Burma (Myanmar)

Photographs by Shaun O'Boyle

I visited Burma (now Myanmar) in 1987 while I was doing a six month shoestring trip through central and southeast Asia. I was traveling by bus, train, boat or whatever cheap  means available, often walking, but to enter Burma I had to fly in, no cross border entries were allowed. Most of what I am writing here now is remembrances of the trip and from leafing through my travel journal.  

I found Burma to be a remarkable place, a time warp in South East Asia. In some ways it is one of the least western influenced nations I have traveled in, definitely no coca cola in Burma which was a welcome change. But in other ways it was strangely influenced by the west. When we arrived at the airport outside of Rangoon we we're greeted by the usual  slew of taxi drivers touting cheap fares and fleabag hotel deals, but these guys were driving 1940's Cadillac's, Chevy's and willys jeeps. It felt like we were in a world war two movie set.  Much of the machinery and automobiles that I saw in the country was world war two issue that had been left behind by uncle Sam and  it had been patched and ingeniously repaired over the last 40 odd years.

I am not sure of the visa conditions now but when I was there you were only allowed to stay in the country for seven days. That's it, no extensions, your out.  I was traveling solo but had grouped together  with a few people I had met in Bangkok and who were also on the flight into Rangoon. We all decided to hang together and see if our collective bargaining power could get us a deal on a vehicle and gear for a trip up to the central part of the country where the ruins of Pagan are located.  
Shwedagon Pagoda

There were various shady looking touts hanging about the hotel area offering their services for organizing a trip, jeep, fuel, food and guide for the week. We picked out one well spoken fellow who seemed sincere, despite the big black eye he had, "work accident", we felt sorry for him.  And of course he needed money up front to procure the necessary preliminary items. We were gullible and happy enough to have found the right guy that we each handed over 100 Kyat, roughly the equivalent of $10 US.  "Meet you here at 6am sharp with jeep". And he even took one of our group with him to prove that all was well with the deal, they went to see the man where the jeep was hired from, bought some gasoline and made us all feel quite at ease with the deal. That was the last we saw of him.

Shwedagon Pagoda

I suppose it was a cheap enough lesson but $10 was a lot of cash in Rangoon, it could easily get you hotel and food for a day or two if you were willing to spend nights in the cheap seedy hotels in town,  which I was, it was how I traveled for months at a time on a couple thousand dollars.  These local characters had it made, every seven days there was fresh blood off the plane looking for the fast route around the country to see the sites, my only comfort was that at least one previous customer had caught up to our man and left him with a nice shiner for pay back.

hotel_window.JPG (11298 bytes)
I did learn my lesson from this deal and went along to the train station and booked a second class seat out on the overnight train to Thazi and a bus from Thazi on to Pagan.   The rest of the group insisted on finding another "package deal" and sought out some of the other touts hanging about. I wished them luck.
Tea stand between Thazi and Pagan

Please consider purchasing a print or book to help support this site. All photographs copyright Shaun O'Boyle 1987, All rights reserved.