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Report 1527: POSTCARD - Visit Myanmar

By Brenda M from USA, Spring 2008

Trip Description: Quick impressions of a visit to Myanmar in May-June 2008, shortly after the cyclone hit.

Destinations: Countries - Asia

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Sightseeing; Package Tour; 3-4 people

Page 1 of 1: Visit Myanmar

photo by Brenda

Bagan Asia

For over six months, we had been working on a May/June trip to Bhutan, Laos and Myanmar. When Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar on May 2, 2008, we weren’t sure if we should go. However, we were meeting our son and daughter-in-law who are on a year-long trip around the world, so we couldn’t change the dates. We did consider other destinations for the Myanmar segment if rioting or disease broke out in the wake of the military junta’s handling of the tragedy. We weren’t arriving in Myanmar until June 1, a month after the storm, so we decided to wait and see how things looked then. The tour company there assured us by email that it was safe and, indeed, they very much wanted us to come. And so we did. And we are so glad that we did! Myanmar is a magical country, the people gentle and friendly and kind, the scenery lush and lovely, the temples magnificent, the food delicious and the art and handicrafts very tempting. It is my 97th country and it immediately catapulted to the top four, perhaps to the absolute top!

Our first and last days were spent in Yangon, which suffered winds up to 100 mph, but was spared the horrendous waves that devastated the Delta. There were few deaths there, but most of the city’s large, stately trees were down; there were stacks of sawed-up wood everywhere. The marvelous Schwedagon Pagoda was damaged, but repairs were well under way when we were there. The lack of electricity and water was certainly a problem, but both were restored in one to three weeks. The only real destruction that we witnessed was at a glass-blowing facility where trees were down (one onto their well), metal roofs had collapsed and there were piles and piles of broken glass. Although it will be many months before they are up and running again, they were thankful that none of them were hurt and that their ovens were off, so there was no fire. We bought some of the few intact pieces.

The government actually did a fair job of getting the city back on its feet. It is a far cry from their totally unacceptable response in the Delta, where their obstruction of foreign aid was reprehensible and caused many additional deaths. The only good that might come from the tragedy is that it shone a light on the regime that might, in the end, lead to a moderation of the generals’ repressive government. Knowing a little about that repression, we expected to see armed troops everywhere. The only military we observed was in the city of May Mio, where the military academy is located. There we did see many young men in uniform, but they were all carrying briefcases, not guns. We have seen far more armed guards in most of the Central American countries we have visited. The government keeps a tight rein on the people, or at least it tries to. Googling doesn’t yield much and one can’t log on to Yahoo directly, but most users know ways around the censorship. Citizens dare not openly oppose or criticize the generals, but most of the people seem to be reasonably content. Capitalism is booming!

We saw none of the chaos in the Delta because we, as most tourists do, spent the majority of our time in the north. Granted it was low season, but we saw almost no other tourists. We were often the only guests in lovely, large hotels. Usually there are a number of European visitors then, but no doubt most were scared away by the cyclone. The tourist industry is really hurting; the dearth of travelers is crushing an already fragile economy. We spoke with many people who, although they love and respect Aung San Suu Kyi (the Nobel Peace Prize winner who is under house arrest in Yangon) disagree with her backing of a tourist boycott. Although most of our contacts were in the tourist business, we also talked to a number of monks and plain citizens, including the wife of a man who is serving a 13-years prison term for “giving tourists false information.” Some said that large tour groups have to use government hotels and put a lot of money into junta’s hands, but everyone was in favor of small groups and individuals visiting. We were able to give sizable amounts to two different groups who are helping in the Delta and most of the books and toys we had taken to distribute in the hill towns went instead to the children in the Delta who had lost everything.

Our three-country tour was arranged by Scott Wild of Wild Card Adventures (800-590-3776 or swild7@juno.com.) In 2000, he also arranged a Vietnam & Cambodia trip for us. Both trips were excellent. Our guide was the best guide in all the world! We paid extra to keep him with us for the whole trip and he was worth every cent. Good English, super sense of humor and he can get almost anything done. He is a gem. If you would like further information on our guide, you can contact me through SlowTrav (or on the forums at Slow Travel Talk).

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