Is The Time To Visit Burma Now?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Around Shwedagon Pagoda

With the end of Secretary of State Clinton’s historic visit to Myanmar (Burma) wrapping up last week — the first of any high-ranking official from the U.S. in 50 years — it’s safe to assume that a good portion of the millions of eyes that watched as Clinton toured Shwedegon Pagoda in Yangon (barefoot no less) are contemplating trips themselves to the secretive nation.

It’s a great thought. As travelers to Southeast Asia know, it’s not exactly an untrodden path anymore along those hostel hotspots of Phuket, Bangkok, Siem Riep, Saigon, Luang Prabang and Hanoi. But with negative news coverage, tricky land crossings, and a limitation on visas to those who work in “sensitive” industries, Burma is still virgin land for most travelers.

The State Department notes that if you plan on heading there, be aware that the authorities “have often prohibited entry or exit at most land border crossings, unless the traveler is part of a package-tour group that has received prior permission from the Burmese authorities,” and that visas need to be obtained ahead of time. Oh yeah, there have also been reports of journalists being kicked out or harassed while visiting. (Does this include friendly bloggers?)

But if you do decide to go, you’re in luck. As the FT notes, parts of the fabled city of Rangoon (now Yangon) “are like vast film sets, with not just dozens of early 20th century buildings but entire streets undisturbed by modern construction . . . a legacy of the country’s isolation and lack of development for so many years.”

A walk along Maha Bandula Square takes you to the high court with its famous clock tower and Queene Anne architecture, and nearby is the Shwedagon Pagoda complex that Ms. Clinton herself toured. And if there is any question as to the city’s influence during its height, along Pansodan Street are the art deco homes of the HSBC, Lloyds, Grindleys, the Indian Reserve Bank and the Chartered Bank.

And when you get back, look upon that passport stamp fondly. You may have successfully beaten the crowds.

[Forgotten Treasures/Financial Times]

[Around Shwedagon Pagoda by Jason Tabarias/Flickr]

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