Perhaps you'd like to know what happened after I was robbed at Bangkok Airport security last month. Well, the saga continued with more “investigations” and a mysterious wire transfer. Transparency is not the first word that comes to mind.
News stories take on increased significance when we’ve actually visited the place being covered. For example, we've recently been reading more about the effects of a harsh winter on the lives of ordinary people in both Tajikistan and China. As we read these stories, images of the people we’ve met become superimposed on a piece of news that we might otherwise regard with detachment.
We now follow Myanmar (Burma) more closely, as well. Just a few days ago, the junta (military government) there made news by announcing another “road map to democracy” and elections in 2010.
I was robbed.
It didn't happen at a grungy guest house, in a crowded local market, or down a dark alleyway at night. It happened in Bangkok's shiny new Suvarnabhumi Airport at a gate security checkpoint. Worse yet, the thief was a security employee.
Don't worry, we're not feeling lonely. The title refers to the current reality here in Myanmar where once bustling tourist sights and streets have been transformed into ghost towns. Strings of flashing lights still hang from restaurants advertising the best Burmese, Indian, Nepalese – and even Tibetan – food in town, but the sobering and obvious fact is that most of these restaurants have only a few customers per day…and that's on a good day. There are simply very few tourists here.
Early on New Year's Eve, before the festivities began, we dropped by a local cafe in order to perform our annual year-end ritual of reflection and looking forward. Although the specific exercises have evolved, the objective of our ritual remains the same – reflect on the past year and determine themes for the year ahead.
Myanmar (Burma) is a country noted for its oppressive government and lauded for the kindness of its people. This September, though, the political situation heated up again under protests and a corresponding government crackdown.
We’re back in the neighborhood of Southeast Asia again and we have the opportunity to visit. Do we go this time or give it another pass?
We've often been asked “What's the best food you've had in mainland Southeast Asia?” If forced to choose, we'd opt for an easy way out and vote Thai food as the king of cuisines in the region. And after eating our way through Bangkok, Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, and Krabi in the south, our vote more specifically goes to Krabi.
Most people visit Krabi to transit to the various Thai beach paradises nearby. We came to Krabi and stayed for two weeks. Though it doesn’t have any particularly amazing sites, the town and its people impressed us as friendly, approachable, and authentic. But as our days in Thailand came to an end, we opted to rejoin the tourist route to explore nearby beaches and take in some excellent diving.
When we told Audrey's mother we were going to Myanmar to extend our Thai visa, her anxiety level began to rise. “Don’t worry. Hundreds of British and Scandinavian men do it each week. If they can do it, we'll have no problem.”
Most people come to Phang Nga to visit the dramatic limestone cliffs, islands and sparkling waters of Ao Phang Nga National Marine Park. We were no different.
Tour operators swamped us from the moment we got off the bus at Phang Nga bus station to the moment we entered our guest house, some 200 meters away. A note to tour operators: hard sells are irritating; find a new strategy. Our reaction to the hard sell is instant rejection.