Back in time in Burma

Amanda Duggan – the Group Manager for Strategy and Business Development with Telstra Sensis has been based in Beijing for the past two years. For Chinese New Year in January 2009 she and two friends finally visited Burma after years of having it on the top of her travel list. She spoke to Sophie Loras.

“In my mind Burma seemed like one of the few remaining parts of Asia still with relatively undeveloped tourism. But saying that I had spent five years deliberating the trip and with all the international sanctions and the military regime it was a big ethical dilemma for me,” says Amanda.

One of Amanda’s travel companions had religiously investigated how best to travel in Burma without filling the pockets of the military Junta. That involved hiring a local guide and ensuring all their tourist dollars went directly to supporting local communities.

“What we saw when we got there was that local tourism operators were developing and we had also made a pledge that at every opportunity we would go off the beaten track and make sure local people got our money.”amanda_rangoon_faded_grandeur-1_web

After picking up a Burmese visa in Beijing in just a few days, Amanda travelled from the Chinese capital to the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming before picking up a flight to Rangoon in Burma.

“Our first impression of Burma was that it was like Asia 25 years ago – British colonial architecture, all the beautiful buildings crumbling with trees growing through gorgeous old facades.”

*Remnants of Rangoon’s colonial past. (Courtesy Amanda Duggan).

They then moved on to Bagan to see the region’s world-famous stupas and pagodas – on par with Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.

“We took a horse and cart for half a day and spent another two days cycling around on bicycles,” says Amanda.

“Bagan was a highlight with all its kilometers of terracotta-coloured stupas and the area which was just so remote – there was no-one there – and you could just spend days cycling around them.”amanda_bagan_stupas_burma_web

Next stop was Inle Lake – famous for its weaving industry and permaculture society.

“There are communities who live on the lake and cultivate crops, grow tomatoes but also use a weed from the lake to make material,” says Amanda.

*Exploring Bagan’s stupas and pagodas (Courtesy of Amanda Duggan).

While at Inle Lake, they also had a guide take them on a three-hour trek to the Thai border where Amanda and her friends were struck by the country’s remote and untouched societies.

In a stark reminder of Burma’s international isolation, their guide began recounting a story in which he had recently travelled into Thailand and seen telephones

amanda_burma_taxi_web

there that were ‘not connected’ to the ground.

“This was January 2009 and some people in Burma had still not seen a mobile phone or an ATM machine and this just re-enforced to us how cut off Burma is to the world.”

*Left: Taxi, Burmese style… (Courtesy Amanda Duggan).

Amanda then flew solo to the coastal city of Ngapali, famous for its kilometres of pristine white sandy coastline.

“I stayed in a beautiful beachfront hotel for US$50 a night, eating fresh seafood everyday, swimming and on one occasion going into the market on the back of a motorcycle to choose my fresh lobster. He was then wrapped for the ride home and placed in the bike’s front basket where he kept trying to climb out!” Says Amanda.

The Burmese people left a great impression on Amanda and her friends.

“There is a softness and a gentleness and a sense of pride about the people that maybe, from their Buddhist beliefs, an acceptance that the life you are leading now is one life and there is another life waiting for after.”

While the experience has left Amanda with overwhelming moments of sadness for the people of Burma, she would definitely go back.

“It’s the Asia of old – like you really have turned back the clock and it’s very different from other parts of Asia even just in terms of economic development.”

*To learn more about some of Asia’s best deals over the winter months, click here.

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