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Myanmar (Burma)

From The Good Tourist

MYANMAR (BURMA)

Golden Land

The Burman’s ready kindliness towards the stranger is remarkable, when it is remembered that through failure to spend a token period as a novice in a Buddhist monastery, the foreigner had never quite qualified as a human being.[1]

 

The golden land that time forgot: When promoting Myanmar[2], holiday brochures and travel guides like to conjure up the image of a mysterious and magical realm with ancient temple cities and pagodas that blend seamlessly with the faded grandeur of colonial architecture. They emphasise the timeless quality of Myanmar, calling it ‘a dreamer’s paradise’, and point out that it is one of the few places that remains unspoilt by mass tourism. This South East Asian country is undeniably beautiful and enigmatic, and it is hard not to be fascinated by Myanmar’s long history, incredible legends, and diverse landscapes just waiting to be explored.

A seasoned traveller, Keith told me that his trip to Burma to celebrate his Ruby wedding anniversary was one of the best holidays of his life. He had entered “Rubies”  into Google expecting Sri Lanka to appear at the top but Myanmar came up. Like many people he had to think twice before he realised that Myanmar and Burma are one and the same. In 2003, Keith initially discarded it as a possible destination as he thought Myanmar was a closed country. But two weeks later a journey on the Irrawaddy was advertised in the Sunday Times by Noble Caledonia, and as one of the trips coincided with his Ruby Wedding Day he booked it.

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[1] Lewis, Norman. Golden Earth: Travels in Burma, 1952

[2] The current regime changed the English name to Myanmar in 1989. It was previously known as Myanmar in Burmese until 1885 when the country came under the control of the British Raj. The  democracy movement prefers to use ‘Burma’ in protest at the unelected military regime’s decision to change the official name of the country. Internationally, both names are recognised.

Maldives

From The Good Tourist

An Island Paradise

The country boasts enchanting blue lagoons and a warm, friendly people. I visited three different resorts and can attest to the luxurious lifestyle on offer. Travel is generally via private speed boat, dhoni, or in a single-engine plane, and your biggest dilemma will probably be nothing more taxing than whether to stay in a water bungalow built on stilts or a two-floor luxury beach villa with all the mod cons. Often a section of beach is allocated to your holiday home or you may be lucky enough to have a personal lap pool or outdoor Jacuzzi attached. The cocktails flow freely and all manner of foods, catering for every taste, are imported. You can have a Japanese breakfast in your gigantic four-poster bed and later enjoy a stunning sunset over margaritas and Mexican tortillas. Service is quietly courteous and friendly. In the Full Moon resort even routine needs are catered for in style, with an outdoor bathroom in a private walled garden full of tropical plants. Whilst on Bandos Island Resort and Spa you have the option of round-the-clock butler service.

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China

From The Good Tourist

China is a whole continent: from the tundra in the north to the tropical island of Hainan in the south; from the Taklamakan desert in the west to the economically booming east coast. You can climb mountains in the Himalayas, travel by camel, sunbathe on tropical beaches and see your reflection in skyscrapers. You’ll meet trendy Shanghainese of delicate build and burly salt-of-the-earth Beijingers.[1]

The Great Firewall of China[2]

1n 1957 Ryszard Kapuściński visited China and noted that the Great Wall is actually several walls, constructed at various times, covering thousands of kilometers and made from a mass of different things. He was fascinated by the Chinese obsession with barriers and how each new ruler, over hundreds of years, set to building the Great Wall. These vast structures marked borders, divided hostile principalities, cut off whole regions and protected cities, serving to guard and defend incessantly, until they naturally extended into the lives of ordinary citizens, and began to separate villages, neighbours and families, one from the other. For Kapuściński it was all a colossal waste of time and energy; flawed thinking that demonstrated an innate defensiveness. He lamented the thousands of days spent erecting this vast wall-fortress that, he believes, might have been better spent ‘learning to read, acquiring a profession, cultivating new fields, and breeding robust cattle.’ [3]

Like Kapuściński I find myself fascinated by a great wall; one that requires several hundred hours of manpower and regular maintenance. This is not one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but a virtual barrier that has been erected to keep citizens in check, to censor information and to block undesirable websites. The great firewall of China involves a system of surveillance that is probably one of the most complex and effective in the world, involving the manipulation of routers, filters, Internet service providers, Internet content providers, and other technology.

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[1] Strittmatter, Kai, China A-Z; Haus Publishing 2006

[2] Various human rights groups and media refer to the complex Chinese internet surveillance as ‘The Great Firewall’.

[3] Described in his engaging autobiography Travels with Herodotus based on his early travels in the 1950s and 1960s; first published in English translation in 2007

Australia

From The Good Tourist

Red Earth

 

In the Dreaming, creator ancestors made the material world as well as the people…Every physical feature has a spirit ancestor. In this sense, the landscape is a book full of stories, which can be read by the people whose country you are in. It is the largest living text in the world.[1]

Holidays in Australia remain hugely popular – in 2006 tourists exceeded 5 million[2] – and whether you are a student or retired is immaterial, for the promise is still the same whatever your age:  “the experience of a lifetime”. Looking at some of the travel literature dedicated to Australia it’s hard not to be tempted by the stunning images and evocative descriptions. Whether it’s the Great Barrier reef and beaches of Queensland, or the world-class food and wine in southern Australia; a Blue Mountains Ecotour, exploring Aboriginal sites and the various plants and wildlife of the region[3] or a trek through the Daintree rainforest;[4] the iconic buildings, stunning harbour and opera house of Sydney or the dramatic landscape of the Northern Territories where you can visit Australia’s famous landmark, the Aboriginal sacred site known as Uluru (Ayers Rock);[5] Australia genuinely does seem to offer something for everyone.

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[1] Morgan, Sally from a speech she gave at PEN’s 62nd world congress at Freemantle, Australia, October 1995: Freedom of Speech, published in PEN International magazine vol.46. No. 1 1996

[2] UNWTO World Tourism Barometer Vol. 6.No 1 January 2008

[3] Travelmood.com

[4] ResponsibleTravel.com

[5] Anangutours.com.au is an Aborginal-owned company who arrange tours around the rock. It is considered a mark of disrespect to climb the sacred site. Having lived as a part of this environment for many thousands of years, they have developed an intricate knowledge of the area which they are happy to share with tourists.