Myanmar - Yangon
On a cloudless afternoon the sunset turns orange and the magnificent golden chedi of Shwe Dagon changes colours from yellow to gold to pink. Parasols on the tips of spires muffle the last rays of sunlight. Yangon's shining pinnacle is not just the Shwe Dagon Paya itself but hundreds of shrines, intricate statues of Buddha and a village of prayer halls that cover the hill-top in gold and white. Shwe Dagon is a sanctuary from the concrete and steel of the city below, a peaceful place where monks and residents offer blessings to images of the Buddha.
Behind The Scenes
Myanmar was formerly known as Burma, a name chosen by the British on account of the dominant ethnic group called the Barma. Although the name Myanmar has been used for centuries before the British arrived, the adoption of the formal name by the military junta in 1989 has been sufficient grounds for people to resist it. More interesting than the question over what name to use is the debate over whether to travel there or not. My view is that nothing is gained without enagement, and the more people visit Burma and share their experiences with the world then the sooner we can see real change there.
I'm not a big fan of the idea that western nations can dictate to dictators. It took the death of Chairman Mao before China began to open itself to the west, and the process is still in progress. Isolating Burma has mostly had the effect of isolating its people, while the government builds relationships with non-western nations. So don't leave the business of building relationships in Burma to your government, get over there yourself and meet a few monks and build your own relationships - person to person.
Just one rule before you go, try to avoid the big fat group tour packages. Of course that's usually my advice in any country, but in this case the reasoning is to avoid the government controlled tour services and hotels that funnel foreign funds into the pockets of Junta Generals. Stay in guest houses, use public transport and dine with the locals.
The NLD lifted their boycott of tourism in November 2010:
A big thanks to Vietnam Airlines for the chance to visit Burma and meet the monks. Daily flights connect Yangon (Rangoon) to Hanoi and Saigon.
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