Travelling to new places has always been as much a journey of the mind as the body, and visiting somewhere new remains one of the most exciting experiences that a person can have. And yet there is an irony in this – the more one travels, the more aware we become of just how much there is still to explore. The list of places still to see grows longer, not shorter.
Myanmar has always been on my personal list, a mysterious, deeply evocative country with an astonishing history, yet one that has had restricted opportunities to visit in more recent times. No longer. With air connections now excellent, and a burgeoning tourist industry, it may be off the more familiar beaten tracks, but it is both accessible and inviting to visitors.
The secret to arriving in a new country is to do so without preconceptions, for every country has the capacity to surprise, and an open mind has always been the most rewarding way to travel. But not even in my most far fetched thoughts did I anticipate that the immigration officer would be quietly singing to herself as I arrived into Yangon. As welcomes go, however inadvertent, this one possessed a charm entirely unique in my experience. It is a rare thing Indeed to be smiling to oneself going through the formalities.
On day one of a ten day trip, the first day is one of familiarisation. Yangon’s traffic congestion is rightly renowned yet the patience of the people is what strikes initially – there may be queues on the roads, but they are handled without rancour, and my mind kept turning to the frustration I would be feeling at home in the UK. A relaxing traffic jam – there’s a first.
The other immediate impression concerns the striking colonial architecture of the city. Building after building is passed by, but this is no past time frozen in aspic, it’s a modern thriving metropolis, where past and present co-exist, and the structures are there to be used, not merely admired.
Tomorrow is when the exploration truly begins, and each day I shall be providing an update that will hopefully provide some kind of flavour of the journey. I have no idea what to expect, so since it is always better to travel in company, perhaps you’d like to join me on my exploration.
Until tomorrow then…