“This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about.”
Penned over 100 years ago, we’ve found this still remains true today as we plan a week-long trip to Burma for our tenth anniversary. We chose Burma because its arms are opening, its leadership is thinking, its land is promising and its people are waiting. A great change has come about just in the last few months, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent release from house arrest and 43 parliamentary seats won by members of her National League for Democracy. Burma is emerging from the grips of its own regime, having preserved its antiquity and landscape as a by-product of its decades-long disregard for both the rights of its people and the concerns of the rest of the world. The country’s self-proclaimed slogan says it best: Everyone’s friend and nobody’s ally. As a result, very few people have traveled there.
It’s rare to have a chance like this to go to a country while the ink is still wet and the door is pushing open from the inside. Like us, there’s a sense that many people around the world have just been given the green light they’ve been waiting years for. It may be 20 years before Burma becomes today’s Thailand, or 10 years before it becomes today’s Cambodia — so going now, before it sets off down the path toward mass tourism and development, may be the only way to get a last authentic glimpse of Burma’s landscape, lifestyle and people.
In planning our trip, we’ve already encountered bits and pieces of Burma that scream of a time before the internet, the ATM, the credit card and the comfort of modern travel — yes, quite unlike most current lands we know about, Mr. Kipling. We’re resurrecting our inner backpackers from a decade ago — prepared for slow boats, bumpy roads, filthy conditions and undrinkable water. We’re venturing back to the time of money belts and money changers — carrying pristine, unfolded, unsmudged, practically unused hundred dollar bills in our undergarments in hopes of finding a black market dealer with an honest hand and a good rate. Even the telephone is back in style — we’ve found the best way to reserve a room is to call ahead, give them your name and tell them when you’ll be there. Period.
May isn’t the best time of year to visit — temps are over 100 degrees, the rainy season is approaching and Ngapali beach resorts are closed through September. Pre-booking flights means you input your info on one of two Burman airline websites and hope someone gets back to you (better to pay cash for flights when you arrive). There’s a chance that flights could be cancelled or plans will have to be altered entirely to get around by bus or train (if the roads and routes are operational).
At times, and with all these caveats, planning this trip has felt as though we’re swimming upstream… hard. We’ve been “this close” to choosing a different country and planning a different vacation — because that’s what it’s supposed to be! A vacation! Maybe we’re getting old… But as of today, we’ve committed. We’re going. It actually suits us well, as a non-planning, spontaneous, adventure-loving couple. It’s going to be just like old times. And in Burma, could there be any other way?