When It Was Still Burma

The Burmese government only gave tourists visas for one week at that time, so the trip had to be planned very precisely to see as much as possible. We purchased a bottle of whiskey in duty free, and the taxi driver from the Yangon (called Rangoon at that time) airport bought it from us for twice what we paid as expected.

The city center was still quite dilapidated with decaying buildings from British colonial times. Hard to believe that after World War II, economists predicted that Burma and the Philippines would become the richest countries in Asia while South Korea was forecast to remain a basket case.

The main attraction was and is of course Shwedagon Pagoda, also know as the Golden Pagoda, built some time in the second half of the first millennial.

Burmese ladies love their cigars!

City scenes

Due to time constraints, we flew to Bagan (then called Pagan) after two days. It was still a dusty town, and transport across the large area of temples was by horse carriage. We met an American divorcée in her mid-forties there traveling on her own, and we impressed that someone that old(!) would be backpacking like us. She related that her husband had left her for a younger woman, and that she was enjoying a generous alimony (“He can afford it” and she was content making him pay). Years later when we did the same at a more advanced age, we wondered why her travels surprised us, but then travel to such “out-of-the-way” places has become commonplace for the masses these days.

In addition to the sundry temples, a highlight was a marionette performance with hand-crafted figures.

Monks during their morning rounds where they receive offerings of food.

Then we wanted to fly to Mandalay. When we entered the airline ticket agency office, one clerk motioned for us to meet him outside. He said he would charge us the ticket price for locals, which was far lower than the price for tourists, but wanted us to give him double that in cash. He also said that he would issue a ticket for our daughter as being younger than two years old and consequently she could fly free. Of course, we immediately agreed and got the tickets for half the tourist price.

Kyauktawgyi Buddha Temple at the foot of Mandalay Hill

A happy tourist

Shweinbin Monastery also called the Teak Monastery, built in traditional Burmese style in 1895

Around town

Ever since I read Paul Theroux’s first travel book, The Great Railway Bazaar, I wanted to go to Pyin Oo Lwin (formerly called Maymyo), a former hill station of the British colonialists. Many homes of the British invaders are still quite intact, and we stayed in the one converted into a hotel where Mr. Theroux stayed. Dinner was traditionally British style, and we were surprised later in the evening when a group of young Burmese arrived outside singing Christmas carols (it was Christmas eve).

Christmas eve

Transport around town by horse carriage

Then a long, slow train journey back to Yangon and flight out of the country before our seven-day visas expired.

At the train station

Wish we could have stayed longer!

5 thoughts on “When It Was Still Burma

    1. Film is very expensive these days, since most people (and I) use digital cameras. It’s great to be able to take as many photos as I want and then just delete a bunch that are not very good.

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  1. It must have been so interesting to travel to Burma then. But actually, it doesn’t look like much has changed. They still cook over an open fire, there are dirt roads almost everywhere, and they still put the mud on their faces. What has changed is the huge park surrounding Shwedagon, and maybe more men wear pants, but I don’t think the people are any more better off. There still aren’t many tourists, but I how did the people respond to you? They must have been very curious.

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    1. Traveling with a child in Asia, we got great receptions everywhere we went. The attention our daughter got was often too much for her, but the people in Burma were friendly but not pushy, i.e., they did not squeeze her cheeks (which hurt) or touch her hair as happened in China and Korea. Many spoke English, so it was easy to communicate, but they seemed to know a lot about the rest of the world and were wary of any political topics (it was still a brutal dictatorship). I heard that there are a lot of tourists in Myanmar these days and of Chinese tourists at expensive beach resorts on the west coast in addition to high prices in the capital. In my imagination, they ferry tourists around in Pagan in golf carts or something similar.

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      1. Haha, no golf carts, usual tourist buses or e-bikes. We only saw tourists in Bagan, Mandaly and Inle. In the rest of the country we rarely saw a tourist. But we didn’t go to the beach.

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