It feels strange to have finally left Asia after spending almost two years there. For us, travel has been inextricably linked with this part of the world. When I think of backpacking my mind conjures up images of long, cramped bus journeys and never-ending terraces of rice, gold-carpeted beaches and heaving cities full of motorbikes and street markets. I think of wading through soupy, humid air, the smell of citronella insect repellent, incense from temples, and spices from road-side food stalls; I hear beeping horns, crowing roosters, prayer calls and the lapping of the sea.
While we only visited Burma for a short three weeks we still managed to pack a lot into our trip. We saw thousands of temples, from the famous, glittering Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon to the many crumbling, ancient stupas of Bagan. We skimmed over the incredibly vast Lake Inle, explored the historical Mandalay, saw some of the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises and best of all, we met some of the most friendly people on our travels so far - here are our Burma video highlights.
In February and March 2014 we flew out of our beloved Thailand to the unknown land of Burma. Although Burma was one country where we needed a lot of preparation, with Amy as planner extraordinaire, it was a cinch! We flew into Yangon from Bangkok and we organised our Burma visas and US$ during the two weeks before we entered. We spent our time visiting the main tourist sights of Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Kalaw and Lake Inle. We booked most of our accommodation in advance and we arranged all of our domestic transport through our hotels and left the country by flying back to Bangkok from Yangon. Here’s how much it cost to visit Burma for 20 days.
The last stop on our whirlwind tour of Burma was the famous Lake Inle, where we planned on doing some serious relaxing after a hectic and sometimes trying journey through the country. After paying over the odds for some pretty dodgy accommodation in Burma we splurged on a stay at the Princess Garden hotel at £21 per night, which was just what we needed. There was a pool to cool off in from the fierce Burmese heat, free breakfasts of eggs, fruit and pancakes, a lovely one-eyed brown dog to play with and refreshing afternoon shakes on offer.
After ten months in Asia we’d definitely seen our fair share of temples by the time we arrived in Burma. In fact, after our temple-hopping experience in Cambodia we thought we’d seen the absolute cream of the crop - how could anything top the mighty Angkor Wat? Despite all this we stepped off the bus into a sweltering, dusty Bagan afternoon with open minds, ready to explore the thousands of ancient pagodas which litter the countryside.
We spent the first days of our trip to Burma in its surprisingly modern capital city Yangon. We weren’t expecting glass malls and offices or well-paved roads but that’s what we got, along with typical outdoor Asian markets, shiny pagodas and street sellers. Despite this familiar mix, we still felt that we were exploring a new destination, one not yet geared to western tourists and filled with hotels, 7-11s and hordes of English-speaking touts and Tuk-Tuk drivers.
Since Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) recommended that the tourism boycott of Burma be lifted in 2010, the number of people travelling to the country has steadily increased. However, the NLD urges tourists to boycott package tours and cruises as they benefit the ruling government rather than the local Burmese people; with that in mind, here are some tips on how to get around Burma independently.
Visiting Burma, which was until recently shut off from the outside world and boycotted by tourists, was an eye-opening experience. On the one hand we met some of the loveliest, most welcoming people, many of whom wanted to pose for photos with us and have their children shake our hands. There was also a raw beauty to the places we visited in Burma which shows through in our photos, particularly of the spectacular sunsets and sunrises we witnessed. On the other hand though, we encountered an uglier side of the emerging tourism trade in Burma which led us to question our role as travellers and the damage we can unwittingly cause.
We’ve been back in the UK for over a month now and after an incredible homecoming we’ve settled back into life here more easily than I ever imagined we would. As I write this we’re sat at the kitchen table in someone else’s beautiful South-London home while their cute five-month-old miniature schnauzer mills around our feet. We’re house and pet sitting for the first time in our favourite city and even though it’s raining outside, life in London is undeniably great.
It was our first full day in Burma and we were floundering around Bogyoke market without a clue where to go next when Htun appeared. Immaculately dressed in smart trousers, polo shirt and shiny shoes, Htun removed the cigarette from the corner of his mouth and greeted us like old friends; within minutes he was leading us through the market, buying us fruit and walking us over to the city museum. This act of kindness turned out to be the first of many we experienced during our time in Burma; as we soon realised, the people well and truly make this country.