My ‘Road to Mandalay’….and on a bit!
Having toured most countries of South East Asia over the past decade, there was one glaring omission…Myanmar…formally known as Burma.
Not to visit had been a conscious decision by myself, stimulated by the fact of the country being ruled by a military junta and being aware of the fate of citizens who dared to oppose its decisions.
Following the treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi with painful interest, had been a major factor in respect of my visiting Myanmar.
However, with the relaxation of stringent laws and regulations and the move towards democracy led by that very brave and tenacious lady, I decided the time was ripe to visit and witness at first hand the current situation leading up to the country’s general election on November 8th 2015.
To achieve my aims, I needed to cover as much of the country as possible and try to understand the thoughts and aspirations of its peoples, as well as satisfying myself that it was a country that I could recommend as being safe for UK tourists.
A carefully structured itinerary would be absolutely necessary if I was to be successful. So how to begin?
First, I scrutinised the brochures of all the major tour operators based in the UK which offered tours to that country. I then visited a number of High Street travel agents to discuss, plus doing a fair amount of Internet surfing.
Overall, I found that none of the UK tour operators or travel agents could offer me the flexibility I deemed necessary. Group tour by coach, rigid timetables, little or no choice of airlines would not allow that flexibility.
In the past, when proposing to visit a country for the first time, I had used established and reliable Tour Operators based in the region, to work with me in producing an itinerary fit for purpose. Each time I had done this, the results had been extremely good and totally productive.
So, for my proposed tour of Myanmar, I sought the services of the well established and bonded company named Asia Tour Advisor. Although its headquarters were in Hanoi, they had subsidiary offices based in all South East Asian countries.
From the initial contact, I was ‘teamed-up’ with one member of their staff, who was to work with me in producing an itinerary which fitted with my plans. This woman (named Thu), proved to be extremely knowledgable and flexible. My ideas were emailed to her – her responses, with suggestions and advice were emailed back. Within a ten day period, we had put together a comprehensive tour plan, tailored to my needs as well as being affordable.
It included accommodation at named (easy to research) hotels at each venue, three domestic flights, personal guides and drivers throughout the tour, entrance fees to attractions, a number of meals…and most importantly, the authority for me to instruct the guides as to the alteration of venue timings should that become necessary.
Thu had also liaised very carefully with her Myanmar people who would supply the guides and drivers (by the way, each car was a full size saloon with A/C.) Those guides proved invaluable, adding their knowledge and help in fulfilling my agenda.
What was very special, was my ability to divert from some of the main tourist attractions and visit small villages, where, with translation help. I was able to interact with tribal people. Quite charming and very worthwhile.
As would be expected, all the major places and attractions, which tourists would most like, were part of my itinerary.
This ‘piece’ is not written to laboriously review each and every place visited but instead, to experience at first hand how UK tourists would be catered for and at what standard?
I soon found that as far as the country’s infrastructure was concerned, it did indeed lag behind the more established tourist destinations in the region, such as Thailand. But, and I do really mean this, apart from the ubiquitous and expected traffic problems in Yangon, every other city and town were reached without a problem.
The popular domestic airline, KBZ (running a fleet of 80 seat Turbo Prop planes), proved to be efficient, clean and reliable.
Popular venues like Inle Lake and Bagan were very well equipped to handle the influx of tourist from many nations and I found the staff of hotels and attractions acted with concern and open friendliness….the latter so apparent when visiting small villages ‘off the beaten track’.
My itinerary proved to be somewhat ambitious, covering such a large country in 14 days but, as I said earlier, I really did want to experience at first hand, as much of it as I could.
I confess, here and now, that my planned few days at a Bangkok hotel prior to flying back to the UK was one of my better decisions…relax, unwind, loll in a swimming pool and snooze on a lounger under a large parasol…Hmmm!
In conclusion then. The entire tour proved to be a success and WITHIN budget. Would I recommend our citizens to visit…for sure!
I chose the airline (Qatar Airways) and booked directly with it at a most competitive price, to fly me from the UK to Bangkok and return. It certainly lived up to its claim of being the world’s five star airline.
I chose the airline to fly me from Bangkok to Yangon and back…Air Asia – for the cost of £60…WOW!
Asia Tour Advisor’s invoice for the entire 14 day tour of Myanmar (with the inclusions listed above) and with NO SINGLE SUPPLEMENT added, was a shade over the lowest price quoted to me by the UK tour operators.
There is a ‘PS”…By the time this piece is read, Myanmar’s General Election will have taken place, so potential visitors will be even more up-to-date.