Day 1: Introduction

by - April 22, 2014

I have often talked, on this blog, about destinations whose very names evoke an air of adventure and exoticism.  For Brits, Burma and its major cities from Mandalay to Rangoon (Yangon) are familiar in name but in little more than that.  The country has gone through much and has experienced more change in the last decade than many nations do in a century.  These changes have allowed tourists and travellers to begin to enter Myanmar with greater ease than ever before and as a nation with a wealth of historical sights and a unique culture, sandwiched as it is between India and China, now seemed like a unique opportunity to visit.

Sitting in the departure lounge at Hong Kong International was a unique experience in itself, joined as I was by people ranging from orange-clad monks to western families on holiday, Chinese tour groups to businessmen from all over the world.  Additionally, of course, there were a few scruffy fellow backpacker types.  I arrived at Yangon International Airport in the early hours of the morning on a direct flight with Dragonair and met up with the rest of my travel companions (seven of us) at the hostel.  By happy coincidence our entire ten day trip to the country would fall between the Burmese Water Festival and New Year’s celebrations – every day being a national holiday.  While this was excellent in terms of seeing and experiencing something new, it also meant that travelling as such a large group would be challenging – particularly when it came to getting bus and train tickets to move around.  Our solution to this was to turn our large group size to our advantage and we therefore hired a minibus with a driver who would stay with us for the duration and turned the trip more towards being a bespoke independent expedition.

Taukkyan Commonwealth Cemetary, Yangon
The following morning we woke early to travel 400 miles north to the ancient town of Bagan.  As the distance suggests, this was going to be an almighty journey across much of the country – though as a nation three times the size of the UK, we would only be travelling about half way up it.  It was to be the longest journey of the trip and also our most boring – as we headed along the brand new highway between Yangon (the old capital) and Nay Pyi Daw (the new capital).  We left Yangon early, though on our way through the outskirts were able to quickly visit the British and Commonwealth cemetery at Taukkyan, for those who fell fighting the Japanese during the Second World War.  The road, almost Romanesque in its dead straightness, was almost entirely featureless beside the occasional pagoda-topped hill.  We arrived at our hotel (the brilliant Zfreeti Hotel) in Nyaung U, the main town next to the ruins of Bagan in the evening and were able to eat at one of the town’s excellent restaurants before a swim in our hotel pool.  All in all, not a particularly exciting day, but necessary for us to begin our sightseeing.

The featureless road to the north

(as a side note I will switch between Burma and Myanmar because I haven’t actually yet heard a 100% convincing argument as to which name I should be using)

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