Tuesday, March 22, 2011


The former capital (formerly known as Rangoon) of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is a city of about five million inhabitants, where a lack of obvious road signs and some seriously dodgy pavements present the main hazards for tourists. I mean, broken and uneven paving slabs -- or even holes through which an unfortunate individual would fall into open sewers, and should therefore watch his/her step !

Almost all the vehicles appear to come from the 1960s. Cars, trucks and buses that other countries have dispensed with, where people have been told "it's impossible to get spare parts for that model these days". Windows and door handles on taxis are frequently missing. Seat belts don't seem to exist. Only occasionally do you see a relatively modern car. The privilege of the elite ?

The Bamar people (the majority, making up almost 70 percent of the population) are recognisable by their open-neck shirts and wrap-around skirts (longyi, or sarongs). They're one of eight ethnic groups. It's worth saying that everyone I met was very friendly and genuine. People were curious and pleased to meet a foreign traveller. According to the government information booklet I was given at the airport, something in the region of 300-thousand tourists visited Myanmar in the past year... which is not that many. It may well have been more than in the average year, because for a good chunk of 2010 Myanmar operated a visa-on-arrival scheme.

VOA has been "suspended" since September last year, although I believe it's been brought back for Chinese people arriving on particular flights. This meant I had to get my visa in Bangkok. That was a relatively straightforward process, accomplished within eight hours and helped along by paying the fee for Express Service.

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