Despite Myanmar’s name having changed from Burma in 1989, many people still refer to it that way. Its population is just 51 million, which is relatively small for the size of it. Yet, its cultural and linguistic diversity is enormous. There are 135 different ethnicities, the Burmese are just one. Myanmar means union. It is a former British colony and that legacy is very much still visible today.
The recent changes in Myanmar not only opened up some political space for democracy, but also have allowed tourists to venture in more freely. Off the global radar for quite some time under a military dictatorship, it initial creep into the modern age has been replaced with bursting leaps in some areas. Locals in urbanized areas are generally embracing it with considerable gusto while others appear suspicious of the consequences that the nature and rate of change will bring to their communities. As a person who prefers to travel in places that are authentic and off the beaten path, Myanmar appealed to me immediately.
Although roads are in excellent condition, I decided to see Myanmar by bicycle. Given I had never taken on a cycling tour before, I met my landing in Yangon with trepidation and the fear of conspicuous regret. It ended up being the most enjoyable trip I have had, but the joy wasn’t without a few bumps in the road!
The slower travel style matched perfectly with the relaxed lifestyles of the Burmese people. Roadsides were marked by friendly faces, waving hands of people in the back of trucks, laughing children, colourful fields, gigantic trees, an array of birdlife, workers in wooden wagons pulled by oxen and of course every manner of dog known. Local cuisine was delicious, albeit interesting at times. The beer was cold and the undulating scenery truly breathtaking. Myanmar, primarily an agricultural country, is also influenced by Chinese multinationals invested mainly in the extraction of natural resources. The physical and economic impact of activities such as mining and deforestation for teak is hard to miss. It is land of plenty with bustling markets, handmade products, bamboo everything and traditional art. I had a splendid trip returning recharged and exhausted!