Myanmar is among my favourite destinations in the world. It offers an enriching experience of culture, politics and nature. Starting in Yangon, this city is like an open-air museum for old colonial buildings.
Inle Lake is the most beautiful place I see in Myanmar; a unique blend of human coexistence with its natural environment. It has a reputation for being touristy - a sentiment for which I disagree. Perhaps, it’s my timing. I happen to be here two days before Thingyan; a week-long festival where locals celebrate and work seems to stop. Whatever the reasons, there are not many tourists around the Lake - all for the better.
In the early morning, I begin my boat tour for a day around the Lake.
Kalaw is a small town nestled among the hills, with the loveliest people I meet in Myanmar. Even a simple stroll can see children greeting me with flowers without expectation of return. The main tourist draw is trekking and this will require a guide. Together with a German traveler, we share the cost of a one day trek.
Bagan is the former capital of the Pagan Kingdom (849–1297). It contains over 2,000 Buddhist sites including temples, stupas and monasteries. Unfortunately, some restorations have been contrary to history, leaving this ancient city without UNESCO World Heritage status.
"Everyone hopes the Lady will win." A reference to the upcoming by-elections in Myanmar. ‘The Lady’ is Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi: pro-democracy leader; 1991 Nobel Peace Laureate; and head of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). At stake is the election of 45 seats including 37 (out of 440) seats in the House of Representatives.
"If her party wins, she will become president in three years. The country can open up." Such are the hopes of the people and a prelude to the 2015 general elections.
On 1st April, 2012 - election day - the anticipation is not visible. I walk around North East Yangon to one polling booth where an electoral officer stands outside. However, there is little activity to be seen.
Before arriving in Yangon (my first port in Myanmar), it is necessary to stock up on US cash. US Dollar notes must be like new; no markings, creases or anything less. Once in Myanmar, only new and clean Dollar notes are accepted. There are almost no credit card facilities or international ATMs.