Myanmar Thoughts

Discussion in 'Travel' started by warren_wilson, Jan 22, 2018.

  1. I am headed to Myanmar next month to spend 28 days poking around with some camera gear.

    I am open to ideas -- if anyone has any thoughts about some really fine places, times or other angles on really indulging my photo obsession.
  2. You don't say whether you are travelling on your own or with an organised tour, and whether you plan to just go around without any previous plan (which wasn't legally allowed last time I was there).

    My first and foremost suggestion would be to focus on people (asking for their permission whenever possible). They are - with the obvious exception of the military top brasses and the drug barons in cahoot with them - an incredibly nice and gentle nation. Plus, they still nearly 100% wear their traditional robes, which of course makes photos even more appealing to us. Try to catch (they are rather frequent) one of the processions when kids are brought into Buddish temples as novices to spend their first period there (you must do this twice in your life, the second period normally coming when the kids have left home). The boat trip on the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay is of course a must, but do not repeat DO NOT take one of the many luxus turist steamers. Rather, take the boat the locals use (but ensure you pay an agency to have someone reserve a deck seat for you). This boat makes a lot a stops along the way, and local village women bord it on a given location to sell their wares (fruits, food, etc.) and then go down at the next stop and treck home by foot. Plenty of first class photo opportunities.

    As for locations (please note the spelling might have changed): Yangon (used to be called Rangoon) of course, Bagan is absolutely incredible (there are or where people organising hot air balloon tours there, I think you should book well in advance), Lake Inle with the floating villages (litterally), Pindaya. A unique experience is the pilgrimage to Kyaiktiyo, where a huge boulder in hanging in precarious balance on a deep abyss being held in place, so they say, by a single hair of Buddha. Unless the roads have much improved of late, going there is a rather gruesome experience - but worth it.

    Please do not, under any circumstance, tip kids or give them sweets etc. This is the swiftest way to turn them into professional beggars, and unless things have changed it is strictly prohibited (and you wouldn't want to run afoul with police in Myanmar). If you want to be nice, buy pencils and other writing material, go to the nearest school and ask the teacher to distribute the material to the pupils for you. Make sure to have your camera ready.

    This just as a first broad suggestion. if you wish to discuss the matter further, please feel free to contact me.
  3. personally, as much as I would like to see the country, I would not travel there at all as any economic infusion on my part is nothing more than support for genocide - and a genocide supported by those wonderful Buddhist monks. It would be like going to Nazi Germany and doing the rounds of the tourist icons.
  4. Ethically - the persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya is deplorable. If you're still determined to go, contact one of the advocacy groups to see if there is some small way that your trip could benefit locals.

    Safety - Stay out of Rakhine state, Shan and Kachin states.
  5. "personally, as much as I would like to see the country, I would not travel there at all as any economic infusion on my part is nothing more than support for genocide - and a genocide supported by those wonderful Buddhist monks. It would be like going to Nazi Germany and doing the rounds of the tourist icons."

    I don't know whether the powers that be would allow for this thread to become a political discussion, but anyway: the above was very much a matter for my concern the first time I went there, the more so because at that time Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest and she had sent messages around urging foreing turists not to come to Myanmar, exactly in order to not provide any kind of economic support to the regime. This was however countered by other figures in the opposition, who pointed out (which made sense to me) that a) any financial embargo of this type would only affect the common people who could earn some money from tourism, not the top bosses who live quite well through the drug trade, and b) the inflow of foreign visitors is argualby the best way to try and progressively open up the country (which in a sense did happen).

    The current situation is admittedly different, in that today's "culprits", if we want to use this term, include not only the military but also their former "pro-democracy" opponents. Unfortunately the conflict between the central authorities and Rohingya (irrespective as to whether we want to use this term to indicate an ethnic minority or a religious group) has very deep and bitter roots that are largely independent of the nature of the political power in Naypyidaw, and indeed I'm not aware of any political or social Burmese force, in Myanmar or in the diaspora, that would be sympatetic to the plight of the Rohingya and opposed to the government's actions against them.

    This said, it is all a matter for individual coscience's choices.
    tholte likes this.
  6. Thanks, bonsinore_ezio

    Those all sound like good tips. This is the only country in SE Asia we have not yet travelled: we always travel independently. I am planning to take the Mandalay - Bagan boat, then near the end of our time there take the boat from Malamwiyne to HpaAn on our way overland to Thailand. The 28-day visa is brief, considering the slow travel -- so a few overnight buses are also included in my plan.

    I have set aside 4 days for Inle Lake, 3 days for Mandalay, 3 for Bagan. We will be in Yangon several times. I no longer have the energy or desire to "bag" sights, and prefer to explore fewer places at leisure. And it has always been my experience that the poorest people are the nicest, most welcoming. I certainly don't mind getting my money into their hands -- and the idea of pencils etc. is one I used throughout Indonesia. I'll head to Staples today to grab lots: I was once a teacher myself.

    (In Nepal years ago, little village children would greet us with two words: "namaste," and "aspirin?")

    I am trying to lighten my camera load, but don't seem to be able to strip it down to less than (Nikon) a D800, 18-300 "walking around" lens, a 105 f2.8 macro, the f/2.8 70 - 200, and an f/2.8 14-24 with associated filters. It seems like a basic set up, but damn its heavy! (Also a Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod).
  7. Based on my own experience (your preferences might of course differ), 4 days for Inle Lake are probably too much, not in themselves but in view of the relatively short duration of the trip. If anything, I would put an extra day for Bagan. Inle Lake is basically "Inle Lake", if you get my meaning, and there is relatively little to explore at leisure there. Bagan is a completely different affair. I would also dare to insist on Kyaiktiyo. We (I mean, my wife and myself) also managed to visit a jungle station where they are using tamed elephants for harvesting teak and other valuable timber, and that was a truly unforgettable experience - in part for the elephants, and in part because the station manager turned out (after we got nearly drunk together on my Scotch bottle) to be a surgeon out of his job for political reasons, and we spent much of the night discussing ways for him to "get out". Such visits however have to be organized through a agency, because there is no way you could get there on your own.

    A nice and in my mind perfectly acceptable way to "put money into the hands of local people", as opposed to the regime, would be to buy the very cheap but also very beautiful printed silk or cotton cloths being sold by individual women nearly every tourist locations, and most particularly onboard the river boats. My wife did so on a major scale, and she - along with out daughter and two daughters-in-law - are still wearing robes made out of that.

    I hope your experience will repeat ours, in the sense that we, too traveled to all SE Asian countries and found that Myanmar trumps them all.
  8. Thanks again, bonsignore.

    I will take your advice on Kyaiktiyo. We are apparently right in pilgrimage season, so the incense-lighting, chanting etc will be at its height. I am even considering staying in one of those over-priced hotels at the top: hard for a photographer to willingly give up both sunrise and sunset. I will probably try to steal that time from Inle Lake.

    In your mind given the short timeline should I priorise HpaAn or Mawlamyine?

    Once, outside Chaing Mai I watched elephants standing at giant easels painting very nice, slightly abstract but clearly representational art. It altered my sense of animal intelligence. Their understanding of shape, form and composition seemed more sound than that of some of my students! : )
  9. If you must choose then Mawlamyine, but that's based on my own preferences. I would suggest you do some searching online and then decide by yourself. Also, you wouldn't want to miss the Pindaya Caves. As regards the elephants in my tour, the fascinating aspect was to see them working, dragging and pushing logs out of the jungle with an absolute minimum of commands. As regards intelligence, they are left free to roam at night, carrying wooden bells around their necks so that they can easily be found in the morning (incidentally, these bells are a very interesting souvenir). Well, the elephants at the station I visited had learned to stuff their bells with mud, grass and leaves to keep them silent...
  10. If you are looking for some interesting ideas for off beat travel locations read a few books by 20th century botanist Frank Kingdon Ward the who explored the northern region of Burma near Tibet looking for rare plants I have listed some other interesting books as well.

    Frank Kingdon Ward
    Frank Kingdon-Ward - Wikipedia

    1. In Farthest Burma (ISBN 978-974-524-062-9)
    2, Burma's Icy Mountains (ISBN 978-974-524-084-1)
    3. Return to the Irrawaddy

    4. Finding George Orwell in Burma, Emma Larkin

    5. Burma: Rivers of Flavor, Naomi Duguid
    Author provides interesting travel experiences in the process of collecting recipes her cookbook.

    6. The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason:
    7. Glass Palace:Amitav Ghosh

    Other suggestions like visting a school is a great idea. Try to get to know the teachers, and then a photoshow to support the school when you return home.

    if there was some way you give a voice to the Rohingya through your photography, without getting into harms way, and give back to their community, as well as speaking out against their genocide supported by the many people who are no longer Buddhists, (despite what they believe) including Aung San Suu Kyi, then it would be worth the visit as well.

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