Aug 26, 2010

Myanmar is Always Interesting

Many people think Yangon is the capital of Myanmar, formally known as Burma. Yangon was the capital for many years but the new capital is Naypyidaw, which is 200 miles north of Yangon. It is off limits and thought to be lavish. Myanmar is a fascinating destination and our visit this year was our third trip. Myanmar has a military government and many countries including the United States have placed sanctions on the country. The sanctions have little effect of the military leaders who it is rumored live a lavish lifestyle in the new capital. The sanctions do have a profound effect on ordinary people. The government has little interest in tourism as it does not produce enough money so we feel that our tourist dollars go directly to the people and our presence is a good advertisement for democracy. About 20,000 Americans visited Myanmar in 2009 and twice that number arrived from England.

The historical sites, beaches, and people are wonderful. The country is extremely safe. The one problem we have is with the Internet. The Internet is available in Myanmar but some sites are blocked so before we head to Myanmar we stay at the Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok to take care of anything we need to do on the Internet. Plus the budget flight on Air Asia departs for Yangon at seven in the morning. The Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport is a lovely hotel with a beautiful pool. The hotel is more like a resort than the typical airport hotel.

We like to spend our money locally so we purchased our domestic Myanmar air tickets from May Thu who owns the Myanmar Wonders Travel agency in Yangon. May Thu met us at the airport with our tickets and her driver drove us to the domestic airport. Typical of Myanmar the service was always excellent.

From Yangon we flew to our favorite beach, Ngapali, for a week at Amazing Resorts. The week went by too fast. The sand is soft, the water is warm and gentle, and the sun shines every day. And we had the long sweeping beach pretty much to ourselves. There are no annoying vendors. Because we were returning guests the hotel prepared a special candlelight dinner for us on the terrace above the beach. At night the horizon looks star-studded but what looks like stars are actually the lights of the fishing boats. It is a beautiful sight. We were also given a free massage treatment.

I wanted to visit a school so a taxi driver who spoke English took us to the local public high school. They were very welcoming and the students were excited to have a break in their day. The cafeteria had food that looked great with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

On our return to Yangon we spent two nights at the Governor’s Residence in Yangon. It is a beautiful hotel built of teak in the traditional style. The hotel is part of the Orient Express and where guests stay before and after taking the “Road to Mandalay” Orient Express boat trip, the luxurious way to travel from the historical city of Bagan to Mandalay. We were pleased to see so many tourists this year, mainly from Europe. Much of the lifestyle of Myanmar, because of the sanctions, is frozen in the 1960s but we have seen changes. Television, the Internet, and tourism make change inevitable.