The so-called travel “experts” are touting Burma as THE place to go. It has been on my travel radar for the better part of a decade, in fact. On our first trip to Bangkok many years ago, our tailor, Hari, has touted Burma as a great place to visit. He is actually Nepalese, but has parents who live in Burma, and also owns a home there. Well, the time is now, before Burma changes to meet the demands of hordes of tourists, and the influx of crazed Europeans in search of cheap timeshares.
The “Golden Land” is said to be similar to the Bangkok of 25 years ago. Foreign investment is flooding the country for a needed infrastructure of roads, hotels, and restaurants. The first year the country opened, 2011, brought a little over 810,000 tourists to Burma. More than 5 million are expected this year!
But they say the Burmese are so welcoming to tourists, perhaps the friendliest on earth. That is quite a statement! They say that practicing English is a big deal for them. I hope so, since my Burmese is quite limited.
Burma is a country of temples, over 3,000 of them from the 11th century. Though Mike and I are not temple guys, we will visit the major ones, like the most revered, Shwedagon Temple in Rangoon. It is 360 feet tall, and been around for 2500 years, and covered with hundreds of gold plates. The crown has more than 5000 diamonds, and more than 2000 rubies and sapphires. In fact, this country is said to be the best place to buy rubies.
Temple visit require covering legs, and taking off shoes. We did this in temple visits to Laos, Thailand, Nepal, and Vietnam. I am always pleased when my shoes are still outside when I return, since nice shoes are highly valued.
Affordability is another reason this country is so popular with tourists and backpackers. Hotels can be pricey since the choices are limited, but meals range from 60 cents to $3 USD. A taxi ride around the city runs around $2, and a one hour massage around $3.50. Best of all, a local beer runs a big $1!!!! That will be perfect in the warm, humid climate we will find in October.
As I said, food is cheap, though many people are not familiar with Burmese cuisine. Fortunately, we have been to a Burmese restaurant in Scottsdale, now since closed, but run by a nice couple from Rangoon. Most dishes are taken from Thai, Chinese and Indian styles and flavors. The main ingredients, besides rice, are noodles, chicken, coconut, bean sauce, curries, and ultra fresh vegetables from nearby farms. Fresh fruit runs about 10 cents from farm stands, with smoothies costing around 50 cents.
A problem throughout the third world is a severe shortage or lack of toilet paper. I always carry my own, even on my Russian trip on the Trans Siberian Railway. Another problem is a shortage of ATM machines, at least those conveniently located. I plan to bring plenty of $20s, ones, and fives.
But on the plus side is a new electronic visa, no need to send my passport to the Burmese Embassy in Washington, DC. Of course, do I really trust them with an electronic access to my records? But it is only $50, for an “approval” letter that must be carried around. And though the crime rate is low, I know they will view us as “rich Americanos” or “Yankees”, as they do in most parts of the world. I applied for and got my eVisa approval letter in August.
I so look forward to this type of trip, the relative unknown, a place where most people cannot or would not go. It is not the Amazon, nor is it the Serengeti or Trans Siberian. It is another corner of the world that will help satisfy my curiosity about the culture and the people.
We are forced into the Sule Shangri-La here in Rangoon, plus we upgraded to the club floor with food and booze. My butler is now drying my tennies that got drenched in last night’s Hoi An downpour.