Burma / Myanmar #1 – the Journey Begins

Our Thai B777 jet whisked us away from Melbourne towards Bangkok on the afternoon of Wednesday 3rd October, 2012.  As we flew over central Australia, visibility was good with photo opportunities looking down on some salt pans.

Crossing a salt lake in Central Australia    (P1010868 © DY of jtdytravels)


Looking down on a salt lake, Central Australia (P1010872 © DY of jtdytravels )


Abstract- islands in the salt, Central Australia (P1010875 © DY of jtdytravels)

Apart from gazing out of the window, we were fed during the 8½ hour flight to Bangkok; twice actually.  Of note was the cutlery, most of the pieces were date stamped.  The oldest piece David found on his tray was a fork with ‘07’ on it.  He wondered how many kilometres it had flown and how many mouths it had been in and out of!   I suppose there’s not much else to do on a long flight but to do a little wondering.

We had a few hours sleep in the airport hotel before getting up at 05:30 to be ready for our flight to Yangon at 07:55.  As we left Bangkok, the views down over the city showed a fast growing metropolis with increasing transport infrastructure.

Looking down on the River in Bangkok (P1010881 © DY of jtdytravels )


Major traffic infrastructure in Bangkok (P1010883 © DY of jtdytravels)

In only 1½ hours we were flying over Burma / Myanmar and  looking down over Rangoon – now called by its Burmese name of Yangon.

An unexpected sight – a golf course! (P1010891 © DY of jtdytravels)


Something more expected – a golden pagoda. (P1010892 © DY of jtdytravels)


And then we had arrived – Yangon Airport. (P1010894 © DY of jtdytravels)

As we travelled by bus into the city, we found that the transport infrastructure here often grinds to a halt as more and more cars join a road system not meant for such numbers… and there appears to be no suburban train or tram system to relieve the situation. A few years ago, the trip from airport to the city centre took half an hour. Now it’s over an hour. Sound familiar!!!

Ceiling of our bus in Yangon (P1010899 © DY of jtdytravels)

Our bus was Chinese made with floral carpet on the ceiling and chandelier like lights. It was air-conditioned – unlike the local buses – and our driver was very good in what looked to us like some rather hair raising situations.

We passed small buses with people jammed in like sardines. Amazingly they smiled at us in welcome as we sat in comfort in our air conditioned comfort! Their buses ae not air-conditioned. They are open windowed and open doored and we could only imagine the smell of bodies absolutely crammed together after a hot humid day. And just how do they get in and out of there? Some young ones even ride on the back board at times… perhaps the air is fresher there though the danger far greater.  Bicycles and motor bikes are now prohibited in Yangon because it’s just too dangerous for them to share the roads. Until fairly recently, most non-government cars were 40 to 50 years old. Now individuals are being encouraged to purchase Japanese and Chinese second hand cars of about about a mere ten years vintage.

Our delightful guide, Sunshine. (P1020243 © DY of jtdytravels)

To keep our minds off the roads, our Burmese guide, Sunshine, began to answer our questions.  It was easy to call this delightful young man Sunshine – he has an infectious smile, a great sense of humour, good idiomatic English and a passion for his country and his people. He became our first Burmese friend. Sunshine prefers his “English’ name to his Burmese name Nay Win – that’s just too close to the name of the infamous General Ne Win!

So what questions did we have?

First question – were we in Burma or Myanmar?  It seems that either name is acceptable with the locals.  We heard them used interchangeably.  But which is politically correct? That depends on a complicated history of the name and on your political point of view. Eventually, my guess is that the country will be called Myanmar and the people, Burmese.

Originally, Myanmar was the ancient name for a Kingdom. But there were many kingdoms and many wars between ethnic groups over hundreds of years as various groups jostled for power. Then outside powers wanted this country rich in teak wood and in gems and for its strategic position between the much larger countries of India and China. In the 19th Century, after three Anglo-Burmese wars in 1824, 1852 and 1885, the British named the country Burma on 1st January 1886. That was when the country was officially incorporated into the British Empire as a province of India, with Rangoon as its capital. The majority ethnic group were Burmans and the major language was, and still is, Burmese. In 1989, the repressive military junta changed the name to the Union of Myanmar. This was in an effort to appease smaller ethnic groups and also to distance the government from the growing popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose father had been assassinated after he had made an agreement with the British to transfer power in Burma back to the people. Burma had lost it’s much revered and charismatic leader.  Instead it was one of the army generals, General U Nu, who assumed power at independence on 4th January, 1948. The rest has been a story of repression and isolationism.

There are many architectural legacies of the British time in the country – especially in Yangon which is really quite a nice city… even if it could do with a much needed wash down and expert renovation. The name may have been changed from the British Rangoon to the Burmese Yangon by the junta, but the city retains many colonial buildings (and thankfully for western travellers, British toilets!) and British designed wide tree-lined boulevardes and lakes. (Photos taken from bus.)

Tree lined Boulevarde and gardens. (P1090500 © JT of jtdytravels)


One of several lakes we drove by ( P1090499 © JT of jtdytravels )


Hotels are being built/ or renovated (P1090497 © JT of jtdytravels )

The number of hotels is growing to accommodate both tourists and business people bringing in foreign investment.

Shops and apartments line main city streets (P1090501 © JT of jtdytravels )


Traditional small stalls still fill the narrow side alleyways. (P1090506 © JT of jtdytravels)


Some lovely old buildings are being restored. (P1090498 © JT of jtdytravels )


‘The Governor’s Residence” (P1010928 © DY of jtdytravels)

One of those restored original British era houses is ‘The Governor’s Residence’ – where the British Governor lived in colonial times. It’s now a delightful hotel and our home for the next two nights. More of that anon.

Jennie and David

All Photography © JT and DY of jtdytravels

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