Singapore to Wellington - 17 November 2015
I had most of the day to spend with Cam and Marg as Jan went off to work and Adam flew back to Yangon for another week of work. They’re both such frequent travellers that it makes me feel quite tired – but then I have to remember that I was as young and fit as they are once upon a time and would have revelled in their lifestyle!
Of course I 'lost' a day on the way home and arrived on Wednesday to quite a cold Camborne (by comparison!) It was lovely to be in familiar surroundings, as it always is, and to catch up with Julie. Suzi had left home while I'd been away and moved into her lovely new little home in Tauranga.
Leaving family and friends is always a wrench but it's really good to know that we'll all be together, one way or another, over the Christmas period.
So what were my impressions of Myanmar, now that I'm home and have had time to reflect?
To begin with, I've never been on a cruise before and swore I never would (too many people in too confined an area, too much food and not enough exercise has always been in my mind). But a friend recommended a river cruise and it seemed a good way to explore, especially with Adam and Jan working full time with only limited availability.
Belmond was a fabulous experience. I have never, ever in my life been so pampered and cared for. I was truly not allowed to lift a finger. Every request was met with delight at being able to help - even the unreasonable requests like 'I really don't want to go in a horse and cart next time if it's possible not to' resulted in a tuktuk being brought in from quite a distance to meet the boat. The candles floating past the boat at night, which must have taken many staff hours to organise, the wonderful sunset trip to U Bein Bridge with a champagne boat floating alongside all our boats, the farewell and welcoming waves from the Manager and Assistant Manager on The Road to Mandalay every time we left or returned, the quality of the food, the on board 'workshops', the amazing off board guides who spoke different languages so that we could all squeeze every bit of history out of each experience, the ever present arm that was offered to support us in case we needed it ... All that and so much more. I will never forget the experience.
Generally speaking, the people are quiet and appear somewhat shy because they accept you rather than question you. For the most part, they appear very calm and rather beautiful with soft brown skin and beautiful eyes. They also seem very accepting of their lives - unlike the people (taxi drivers for example) I spoke to in Singapore who had strong feelings about the lack of a welfare system and their need to work to a great age - or starve.
The cities I saw - a very small proportion of the country - and the major roads around them were full of traffic which didn't seem to follow many rules but which moved comparatively peacefully. Horns were used to indicate presence rather than in anger. Construction was going on but by western standards, any work being done was a drop in the bucket.
The countryside was a delight. It was like being transported back into the middle ages in England with villagers going about their myriad tasks in perfect harmony. The women wear their longhis rolled into a ring on the top of their heads to make it easier for them to carry anything and everything. They must have very strong necks. Little children played unfettered at their feet in the dirt and there was no apparent concern for their safety. Slightly older children played happily in groups and were always laughing and running around which was a joyful sight.
Animals were everywhere. I personally think there are far too many dogs with bitches evidently nursing or being mated wherever you looked. A plan to spay or neuter would seem appropriate because, presumably, someone has to feed them all. The cattle were delightful - Brahmans to be yoked to the ploughs in the fields and water buffalo likewise in the wetter land. I didn't find out what they do with their goats but they probably milk them. Some of the young children were given tasks like moving cattle from one grazing spot to another and re-staking them.
Clearly, the climate is different between states. On the cruise, I travelled through Central Burma to visit Mandalay, North Burma to visit Sagaing and Lower Burma to visit Yangon and parts of the Ayeyerwady River. With Adam and Jan, I travelled through East Burma to visit Shan State.
Yangon's climate is very similar to Singapore's and not a climate I feel at all comfortable in. I guess one might acclimatise and it certainly didn't appear to worry the inhabitants. Central and North Burma seemed cooler on our cruise visits to Mandalay and Sagaing. Shan State was a delight! Apart from the cooler temperatures the landscape was very easy on the eye with miles of rolling hills, lakes, mountains and farmland. Apart from the poor roads, it resembled New Zealand in some ways.
Change is coming to Myanmar. In some ways, this will be a shame as it is very unspoilt in places and tourists were very few and far between. But now that sanctions are being lifted and more foreign money is coming in, development is taking place. I have to say that I was surprised at how expensive the hotels and restaurants were - every bit as expensive as staying at and dining in New Zealand - so if you're thinking that it would be a cheap holiday, think again.
What will happen with the change in Government, only time will tell and I am sufficiently a-political not to venture a guess. Certainly the people I spoke to before the election were wholeheartedly in support of Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy. But it's being said that winning the election was the easy part and that the real work will begin when her party comes to power next year. Adam told me that there were real concerns among his colleagues about the party's limited experience of government and the small pool of skilled people who could take office. His company has worked closely with the current Government since it was formed three years ago and they have noticed significant changes in attitude since sanctions were lifted. Time will tell ...
Certainly, I will remember the visit with a real sense of warmth towards the country and its people, as well, of course, with great pleasure in learning more about the country where our son is now working. It will be very interesting to see how it all develops, both the country itself and the work that PRIME is doing there.