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Wednesday, 2013-03-13

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The Burma Side

For All Burmese People:

"In our golden Burma where no one ever went hungry and no one was too poor to write and read, all that will remain is destitution and ignorance, famine and despair."

 Amitav Ghosh, The Glass Palace 

As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true.
As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame.
What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.

(Elie Wiesel, from his Nobel Peace Prize speech,
which he is sending out now to inspire those working
in support of Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese people.)

Burma: An Exotic Hidden Land

Burma, which is known today as Myanmar, is a south-east Asian country bordered by China, Bangladesh, India, Thailand and Laos.  It lies on both the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal coasts and its new capital, Naypyidaw, is hidden in a remote mountainous area of central Burma.

Burma is a former British colony, which is fortunate for tourists as most signs are still written in both English and Burmese, the official language.  Burmese currency is the Kyat and Burmese food combines both Chinese and Indian influences with that of Mon Thai.  Although much of the country is closed to foreign travelers, there is still a lot to see and do, and attractions range from beach resorts to limestone caves.  Wise buys in Burma include lacquerware, textiles, precious stones and antiques but, on the whole, credit cards are not accepted so it is imperative that tourists come well stocked with cash.

The former Burmese capital of Rangoon - Yangon in Burmese - has a lot to offer including the Shwedagon Pagoda, a huge Buddhist shrine that dates from 500BC, and the tomb of exiled 18th-century Indian king, Bahadur Shah Zafar.  Also highly recommended are tours of the Myanmar National Museum and the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, which dates back to 1896 and is the only Jewish temple in Burma.  If beaches are what you enjoy, then don't miss the opportunity to visit the unspoilt Ngwe Saung Beach and, afterwards, why not stroll through the famous Bogyoke outside flea market.

For the more adventurous, a tour of the Pindaya Caves near the village of Pindaya in the Shan State is a must.  The Pindaya Caves form a popular Buddhist pilgrimage destination and tourists are also free to explore at least one of the three caves in the limestone ridge on which the shrine is located.  For the best views in all of Burma, however, there is nothing to match the viewing point atop the 1,500m high Mount Popa.  Recently proclaimed a national park, Mount Popa can be climbed in just 20 minutes by using the covered walkway that has been built for just this purpose.  And the architectural splendor of the monasteries and pagodas on top of Mount Popa almost - but not quite - rival the gorgeous views of central Burma.

Wild and primitive Burma is not for the fainthearted but those who do risk it will have an unforgettable experience.