Myanmar: introduction

It has been a long time since I last posted here, but I’m now relaxing on holidays and it’s a good chance to catch up. I’m going to start with a few blogs about our trip late last year to Myanmar the former Burma.

Five of us from our local camera club decided it was time to get away again, following our previous trips to South Africa and Cuba. So after a lot of research we settled on Myanmar and headed out late October 2014 into November. We were concerned about the political situation but many more people are travelling to Myanmar these days. Lack of good medical facilities are also a concern, the best advice being to have good insurance and get to Thailand as quick as possible for any serious issues. Given we would be taking 3 internal flights this too was a worry. As it happened we need not have worried. We had excellent travel agents looking after us. Here in Ireland we made all our arrangements with a really good agency from Cork, Discover Travel. They looked after us very well, helping with visas, accommodation, transport, guides, internal flights and they were very reasonably priced. The agents that looked after us there was Exotic Voyages and they were excellent. Great guides, a good itinerary, good accommodation and they looked after us very well. On a daily basis the guides made sure the food and water we had was safe and we got regular calls from their head office to make contact with us to make sure we were happy with everything. This is not anything we had experienced before and it made us feel very safe and well looked after.

So for the trip itself, it was for 11 days in four different parts of the country and previously mentioned it required 3 internal/domestic flights between regions and one drive for 250km. We had four different guides and drivers as we had a minibus or boats at our disposal in each location. Each day we had an itinerary of sights to see and visit although this was very flexible.

We began with a couple of days in the old capital of Yangon to where we flew via Amsterdam. A flight took us to Heho in the centre of the country and a drive of an hour or so to our final destination of Inle Lake, which for me was probably the highlight of the tour. After a few days here another flight from Heho to Mandalay before a bus trip of 250km to our final destination of Bagan. Our last internal flight was back to Yangon before flying home.

Each destination had its own highlights with some amazing places to see. Our guides knew we were here for a photographic holiday and they were really helpful in getting us photographs of places and people. They were also very patient as a group of photographers can get very intense once they start taking shots and getting them to move on can be a challenge.

So before I cover each place we visited, just a few thoughts on my overall impressions. The people were very friendly, quite laid back and they appeared to have no problems with being photographed apart from one tribe in Inle Lake who were returning from a market, but more on that later. We were prepared for the fact that as a country that had only recently been opened up to tourists that it would not be very advanced from a technology point of view. But we were surprised to see that many people had mobile phones, some cars looked quite modern and new, there were a few “technology” stores, the Internet service although not brilliant was quite useable in the hotels. We stayed in some really nice hotels but it was also clear that with growing tourism more hotels are needed. The little airports we visited were small serviced by smaller planes but although somewhat chaotic they were well enough run. We were surprised that with such a politically troubled background we saw very little presence of either military or police. Having said that we were aware that certain destinations were off limits and our guides were really good at managing this. The food was reasonable with influences from India, Thailand and many of the hugely diverse ethnicities of Myanmar. Buddhism is a huge influence on the country with monks and nuns in abundance, so too temples, monasteries, pagodas, and other religious structures and monuments. The people have a very gentle and friendly way partly due to their religious background. Nearly all Buddhist males spend some short time as monks even at very young ages from six or seven years of age, although some will only spend weeks at a time as monks. They rise early for their breakfast, spend the morning looking for alms before their last meal of the day which is at noon. They may take drinks or some sweets during the rest of the day. They are not allowed cook for themselves and the afternoons are periods of religious reading or learning.

The girls, unlike the boys are not required to become nuns but many do. Because for the girls it is a choice it is more likely that they will stay as nuns. They similarly live lives dedicated to Buddhism, although unlike the men they do cook for themselves.  They too have shaved heads but wear a pink shroud.

We had a marvellous trip and a great time. It is a truly amazing country and well worth a visit, I hope you enjoy the other postings and images here. I’ll next cover each destination separately. See also a quick summary here in the Adobe Slate feature.

Finally here is the gang: Viv, Lynn, Keith and Mike