For many well-read Burmans – and there are indeed many – thumbing through secret tattered paperbacks of Orwell’s great books was to find a prophetic mirror to the world they inhabited. For the Burmese these books were not merely a literary forewarning on the dangers that lurked at the absurd extremist end of the socialist spectrum but the tragic reality they endured. And yet through all these long wasted decades of military rule from Ne Win to Than Shwe, Burma remained the country where leaders fed monks on public occasions rather than inspect troops!
It is this sort of thing that sets you back and makes you reflect on just what makes Burma so truly different. Our holidays to Burma include the highlights that are ticked off by everyone else, but then we try and point you in the direction of the fascinating springs of Burmese history to help understand just what makes this enormously diverse and complicated country tick.
Beyond the highlights of Rangoon and Bagan and Inle Lake and the luxury river cruise and colonial Maymyo and over-rated Mandalay is the Burma that holds the clues to what makes this place so unique. Mawlamyine – the heartland of the Mon south – perhaps the earliest of the settled civilisations that occupied this land. We travel to Lashio in the Shan states and down to Hsipaw once the capital of a Shan Prince, a ‘Saopha’ or Sky Lord, now a small tribal town with a fascinating hinterland that includes Kyaukme with its charming market and opportunity to explore the local villages on foot. The Shan once occupied the north but were pushed into the fertile and temperate highlands by the aggressive Bamar more than a thousand years.
Along the west coast just south of Bangladesh is Rakhine state – more familiarly known as Arakan – an ancient and picturesque country that remained independent and distinct until the 18th century when Bodawpaya invaded to seize the great Mahamuni image. Arakan has a different feel to it and still retains that authentic flavour of the old Burma that is rapidly being lost in Mandalay under the deluge of immigrants from Chinese Yunnan.
To travel up the river from charming old world Sittwe to Mrauk-U the old capital through lush country-side framed by hills is one of the most wonderful experiences. And Mrauk-U itself with it’s restored pagodas, city walls and crumbling palace remains one of the most evocative destinations in Burma.
Our tours encourage a deeper understanding of Burma. Our guides will not shy away from discussing the oddities of Burmese culture and its contradictions or its more recent history. In his superb book ‘Golden Earth’ Norman Lewis said this: “Mandalay. In the name there was a euphony that beckoned to the imagination…..” One could extend that to Burma itself.