she intrepidly visited during a long trip travelling around Asia in the 1980s, long before Skype, mobile phones, Google Translate and all the travel information available on the internet. I haven’t come across many articles or blog posts about Burma, which only adds to its mystery and intrigue… When I asked my boyfriend why you don’t hear that much about Burma, he said:
Burma certainly seems to be getting busier but it remains far from the mainstream. Many who travel do so independently on their own or in small groups along the well-trodden traveller path that covers the majestic templed plains at Bagan, the cooler beautiful area of Lake Inle and the bustling heat of Yangon. Those that can, push further to the north past Mandalay or Pyin Oo Lwin, the beach at Ngapali or the golden rock at Kyaiktiyo. I also took a motorcycle to the delta riverside town of Twantay and saw at first hand the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, when over 130,000 died and the obstinacy of the junta in asking for help severely hampered aid efforts.
At the main tourist sites package tours of the older generations turn up by the coach load, creating a slightly strange dichotomy of tourists. Western governments discouraged these tours during the Junta’s reign as it is thought that these are owned by the regime or their families, and that little of the money is seen by locals. Many of these older tourists are evidently remembering younger days when the country was more open, but are fearful of travelling on their own, while our younger generation hasn’t yet fully woken up to its possibilities. Accommodation remains quite expensive by Asian standards, partly due to government taxes, but also because few hostels or budget options exist. Expect these to become cheaper as competition increases.
Aside from the temples at Bagan, highlights were the friendly fellow travellers (I was on my own), fantastically welcoming locals and delicious food celebrating Thai, Chinese and Indian influences. I don’t expect Burma to stay quiet for long, though next time I may choose to travel outside of the hot season!