Myanmar (Burma)

I had the strangest experience in this country. First, it’s a military dictatorship, but as a tourist there’s nothing to be afraid of as long as you don’t talk politics with locals. I take pleasure in breaking the rules, so I tried it of course, but they were not cooperative, so I didn’t press further. For their own safety.

Coming from Bangkok and being tired of pagodas I asked my guide to take me to places where tourists don’t go. He took me to the port and then to the produce market. Unlike in Vietnam no one bothered me at the market trying to sell me stuff, but rather they gazed at me like I was an elephant (a polar bear). There I made some of my best pictures.

The unpleasant part in Myanmar is that they block access to Yahoo and Hotmail and my roaming didn’t work there. So I was incommunicado for 10 days. That was intolerable. In Rangoon my hotel had wi-fi, but only in the lobby area. Freaking cnn.com(!) was blocked as well. I spent 5 days at the beach in West Myanmar (Ngwe Saung beach), where they didn’t have wi-fi at all. The resort is freshly and beautifully built as they try to capitalize on nascent tourist stream, but the road there is a disaster (it’s half dirt, half asphalt). It’s only about 200km, but it takes about 7 hours by car from Rangoon. The staff is extremely friendly but poorly trained, so their idea of a good service is to stand behind your back all the time. I always felt that somebody was watching me as I ate, as I sunbathed, hell even when I was in my hotel room. When they bring you a check they don’t walk away so that you can pay – they just stand there waiting. Every day, as I get out of shower at about 7pm there was a knock on my door. A girl and a guy come in, spray my room with insecticide, insist on making my bed even though I’m laying in it and disappear. They probably thought I was very pleased with that level of service! There was only about 10 tourists in my hotel and about 20 staff. I think they were just coming up with creative ways to show how top notch their service is. So in the end I decided not to bitch about it to the management. The fact that even the management had a poor command of English also played a role in my decision. 5 nights at the resort cost me $200. Burger and fries on the menu is $5. Local beer is $1. The most exotic thing I did in Myanmar was visit the squat style toilet. Yes, it was during that 7-hour trip. There was no other option!

Overall, Myanmar is worth the visit, but with company, considering that entertainment options are limited. I had my e-reader with me loaded with books I haven’t read, so I had my time occupied. But I was relieved to be back in Bangkok.

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