The time to visit is now
If you haven’t already been, the time to visit is now while the country still retains some of its naivety. Already, the elderly cheroot-smoking hilltribe women hold out their hands asking for a dollar in exchange for a photo. Coca Cola has found its way in; however as yet there is no sign of a McDonalds! Although Burma is still a country with only a handful of ATMs and without international mobile phone coverage, times are changing and changing fast. In the few years since the boycott of tourism was lifted by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the cost of visiting the country has increased as tourists have flooded in. As a result, foreign investment has seen new roads being laid down and new hotels being built in order to meet the rising demand.
That said, Burma is worth the extra expense, not for the standard of accommodation or for the quality of the infrastructure but for those treasures that money cannot buy: Bagan’s temples viewed at the beginning or at the end of the day when the atmosphere is magical and the setting awe-inspiring; experiencing a ‘water world’ life on Inle Lake where farmers tend their crops on floating islands and where sometimes only the silhouette of a leg-rowing fisherman breaks up the expanse of the lake’s shimmering waters; the sight of monks in deep crimson robes mixing with locals in colourful longyi as they take an evening promenade over U Bein bridge; watching the sunset in the serene surrounds of Rangoon’s Shwedagon Pagoda as locals worship and children play; the smiling faces, cheeks brushed with thanaka powder, of ladies in local markets squatting surrounded by bulbous vegetables and succulent fruit… And most memorable is perhaps the hospitality of the Burmese, who are as inquisitive about us as we are of them and who are undeniably a charming and genuine people, who greet tourists as guests and whose smiles are as warm as their welcome.
Burma is a country undoubtedly finding its feet but one that, although last to join the Southeast Asian tourist destination club, can certainly hold her own. I for one will be returning not only to revisit where I have already been but also to explore further afield and immerse myself fully in what this wonderful country has to offer.