Poorly pasted together and full of pixelated photographs, my Myanmar Lonely Planet has been following me forlornly ever since I picked it up some four years ago from a child book hawker in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Besides my China LP (covered in brown paper to hide its entry from Chinese customs), it stood alone on my bookshelf as my only travel guide (I move too much to take all of them), reminding me of a destination I had always dreamed of going to but lacked the time and moral conviction to fulfill.
Two weeks ago, in the days leading up to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s historic visit, I finally got the chance to flip through its floppy pages with actual intent when I landed in Yangon. CNNGo published a travel piece of mine today bred out of that trip detailing how Myanmar (known still by its colonial British name, Burma) is becoming easier to travel in.
Myanmar has already changed dramatically in the past year due to benevolent reforms. The international press (including the BBC) have been allowed access to Aung San Suu Kyi, released in November, 2010 after 15 years of house arrest that spanned two decades, and the NLD, the favorite opposition group to the ruling military junta which she heads, was allowed to register in upcoming elections.
Whether any of this high-publicity rapprochement sticks is still yet to be seen, but experts are hopeful that significant signs such as the reintroduction of ATMs and the construction of foreign exchange banks means the junta is seriously willing to start interacting with the outside world, stepping out of Condoleezza Rice’s collection of heavy-handed autocracies, the so-called “Outposts of Tyranny” and into what is already being called Clinton’s “Anti-China Axis.”
There are hundreds of pristine islands on Myanmar’s side of the isthmus in the Myeik Archipelago and thousands of decaying temples that could do with some friendly injection of tourism funds. If the opening up continues, Myanmar is well on its way to fomenting an additional loop in the Southeast Asia tourism circuit.
Just take a look at these pictures of places my short stint didn’t allow me to see. Next time…