Category Archives: Myanmar (Burma)

Lahu hill tribe children

Hill tribe trekking in Kyaing Tong

Kyaing Tong in 2000: The Wild East

I last visited Kyaing Tong (pronounced “Chang Tong” and sometimes spelled Keng Tung), a small market hill town in Myanmar’s Eastern Shan State, in 2000. It was one of the highlights of my travels that year, and as I related some of the tales to Laura, I figured that they were worth sharing with a wider audience. So, before I get into this year’s adventures here is Kyaing Tong 2000 style.

Kyaing Tong is the main town of the Myanmar portion of the infamous Golden Triangle, which also straddles the hill tribe areas of Laos and Thailand. The Golden Triangle supplied most of the world’s street heroin until the trade was usurped by Afghans in the late 90’s. The main man in the area was a ruthless warlord named Khun Sa, who ruled over two armies called the Shan State Army and the Muang Tai Army. At one point, Khun Sa is said to have had a personal militia that numbered more than 18000 men and women. The region was typically beyond the Burmese government’s control and/or beset by continual fighting between the opposing forces.

Unsurprisingly, tourists were not particularly welcome in this … Read more

Mrauk U sunset

Old-School Travel to Mrauk U

I often think that I was born a decade too late. As a child of the 1980s and a teenager of the late 1990s, I feel that I arrived just too late to appreciate what may have been the apogee of Western culture. Many of my favorite bands produced their best work well before I left for college and could have seen them on tour. The fashion of the 80s and early 90s gets a bad rap, but who didn’t love Claire Danes’ oversized flannel shirts and chunky boots in My So-Called Life? The revival of the X-Files, my favorite TV show of the 1990s, has made me nostalgic for a time when the worst thing that we could worry about was a government conspiracy of an alien invasion. I would prefer that to the all-to-real economic instability, threat of terrorism, and looming environmental collapse that have darkened the 21st century.

I also suspect that, in many ways, travel was more rewarding a few decades ago. Paul traveled extensively in Latin America and Asia in the late 1990s and early 2000s, before the advent of mass tourism in much of this area. He has amazing stories of his … Read more

Sunset from North Guni temple

The Dark Lord Comes to Bagan

‘Bagan wasn’t like this in 1995’, Buxton muttered as yet another huge tour group mowed him down, selfie sticks aloft. Back then, I had the ancient temples of the Kingdom of Bagan practically to myself. Now that Myanmar was firmly on the tourist circuit, we had to share this once forgotten archaeological wonder with thousands of others. I am convinced that there were more tourists climbing up the Shwesandaw Temple for sunset in 2016 than there were in all of Myanmar in January ’95!

Is it real?

The Burmese government has been renovating the temples for decades and as usual with Myanmar, this has attracted some controversy. In keeping with Buddhist traditions, it is considered disrespectful to leave temples and statues in a state of disrepair. However, most of the temples have been destroyed over the centuries by a series of devastating earthquakes and subsequent neglect. No one knows what the temples originally looked like so the Burmese have done their best to approximate their original state using the base and rubble as guides. This had led to conflict with world bodies such as UNESCO, who are loath to award World Heritage status to what amounts to modern recreations that … Read more

Shwedagon Paya on New Year's Eve 2015.

Cities of the Burmese Heartland: Yangon and Mandalay

Myanmar is one of my absolute favorite countries to travel in. I had first visited in January 1995 when the country was very much a pariah state. Although the country was open for travelers, there were severe restrictions on where you could travel. The country was lead by a military junta, who ran a quasi-Orwellian state. The Independence leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was under house arrest and she had recommended that travelers stay away to help maintain worldwide sanctions on the country’s government. The country was isolated, desperately poor, and difficult to get around. The black market rate ran at twenty times the official rate, and the only place to change money was at local markets. Transport was awful, decent accommodation hard to find, and even getting a proper Burmese meal was tricky. However, this trip remains one of the highlights of my life and started an obsession with Asia that continues to this day. I returned again in 2000 and again that trip was extremely memorable. To say I had high hopes for this trip is the understatement of the year!

The visit was also bittersweet for me. I was looking forward to visiting on the 21st anniversary … Read more