Myanmar - Inle Lake - Fishermen

2017 Myanmar and Thailand Trip

I closed out 2017 by traveling to Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand.

Kept in self-imposed isolation for more than half a century, Myanmar has recently relaxed censorship and opened its doors to travelers. Early in 2017 when I booked the trip, it seemed like a good time to explore this exciting new travel frontier. However, later in the year the Rohingya refugee crisis erupted. Over half a million people from Rakhine State who identify themselves as the Rohingya people have fled their villages and crossed the border into Bangladesh. Human rights groups have accused the Myanmar military of ethnic cleansing. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and State Counsellor of Myanmar, has received international criticism over her inaction on what human rights groups are calling a genocide. Despite the ethnic conflict in Rakhine State, I decided to continue with my trip to Myanmar.

I enjoy reading about my travel destinations before hopping on an airplane, and my favorite pre-departure book was Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin. George Orwell lived in Burma in the 1920s while serving in the British Imperial Police. In the early 2000s, when Myanmar was still ruled by an oppressive military regime, Larkin visited the places Orwell worked and lived. Her story draws parallels between Myanmar’s intellectual lockdown and Orwell’s ideas of governance and censorship in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. When Larkin asked a Burmese man if he was familiar with Orwell’s books, he replied, “Ah, you mean the prophet.”

A couple of journalists were recently arrested in Yangon for reporting on the Rohingya refugee crisis. Yet from what I experienced in my few weeks in Myanmar, the extreme censorship described by Larkin is no more. Once banned, George Orwell’s books are now prominently displayed at Yangon’s sidewalk book markets. Mobile phones and internet access are available, and the people openly discuss once-taboo topics. Myanmar is changing, but thankfully its cultural traditions remain intact. Men wear a skirt-like longyi, women decorate their faces in thanakha (traditional make-up), and betel chewing is still commonplace. I’m glad that I took the opportunity to travel to Myanmar before it becomes another destination on the Banana Pancake Trail.

Chilling on Thailand’s islands and beaches was the second half of my itinerary. My pre-departure book for this leg of the trip was The Beach by Alex Garland. (As usual, the book is much better than the movie.) It’s a tale about backpackers and their quest to “do something different and get off the beaten path”. Given the hordes of travelers in Thailand, it’s natural to identify with the backpackers in the book. Maya Bay on Ko Phi-Phi Leh, the secret beach in the movie, is now bursting with tourists. While it’s not easy finding a Thai island that isn’t spoiled by mass tourism, paradise islands still exist. Relatively undeveloped Koh Yao Noi was my paradise island.

The places I visited in Myanmar and Thailand during my five week journey are mapped and listed below.

Destination Arrival
1 Yangon, Myanmar November 25, 2017
2 Bangan, Myanmar November 27, 2017
3 Myaing, Myanmar November 30, 2017
4 Mandalay, Myanmar December 1, 2017
5 Kalaw, Myanmar December 3, 2017
6 Nyuangshwe, Myanmar December 5, 2017
7 Yangon, Myanmar December 8, 2017
8 Kinpun, Myanmar December 14, 2017
9 Hpa An, Myanmar December 15, 2017
10 Mawlamyine, Myanmar December 15, 2017
11 Dawei, Myanmar December 16, 2017
12 Kanchanaburi, Thailand December 18, 2017
13 Bangkok, Thailand December 19, 2017
14 Ao Nang, Thailand December 24, 2017
15 Ko Yao Noi, Thailand December 26, 2017
16 Patong, Thailand December 28, 2017

My phone was damaged while sea kayaking in Ao Thalane, so some of my favorite moments of the trip are preserved only in my memories. The trip posts contain 228 photos from my camera and travelers that I befriended. Use the forward link (>) at the bottom of the page to navigate through the trip destinations in order of arrival, or use the dropdown list to jump to a destination.