Where to Visit in BurmaHow to visit Burma?
Visit to Myanmar: It's difficult - The New York Times
Hiking trails lead past date palm trees, Jasmin and Francipani; a public indoor water park stretches to an man-made hyacinth water. Behind the sea was one of the miracles of Southeast Asia: a dry plains with 2,000 Buddha Schools. One searing May mornings I had taken a rest from visiting these facilities to stop by at the best resort in Bagan, Burma's old capitol, an hour's flying in northern Yangon, Myanmar.
The Aureum Palace inaugurated in 2005 covers 27 hectares and includes a pub, spa, fountain, more than 40 rooms and 72 mansions. The Aureum Palace was the only thing wrong with the hotel: its owners. It is owned by U Tay Za, supposedly the wealthiest man in the land - and a closest collaborator of his former army leader, General Than Shwe.
Owners of Air Bagan and Asia Wings (the largest privately owned carriers in the country), five other luxurious hostels and seaside resorts in Myanmar and the Htoo Group, a group of conglomerates that encompasses cellular telephony and wood concession facilities, Mr. Tay Za was described by the U.S. Treasury Department as a "notorious sidekick and artiller.
Mr Tay Za seems to have switched paths in the new Myanmar. Modelled on the Myanmar Reformation regime, this former sidekick of the Burmese regime embraces Philanthopia and what his recent Reuter boy called "foundation work. Last year the Aureum Palace was 80 per cent full after years of fighting to fill its rooms.
Last year Bagan and other Myanmar tourist attractions attracted more and more visitors following the encouragement of President Thein Sein. Myanmar's leaders have released several hundred detainees, relaxed the law of censure and built a warm working relation with Nobel Peace Prize-winning Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the Myanmar government, since taking up his post in an elections staged by the country's army in November 2010.
Businesses that once fought to attract customers to Myanmar were flooded: Butcrombie & Kent recorded a 90 per cent rise in the number of Myanmar-linked travelers between the first quarters of 2011 and 2012; San Francisco-based Indochina Travel reports that its Myanmar operations have increased from 15 per cent of reservations to 35 per cent in the last 18 heats.
Myanmar has long been a particular destination for adventure seekers with its rich scenery, Buddhaist civilization and the mystical appeal of a land that has had little outside access for many years. At that time, the authorities usually granted a one-week visa and confined the visitor to a mandatory route. Mr President, the issue of whether it is reasonable to go to a land long governed by a violent army regime has not disappeared.
Although Mr Thein Sein is said to have set the land on the road to democratisation, Myanmar is hardly free of malicious influence. Buddhists in the state of Arakan, near the Bangladesh frontier, and Rohingyas, stateess Muslims long criticized by the Myanmar authorities, assaulted after the assassination and raping of a young Tibetan woman in June.
I have travelled to Myanmar three betimes in the last 30 years: 1980 as a back packer, 2010 as a reporter after the liberation of Aung San Suu Kyi from home detention and last year, after the implementation of various international financial and policy reform. During my last journey I spend most of my spare to Yangon, Bagan and Inle Lake on the fringes of the restless Shan State.
During the entire journey I was very conscious of the ethical problems associated with travelling in Myanmar and tried to prevent patronising companies belonging to the country's corrupt élite. Papa Pa, the Aureum Palace sales representative, said most customers don't bother about Mr. Tay Za's name.
However, U Bo Ni, my leader in Bagan, and a backer of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, told the tourist to think twice before they stay there. Coming to Yangon, I was curious to see how the mood had been changing since my last one. The city centre next to the Yangon River is still full of ageing apartment buildings, jagged pavements where second-hand books and walnut sellers run their businesses and collapsing farmhouses.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been under 15 years' detention and still lives in the wealthy north of the town. It was here in March 1947, month before his murder by rival politicians, that General Aung San, the much-loved liberty warrior, was celebrating Burma's liberation from Britain.
Here too, his daughters, Aung San Suu Kyi, gathered pro-democracy demonstrators during the massacre in August 1988 and began her own arsenal. On my last trip, I was followed by two curious friars as I went through the Stupa; these men, I later heard, were probably secret agent used by the regime to keep an eye on aliens.
There was another place I was fascinated by that was taboo on my last visit: the home where General Aung San had been living between the end of the Second World War and his homicide two years later. The Bogyoke Aung San Home Memorial was shut down between 1999 and 2007 and opened only once a year on July 19, the day of hisassination.
However, the regime abolished the restrictions in March. One drizzling day I went to the 1921 building with its round porches and lavish towers and got an insight into Burma, which was in existence in the promising postwar years. There was the General's house at the top, the three-bed room where the infants Aung San Suu Kyi and her two brethren were asleep.
In Myanmar, I took Air Yangon to Bagan, a US corporation listed as having been on the sanction. Though I had some qualms about patronising the carrier, there were no satisfactory possibilities; the other carriers flying to Bagan are Air Bagan and Asian Wings (both held by the Tay Za-sanctioned Htoo Group), Air Mandalay (partly held by the Myanmar government) and Air Kanbawza (owned by Burma's banking group U Aung Ko Win, another confidant of the generals).
I' ve been told that it is hard to find Myanmar's unconnected hotel and airline companies. Decided not to spend the night at Aureum Palace, I went to the chalet where I had lived before, the Bagan Hotel River View, with luxuriant landscaped areas overlooked by the remains of an old cloakroom.
It belonged to the Kaung Myanmar Association, a Myanmar group with interests in building, farming, forestry and hotels, which is not on the Ministry of Finance's sanctions at least. A pyramid-shaped stupa near my lodge would be a lighthouse if I got lost. Well, I don't know.
Sixty mins later I tripped to a stall on a horse-drawn carriage and went back to my motel. On the next morning I went with Mr. Bo Ni to one of the greatest temple in Bagan: However, General Than Shwe has now resigned and General Khin Nyunt, who was released last January, recently paid a visit to Dhammayazika.
"It is good that foreign nationals are connecting with this land, spreading their know-how, helping the business community and watching what is going on in Myanmar," said U Ba Dhat Aung, a democratic supporter who was recently freed from jail and is now a 88 generation executive, an ex-con.
Mr Ba Dhat Aung, whom I escorted to a meeting of strikers in a China factory outside Yangon, added some reservations. He stressed that some tourism revenues are unavoidably in the governments pockets, in the shape of tax and entrance fee to areas such as Bagan and Inle Lake.
"Travellers should be careful and think about where they spend their money," said Ba Dhat Aung. I have been informed by a West German politician who asked not to be identified that "most hotel, airline and other parts of the tourist sector are former military regime cronies".
Among the penalized numbers are Aung Ko Win, the airline's proprietor and shareholder of Myanmar's former deputy, General Maung Aye, and U Tun Myint Naing, known as Steven Law, the 1970s progenitor of an Asian global corporation that has a shareholding in Yangon's Traders Hotel, a favourite of wealthy travellers.
But U Myint Aung, who served seven years in the regime's guulag for his part in the 1988 insurrection and now heads the former political prisoners' association in Rangoon, said it was conciliation season. In Bagan two nights later I headed eastwards to Inle Lake and rented a cab for the one-hour trip to Nyaungshwe, a run-down city and the motorised longboat drop-off point that takes the visitor to the coastal resort.
Aureum Palace Inle, another of Mr Tay Za's resort, I stayed the evening at Inle Princess Resort, which belongs to U Ohn Maung, an ethnical Shan and former incarceration. Situated on a lake covered with hyacinths, the chalet has 46 cabins with wooden furniture and a roof of wood and canopy.
Next day, in a 30 foot long boat with a young leader called U Min Min Min, I traversed the calm water of the lak. The Inle was full of fishermen' s rowing boat, one of which was loosely suspended on one foot and the other around a canoe. Here, like a children's Bagan, there were more than 200 small coupons built by the Pa-O folk centuries ago.
"Myanmar was recently described to me by Gary Knight, a photojournalist and writer, as "Asia in the Past Days "; the delicate pagoda remains almost lit. The Shan State Army, which fights for independence, had just the previous weekend concluded a landmark treaty of freedom with the Myanmar administration and approved the country's efforts to combat the drugs trade across the Thai-Band.
I have been repeatedly told from the flattering news stories in grassroots papers to various generations, from the beautiful mansions of the Yangon villa mates of the Yangon regime to the prudent remarks of Aung San Suu Kyi, that the new Myanmar is still in the works and that as a traveler, the discussion about where to spent your funds is still hot.
With regard to Mr Min Min, he was delighted at the increase in the number of people visiting and his earnings, but was sceptical about recent events, such as the CPA. "He said when we crossed Lake Inle, I don't think it will last." When you are a diligent traveller who is anxious to avoid tour operators that belong to the Myanmar administration or its partners, some preparatory work is called for.
Immediately I was able to eliminate the beach, a Myanmar and Singaporean companies corporate team.
It was not readily evident in some cases, such as the Savoy Hotel in Andangon. I was reassured that the Savoy belongs to a Myanmar lady who has "no connection" with the state. Savoy Hotel (129 Dhammazadi Road, and 95-10 526289, 526298 and 526305; reservation@savoyhotel-yangon. com) is located between Inya Lake (seat of the United States Embassy and the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi residence) and the city center.
It is a delightful 24 room lodge with outstanding facilities; the Captain's Bars in the foyer are one of Yangon's favourite water points for expatriates. Directly opposite Strand Road, right by the stream, are my favourite Yangon eateries, the Golden Duck and the Junior Duck (95-1 249421, or 09-861-4554), which offer exquisite China cuisine at affordable rates.
Inle Princess Resort is the best lakefront resort with 46 pondside cottages (Magyizin Village Inle Lake; 95-81 209055, 95-81 209363, 4 and 5; firstname.lastname@example.org).
There is a nice pub and restuarant that serves both Burma and Europe dishes, and you can dine outdoors on a veranda with a view of the lakes.