Shwezigone pagoda, Bagan
Myanmar. A country that was, at best, on the periphery of my awareness until a year ago. I was vaguely aware of the years of military rule, political isolation, the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi and a gradual process of democratic reform but only at the shallowest & most superficial level. And yet here I was, on my way to spend two weeks there. How had this happened?
Fifteen months ago I'd been on a 'holiday of a lifetime', a four-week tour of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia. It had been an amazing experience and I thought it had satiated my need for big, exotic trips but when the company's new catalogue dropped onto my doormat I found myself flicking through it with more than idle interest. Another month-long vacation would be pushing it, both financially and in regard to my employer's tolerence, but two weeks should be doable. I'd loved being in South-East Asia but I didn't want to do exactly the same thing again, something 'similar but different' was what I was looking for. Visiting Angkor Wat had been wonderful but the number of (other) tourists had made it annoying at times, somewhere a bit further off the beaten track would be nice. And being (relatively) cheap would help.
Browsing through I came to Myanmar - adjacent to Thailand & Laos, Buddhist, fairly new to mass tourism and comparatively inexpensive as a winter holiday destination. A bit of online research made it sound unusual & interesting so I plumped down my deposit and began looking at visas & stuff.
Almost immediately the news began to fill with stories about the latest upsurge in the Rohingya conflict. This was a little worrying but in my experience journalists always overstate crises and I felt pretty sure that the tour organisers would be acutely aware of any serious concerns and would cancel the trip before there was any real danger.
And so I applied for my visa (which turned out to be simple & straightforward to do online), dug out my surplus mosquito spray & sunblock, bought a new hat, ordered some US dollars and started assembling the paperwork & hot country gear for the trip. I had an early flight so I booked a hotel room at the airport for the night before and bought train tickets to get me there (& back) in good time. My local health centre provided the recommended jabs and I was ready to go.
All the travelling passed smoothly and after four trains and two flight I found myself touching down in Yangon, the former Rangoon. What did Myanmar have in store for me?
(Most of the pictures can be expanded by clicking on them.)