Just a few words regarding Yangon, a city I visited 10 years ago. I am a collector of antiques and at that time excellent Burmese antiques were available on the Thai market. A friend of mine and I thought that Burmese antiques should be much cheaper directly at the source and this was the main reason of our trip.
The Burmese antique market was, and I still believe today, 100% controlled by the army. There was absolutely no chance to find anything at reasonable prices. All the good pieces are mainly shipped (smuggled) to Bangkok and the army takes the profit.
If you are lucky to find anything, beware of Customs at the airport. At that time every bag was carefully checked and any antique was confiscated and almost certainly given to the army who afterwards exported the pieces to Bangkok.
At least it's not like it is in Turkey, where you face prison time, up to 6 months, plus heavy fines for taking anything with you from an excavation site, even the smallest stone. Nothing happens to you in Burma. In all fairness to Turkey, it has to be said there are signs telling you everywhere not to take anything with you.
It is true that 10 years ago taxis were very, very old and the drivers were not the nicest people. On the other hand, every decent hotel offered air-conditioned cars which, even being old, were in perfect condition. The prices were reasonable.
I cannot understand how anybody can complain about hotels if he pays US 20 – 30 for a room. Compared to Bangkok the 4 and 5 star hotels were not up to the same standards but for a reasonable amount you got a decent room and the hotel staff was very friendly and helpful. I stayed at the Governor's Hotel, a restored colonial building. The stay at this hotel was already worth the trip.
The food at all the better hotels was very good and reasonably priced. We also found some restaurants in the city and again atmosphere and food were very acceptable. Of course you can not expect the variety and quality as you find in Bangkok.
Nightlife existed and there were some discos but we did not spend much time in them. Again not to be compared to Bangkok but then where compares to Bangkok?!
Yangon gives you an experience you will never forget. People are very friendly and helpful once you get to know them better. It is true that at the time due to the political situation it was not easy to talk to them. You felt the difficult situation and that they were not eager to talk to foreigners. Because of our hunt for antiques we had to approach the Burmese and after some hesitation we met very interesting, friendly and helpful people. Once we knew that the antique market was not available to us, my friend concentrated on modern Burmese paintings. It was the time when the hype for Chinese modern paintings was already at its height and we thought that the same evolution could be found in Burma.
We visited a few painters at their homes. We were always cordially invited into their apartments, offered drinks and friendship. Again unforgettable moments.
Schwedagon Pagoda is one of few sights and experiences in the world which can not be compared to anything else. The silence, the strange beauty of this pagoda, the monks, the people wiping the marble floors, the relaxation this place offers, the stairways leading to the pagoda and in the evening the illuminated pagoda which shines over the city, a dream come true.
Afterwards, if you walk to the city center with all the old colonial buildings on the verge of collapse but still shining with grandeur you are truly in another world. When the small restaurants and teahouses turn on their lights and you are sitting on the pavement amidst the locals and drinking maybe one or too beers too many you really feel, wow, you are experiencing an atmosphere which only a few people have the chance to live and which is certainly going to disappear fast.
And of course also a few words about the women. They are beautiful, graceful and cannot be compared to anybody else. Let us hope they keep their natural charm and are not destroyed by the herds of tourists which will soon overrun Burma.
I think you, Stick, as an excellent photographer would be in heaven in this city. Do not only look at the poverty, the dirt, the bad roads, the stereotypical clichés used about Burma but look behind the obvious.
On the other hand I am truly happy that negative reports will have the effect that tourists will avoid Burma. Let us hope that Burma will slowly come out of this truly terrible economical and political situation. Give Burma the time to find a place in our crazy world allowing them for a certain time to keep the traditional Burmese way of life, before our western world turns Yangon into a "modern" nightmare.
I am lucky that in a few weeks I will have the opportunity to visit Burma again.
I still think I am going to wait a little bit until I venture there. I just don't have the desire to check Myanmar out while at the same time I have a strong desire to explore more of Vietnam.