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Category Archives: Burma

Burma: Golden Land

We launched today a mesmerizing 25 minutes travel video about Burma or, as is currently known, Myanmar. It takes the viewer to the temple-ridden plains of Bagan, one of the most mysterious and sacred places of South East Asia, to the beautiful Innle Lake located in the middle of the Shan States, populated by the most diverse minorities in South East Asia, to the imperial cities surrounding the exotically named Mandalay, to the precariously hanging pagoda/rock of Kyaktiko ending in Yangon’s deeply spiritual Swedagon Paya, one of the most interesting religious architectural complexes in the world. We covered a lot of ground in the narration associated with the film: from history to legends, architecture and the zen traditions, customs and religions we tried as much as possible to approach most of the cultural issues you encounter in such a trip.

The travel video is the result of a lot of research and documentation we did before we left to Burma, but also of a lot of information we got on site, talking to people or listening to the stories coming from the locals. We shot a lot of footage and we ended up editing it to make a very pleasant and attractive presentation.

If you have any intention to visit these areas or other parts of Burma, or if you know for sure that you will never get there, watching this film will bring you the experience of being half there.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2012 in Blog, Burma

 

Traveling to a dictatorship

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Paduang

To go or not to go, this is the question. This question torments the independent travelers and is explained and turned up side down and on both sides in travel guides and all sorts of conscientious media outlets.
 Should we visit Tibet where the people suffer from the brutal Chinese occupation, should we visit Burma, where the government run by a bunch of ruthless generals is holding Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for 10 years or should we visit Cambodia where the Khmer Rouge are still at large, threatening the political process.

You may hear conscientious ladies arguing about the fact they don’t want to put their money in the abusive government pockets, political savvy gentlemen arguing that international tourism would give a stamp of approval to the legitimacy of hated rulers, the adventurer type would be concerned that the government may bar him to travel to particular areas that they consider “unsafe”, or the human rights conscientious traveler wouldn’t go because of the forced labor or other stark abuses the government may do to the people.
And they are perfectly right! All these things are happening and all these people should absolutely be concerned about them.
But something is missing in this equation. It is something important and nobody seems to be concerned about it:
It’s the PEOPLE of the country that lives under the dictatorship. Nobody really thinks about their life as human beings, about what they feel and IF they may be helped by the independent traveler’s presence.
And I can tell you this because I was born and raised in a dictatorship, one of the most brutal in modern Europe: Romania under the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu. 
Living now for many years in the USA I caught myself thinking in the cliches I mentioned above, but I cannot be so forgetful about my past and not to remember how I felt when I was living in Romania. A dictatorship is a very large and relatively comfortable jail. Your jailers are able to control most of the things in your life, their main goal being of controlling your mind, and you don’t have too many lines of defense in front of their actions. They may decide to change your place of living, they may cut short your supply of food or heat, they may force you to spend your time in ways they want and in extreme cases you may just disappear like you never existed and nobody can ask what happened: your friends and family just dreaming that you ever existed. And most of the dictatorships are working in very similar ways, in most of them the Socialist/Communist ideas being the core belief at one point in their development. 
I remember when I was living in Romania how terrified I was that foreigners would not come to see my country. I knew that they were forced to change money for the government but I wanted them to come no matter what and see with their own eyes the disaster the dictatorship created and to pass this information along. It may not have helped in changing things but morally I felt helped because I was not alone in the hands of my jailers; it was somebody else, and not one of my jail mates, who saw how I lived and hopefully my torturers cannot do to me what they had in their sick minds.
I was in need of their presence to see with my own eyes that is still some normality in the world, that not everybody lives in a jail and these people may be interested to hear the other people sufferings.

So if you ever asked yourself the politically correct question: to go or not to go, my humble advice is GO. 
Go and talk with people without imposing on them your views or forcing them to talk. They may be extremely afraid to talk with you, being concerned that somebody may hear them, but when you ride in the back of a motorcycle in Mandalay or you are alone with a monk in a Tibet monastery ask them gently what they think about their countries and you’ll see how their souls will open and the answers will open a new dimension of understanding for you. 
Travel to Tibet to see tears in the monks’ eyes when they hold your hands just because you are there and see everything and you will be asked to bless them with the Lonely Planet book just because they saw the picture of His Holiness inside. 
Travel to Myanmar to see how people suffer by an inept government run by a bunch of thugs dressed in military uniform that tried all sorts of economic models and failed lamentably in all of them and see how, when is nobody around, they will tell you how much they hate this government and how much they love Aung San Suu Kyi.

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Killing Fields

Travel to Cambodia to see the harrowing suffering on the guide’s face when he talks, 25 years after, about the Khmer Rouge crimes, that strives to create the Utopian society any hard core Communist would have dreamed of. 
Travel and learn about dictatorships from their own people and about the crimes of the Communism, its efficiency in killing people surpassing at a far cry the Nazi killing machine of the Second World War concentration camps but still being, even today, the hidden darling of the French left-wing intellectuals and the staunch Anti-Americans all over the world
Travel to where you think that your pure presence may help alleviate people’ suffering.
But always travel independently because only in this way you may stay out of the government control.

Here, at FlyingMonk, we do firmly believe that YOU, as an Independent traveler, can make a difference. So we advise you to GO!

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2004 in Blog, Burma, Cambodia

 

Travel in Burma

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Bagan

With so much bad press it may look that traveling in Myanmar would be a harassing experience. As a matter of fact the contrary is the case. The people are extremely nice and will go out of their way to help even if no reward is perceived in sight. The government is trying to mind his own business in relation to foreigners being under strong pressure to behave. The pressure comes in general from countries in the EU, USA in particular but mainly by the other Asian neighboring countries for whom Myanmar’s abusive rule is an embarrassment. Their biggest friend is China, oblivious as usual to human rights violation, a practice applied “successfully” in Tibet and Xijiang. Myanmar is one of the few countries, in the present international context, where USA is perceived like a champion of justice and you’ll hear “America good” or even ” Bush good” (!), because of the strong stance he took against the Myanmar abusive government. Because of this situation, the government is trying to keep a low profile vis-a-vis the foreigners and is a very small chance that they may interfere in your travel.

To obtain the visa, that normally can take between 1-4 days in BKK, you have to declare your occupation and the place of work. Nobody will check, but do not specify anything related to journalism, documentary, video or human rights inspector……because they may reject the application. 
Besides the 3-4 documents you have to fill up when you enter the country, the hotel check-in procedure is the same like in any other country. At the border, one of the documents they ask you to fill up is a list of valuable you have with you that may contain camera, video cameras, cell phones, watches, jewelry, etc. and the main reason they ask for it, as they say, is to let you get out of the country with those goods. I spoke with many people knowledgeable about the country and I understood that nobody was ever bothered with this list. My list contained 2 video cameras and a digital camera and they did not even look at it. It is just another “list” of a dictatorial regime.

The FECs are gone so everything is on cash, preferably US$. Travelers checks have a 10% commission and credit cards are just a piece of plastic if you don’t spend the night at “The Strand” in Yangon. So have cash with you! The present exchange rate is 1US$=900K on the black/gray market and 1US$=450K at the bank. Almost any hotel would exchange money at the black market rate. The present market economy brought a lot of competition so the goverment hotels and transportations are competed by private ones so is very easy to avoid feeding the pockets of the goverment. Just check before you book if the business is privately owned.

No matter what you may hear in Bangkok, you can enter the country with any video camera. I brought in the country an HD camera, pretty large even for the Western eye, but I was able to shoot everywhere, the only inconvenient being that everybody wanted to look at it. You have to pay very small camera fees (10-30c) to use a camera inside the temples, but you can take any pictures you want. The government is pretty sensitive about some “strategic” locations that are not necessarily touristic, like bridges, railway stations, police stations, etc. If you want to take a picture ask the police around and you’ll get a straight answer if you can or not. And if you took too many pictures, the good news is that everywhere in Myanmar you have services for “Digital Film to CD” !

GSM cell phones work in Myanmar no matter that everybody including my cell phone provider in the US said that will not work. However, the price of any international call, cell phone or land line, can be very expensive, around $6/min for the US and EU. 
You can find email services in every city, but I cannot say that they abound. On some location Hotmail and Yahoo are blocked, but everything else is allowed, so plan for a different provider when you are traveling there. The prices vary widely but this is caused by their special understanding of the market economy. In general surfing goes for about $2-3/hour but it can go all the way up to $6/hour.

There are many people that can offer guide services at a very reasonable rate, and many times you may need them to arrange a car for distant destinations. I would recommend two of them that I found to be very reliable and full of interesting stories:

Mr. Han at Myananda Hotel in Bago will arrange you very convenient transportation to Kyaiktiyo and to Yangon. I used his services for Golden Rock and it was very convenient, friendly and extremely reliable. He may be able to help you in various other places in Myanmar. Email him at sitthugyi@myanmar.com.mm and write his name in the Subject line. Phone 052-22275

Oo Oo Myat Khaing is quite a character. With his shan bag and his umbrella, he is a treasure trove of stories that will tell you during the tour of Shwedagon Paya in Yangon, but he also does tours all over the country for a reasonable fee. Email him at khaing@myanmar.com.mm . Phone 709115 or ask for him at Shwedagon Paya.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2004 in Blog, Burma