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I have recently returned from the land of the unexpected, aka Myanmar. This is a strange and beautiful land that left me frustrated and fascinated in equal measure. We had only one week, and travel in Myanmar is lengthy, so we limited our explorations to two destinations only.

I travelled with my colleague Vy and new friend Anna, beginning in Yangon, up to Inle Lake, and then back to Yangon. For some reason I had anticipated Myanmar being less developed than Cambodia. This is a mistake I have made before, when I travelled to Laos. But Yangon is a proper city with fully functioning roads and everything. It’s filled with beautiful crumbling buildings, wide streets, narrow lanes, fairy lights (lairy fights!!!!), and golden temples.

It seemed to me that the residents of Yangon took their time to warm to us, or maybe it took a while for me to let go of the perpetually smiling faces I encounter in Cambodia. But after half a day I noticed more smiles and waves, although there was plenty of staring and leering also. While Yangon contains significantly less western tourists than Cambodia, I felt there was also a lot less interest in us. People went about their day without paying us much heed.

Having worked with asylum seekers I know a bit about Myanmar’s human rights record and it’s isolation from the rest of the world. But if I had not had that knowledge, I would have easily believed Myanmar is a free and flourishing country.

The main item of clothing is called a longyi, a sarong that has been sewn at the ends to look like a skirt. Men fold and tie it at their front (Vy suggested this was to hide their man parts), and women fold it and tuck it in at the side. It’s really quite fetching, and the men wear them with business shirts that look quite dapper. A little less impressive was the near universal chewing of betel nut and the accompanying red teeth and red spots on the road. Oh, and the hawking and spitting!

I shall write more soon, including an all important ‘tips for visiting Myanmar’ post.

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