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2007 Biking Burma

Burma highlights: 10 December 2007 through 11 January 2008

Charl and I cycled 1,300 km during our trip to Burma. This is what we learned and saw and how we felt about it…

In 1989 the State Peace and Development Council (aka military junta) changed the country’s name from the Union of Burma to the Union of Myanmar. Although this is probably a more accurate name, it is not acknowledged by the opposition, the National League for Democracy. Hence Burma

Burma is slightly smaller than Texas and has a population of 54 million. 68% of these are Bamar, the remainder predominantly a variety of hill tribes with some Chinese and Indians.

Her neighbours are Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand.

Her GDP per capita is estimated at $174 pa; life expectancy at a mere 60 years.

Burma’s is a cash economy. There are no ATMs and no cheques. No travellers’ cheques are accepted and credit cards at only a few of the larger government-owned hotels and then at a commission of 20-30%. Other hotels licensed to accommodate foreigners accept new US dollars only.

The killing of a Japanese journalist and of several monks during the September 2007 riots caused most tourists to cancel their trips to Burma (one guestimate: 500,000 tourists the annual norm, only 50,000 expected this season). We were often the only tourists at a given site and often felt, therefore, as though we carried the weight of the entire tourist industry on our budget shoulders!

We flew into Yangon (Rangoon) via Doha, Qatar, and the next day took a 16.5-hour train trip to Mandalay in an “Upper Class” carriage. A hawker on board dished out and later collected illustrated comic books for a small fee – a mobile library; another dished up our dinner noodles with a bare hand.

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