Magical Myanmar by Hank Lowenstein

Myanmar, formerly Burma, is literally half way around the world from New York. We flew from JFK up over the Arctic, and down to Hong Kong, which took 16 hours. After a 3 hour layover in Hong Kong we took a 3 hour flight to Bangkok and stayed in that teeming metropolis (13 million people) for 4 days to get rid of our jet lag before proceeding into Myanmar.
Our trip started in Yangon, formerly Rangoon, which was the old capital of Burma before the military took over and changed Burma to Myanmar and moved the capital to Naypyidaw, some 100 miles north of Yangon. In Myanmar we traveled by plane, train, ox cart, horse and buggy and by foot. There is no cell phone service in the country, unless one buys a local SIM card, which enables local calls with lots of static. We were able to receive e-mails at hotels via Wi-Fi, but a snail moves faster than the connection speed in most places.
Myanmar accepts American money, but ONLY brand new bills. Any U.S. bill that has a tear, a fold, a crease or a stain will not be accepted. The country is the size of England and France combined, with a population of approximately 50 million people, and it seemed like there were almost that many tourists during our visit there! November through May is the best time to visit Myanmar, as from June through October is the monsoon season. The country was controlled by the British in the 17th century, and there are many buildings and statues that represent that occupation. Lord Mountbatten restored a sacred relic to the country after he learned it had been pilfered and sent back to London.
We visited Yangon, Pagan, the site of almost 3,000 pagodas, teak monasteries, and gold-leafed Buddha’s. One of the pictures that accompanies this story is of a 372 foot high gold-leaf pagoda built in the 16th century, and repaired after a large earthquake did major damage in 1978.
We also were also in Mandalay and took a river boat trip on the Irrawaddy river (over 1,100 miles long), to see fisherman using the ancient method of using the almost extinct Irrawaddy river dolphins to herd fish into their nets. There are only 65 of these dolphins left in the world, and we saw at least 20 of them!
I suppose the highlight of our visit to Myanmar was at the end. We flew from Mandalay to Heho, took a van for an hour and arrived at the jetty town of Shwei Yang, and were ferried to the Inle Princess hotel set on the shore of beautiful lake Inle.
Our room was magnificent, with a terrace right over the lake (picture of the sunset was taken from that terrace). The staff at the Inle Princess was extremely well trained and catered to our every wish. Each day we rose early, had a wonderful buffet breakfast, and loaded in boats for excursions to see lacquer factories, silk workshops, fishing villages and the boat people of Myanmar.
Needless to say we loaded our suitcases with wonderful locally made products. These remarkable boat people have lived on the lake for centuries, and have prospered through the use of their wits and incredible skills at fishing and other creative industries.
After our 11 days in country we flew back to Bangkok for one night before rising early to start the long trek back to New York. Myanmar was certainly magical, but the ever-rising tide of tourists is and will continue to make the country something it was never intended to be. I’m glad we went when we did.