Burma tops the hot list of places to visit in 2013 and Intrepid’s Nicola Frame discovers that you’ll be welcomed with open arms by the beautiful people of this fascinating country…
“Everywhere I went in Burma, the local people smiled broadly and called out a welcoming mingalabar, the local word for ‘hello’. But I was greeted especially warmly when I was wearing tanaka, a white-gold, shimmery paste which was applied to my cheeks like a rather gaudy blusher. Made from ground bark, it’s a form of sunscreen that Burmese women and children use to prevent their skin from burning, and my adoption of this local custom seemed to please everyone I met.
The tanaka was given to me as a gift by Ma Gi, the eldest of four sisters who run the aptly-named Four Sisters Guesthouse in Nyaungshwe. After less than 24 hours staying in her guesthouse with my Intrepid group, Ma Gi was already calling me ‘sister’ and showing me photos from her younger days when she worked as a leg-rower on nearby Inle Lake. This is a true art form, which involves fishermen balancing on the prow of their boat and rowing with one leg wrapped around an oar, leaving their hands free to cast their nets.
Watching the leg-rowers on Inle Lake was just one of Burma’s many captivating sights. On my tour we also hiked through pine forests, tea plantations and orange groves in the mountain range surrounding Kalaw, mingled with monks at sunset on the teak U Bien Bridge near Mandalay, watched cigar-makers, weavers and silversmiths plying their trades in their workshops, and marvelled at the many hundreds of temples which you can explore at the splendid Bagan.
Part of Burma’s magic is that having been cut-off from mainstream tourism for the best part of two decades, its traditions continue to thrive. Even in the larger towns and cities, the modern world seems far away: mobile phones won’t roam and it’s almost impossible to use a credit card. Changing money can be tricky – US dollar notes need to be pristine and the moneychangers may turn them down if they don’t like the serial number. But that’s all part of Burma’s charm.
The political changes that have taken place in the last couple of years have created a real buzz about Burma, and with sights that rival the top tourist destinations in the world it’s potential for attracting visitors is huge. If you want to experience Burma while it remains relatively untouched by tourism, I’d recommend going soon.”
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Photo: Nicola Frame