myanmar map

Most people's impression of Myanmar is of a Police State controlled by a secretive military junta cut off from the rest of the world and where any form of dissent is not tolerated. Its government is condemned by all Western governments, Amnesty International, Lonely Planet and almost everyone I know. I wanted to see for myself. Or rather, I thought it would be a great place for a holiday as it had lots to see and and there wouldn't be many tourists.

I've seen draft labour teams made up of ethnic minorities, breaking up stones to fill potholes, seen a colleague sent to jail for two years without having broken any law, been followed by secret police and seen grinding poverty. But none of the above in Myanmar (they were in Vietnam, Egypt, China, and in many countries). In fact Police presence/Government interference was minimal and although not looking out for it I never saw any form of repression anywhere.

But what of the place itself? It shouldn't have been a surprise given its geographical position but Myanmar is a bit of a mixture between India (without the millions of people) and Thailand (30 years ago). I was expecting it to be very old fashioned - 'lost in time' given the junta's apparent aim of keeping the place isolated. Recently, however, they have been opening up to the world so it is much like any other asian nation exhibiting the usual internationally recognisable billboards for companies such as Sony, Lipton Tea and the like but not yet in flashing light format. However all (and I mean all) the men wear lunghis (sarongs) and there are no internet cafes as yet (what a bonus!). Food is pretty good - especially if you like curries, and lots of Indian style tea houses. The hotels are the usual asian standards. My experience of road transport, however, was a bit of a nightmare. Buses regularly break down and are usually late - fortunately internal flights are very cheap and convenient even for budget travellers.

I spent two weeks travelling round and it was just enough to leisurely see all the main sights: Yangon; trekking around the highlands of Kalaw (instead of doing the more touristy Lake Inle); Mandalay; and of course Bagan. It is these destinations which form the basis of this photographic journey.