Intrepid has a legacy of bringing travellers to some of the world’s most intriguing regions and with this in mind we are very excited to recommence trips in Burma. Before opting to return it was important that we could ensure as much money as possible would go directly into the pockets of the locals and fortunately Intrepid’s grassroots trip style lends itself to targeting where tourist dollars are spent. A great deal of research has gone into planning our first Burma trip since 2003 and Intrepid’s Cathy Walken was amongst our advance party…
“Going to Burma was a tough decision. I’d been putting-off travelling here until it was considered more appropriate to do so. Recent changes in the country have meant that there’s been some ‘relaxing’ of the attitude about travelling to Burma and I’m pleased, as it was such a delight to travel here. Though there were too many highlights to mention, I wanted to share some of them here…
1) Schwedagon Paya – I’d not actually ever heard of this until I started researching Burma, but it really should be classed as one of the great monuments of the world. It’s a city of gleaming gold spires and Buddha statues that is immense, beautiful and a site of pilgrimage for Buddhists the world over.
2) Inle Lake – I honestly had limited expectations of how amazing a lake could be. Inle Lake itself is calm with clear waters, but it’s the activity on the waters’ edge that makes it so amazing. There are tributaries with floating farms – literally floating reed beds with market gardens growing on top – held in place by bamboo poles in the water so the reeds can move up and down in place. The fishermen on the lake are an attraction unto themselves as they fish using methods that are centuries old. The local markets in the north or Burma are superb with virtually no branding anywhere and all kinds of wonderful food and ethnic minorities in traditional dress completing the picture.
3) Downtown Rangoon (Yangon) – while cities are generally not my thing, walking around Rangoon was a real highlight. I spent a day zig-zagging the streets, checking out how the Burmese people live and work in the city. I saw colourful markets, old fashioned barber shops with barber chairs straight out of the past, people on the sidewalks playing checkers made with homemade boards, street-food being prepared on the footpaths – and all with the occasional monk walking into view in their burgundy robes – particular to Burma.
4) Buddhist culture – while I was there I witnessed a few initiation ceremonies where local families initiated their children to become Buddhist novices. The ceremonies are colourful events with the local community turn out to join in or watch the festivities. It was incredibly interesting to witness, see the importance placed on this right of passage and to see the fancy clothes that the ladies wear to these events. (pictured)
5) The people – you hear a lot about ‘the people’ making a destination so special. And In Burma this is definitely the case. The Burmese people are so incredibly friendly and interested in talking to you that you can barely walk down the street without striking up a conversation with someone. Their warmth and patience and smiles make simply being in Burma a complete pleasure.
There loads more highlights of Burma – too many to talk about here. You’ll just have to go. One word of advice however, is to carefully consider your cash! There are no ATMs in Burma and you should not use travellers cheques. You need to talk cash in USDs that are perfectly (I mean perfectly) crisp, clean, unfolded notes in higher denominations. Exchange into Burmese Kyat in Rangoon (definitely NOT at the airport).”
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* photo by Cathy Walken