Myanmar may seem like a place of the past, but it is an ideal retreat for those looking for some inner peace Kipling had said about Burma that it is “quite unlike any land you know about”. Contrasted with the nations surrounding it, today, Myanmar is even more “unlike” the others.
While the others have donned the newest technology, and assimilated western cultural influences, Myanmar, perforce, has turned its back to it all. On the other hand, it remains unsullied by the excesses of modern living and retains the feel of a bygone era.
“You won’t be able to use your mobile to call outside Myanmar and there is no internet access. Bring enough US dollars, because there are no ATMs,” my agent told me. Our ever-smiling guide, Mrs. Kyi-Kyi held our hand as she told us about how life in Yangon, Myanmar was okay despite power-cuts, low wages, boring TV and a dead nightlife.
There isn’t much scope for creativity and entrepreneurship, and worst of all, no freedom of speech. The Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who, having won the national elections in 1990 remains under house arrest. So powerful is the stranglehold of the Draconian military that even evoking her name could lead to trouble.
From the moment we arrived, we found the place endearing. People went about in traditional clothes. Women sported hand-stitched sarongs and short tops, with flowers in their hair. The men’s faces reflected resignation of
suffering and the wisdom of Buddhism. Anyone who wants to be a nun or a monk can get an education at a monastery.
Myanmar encapsulates the quintessence of Asia. Our lingering memories will be of waking up to chanting monks, releasing sparrows from bird cages to earn merit, and applying squares of gold foil on Buddha’s statues.
Yangon, “The garden of the east” remains lush, with giant shade trees dotted around its lakes. There are streets of British colonial architecture, now found in a state of picturesque dishevelment. Ubiquitous tea-shops sell local favourite dishes — ono khauswe and mohinga and market stalls are heaped with sticky rice sweets.
A visit to Bangkok, just afterwards, contrasted sharply with Yangon. Normally, I would have complained loudly about that interminable traffic scrum, but I didn’t. Perhaps some of Myanmar’s serenity had rubbed off on me.
Stay at: The Governor’s Residence — a teak mansion in the embassy area Khandawgyi Palace Hotel — an impressive, traditional teak building that offers an excellent view of the lake
Eat at: Monsoon and Feel Garden
Must see: Shwedagon Paya — the most revered Buddhist pagoda. Bogyoke Market — for Kachin tribal textiles, silver and lacquer ware Stroll the teak bridge on Kandawygyi Lake
Shop at: Art Only — for upmarket antiques Zawgyi House — for avant garde lacquerware