Visit this mysterious land where time seems to have stood still
before the clock starts ticking, writes
Gillian Johnston
urma – officially the
Republic of the Union
of Myanmar – has been
drawing more attention
of late. While it’s now more “open”
politically, with a quasi-civilian
government, it remains fragile.
Despite the rapidly changing economy
and rising tourist numbers, this
remains a very poor country. ATMs
and internet connections are relatively
rare, and neither your mobile phone
nor your BlackBerry will work. To me,
that means it’s a perfect place to switch
off and experience a true adventure –
one that’s best explored with the older
kids, or as a parents-only holiday.
A heady mix of India and South
East Asia, Burma will beguile even the
most jaded tourist. Shades of the old
British Empire rub shoulders with the
ethnically diverse and deeply religious
population. It’s an intoxicating
mishmash of religions, sights, smells
and sounds – especially the kissing
noise made to attract your attention!
Folk from this ancient land are
traditionally clad in clashing colours
and patterns. It’s rare to see Western
dress and there are no international
brands. Betel nut-chewing and spitting
is commonplace, as is the resulting
deep red-stained mouths and teeth.
Interacting with the locals is a
great way to learn about culture and
customs. Be tactful and don’t ask
about politics, the army or police. You
may resort to hand gestures and smiles
but these gentle folk will warm your
heart. Football is popular, especially
the English Premier League – we often
passed bars full of cheering men.
The “big hitters” for your
checklist are the former capital and
commercial centre, Yangon; the serene
Inle Lake; Mandalay, the second city;
and Bagan, Burma’s Angkor Wat; plus
a seaside sojourn, if you so please.
Classic Yangon
Discover the highlights of Yangon
formerly known as Rangoon) on a
leisurely walking tour. A feast for your
eyes includes street-side food sellers,
barefoot monks, females with long hair
and cheeks smeared with bark sunblock
and cute babies. Start at
the centrally located 2,000-year-old
golden temple of Sule Paya and take in
British colonial buildings, stopping at a
traditional teashop.
The stunning Shwedagon Paya is
breathtaking. Visit this huge, gilded
pagoda both by day and night (try to
catch a sunset) to savour its mystical
aura amidst the praying locals. A