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Beyond Rangoon: Myanmar and Laos

SubscribeFiled Under: Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Travel Plans, Vietnam,by Neeraj

Temples of Bagan (Myanmar)

Temples of Bagan (Myanmar)

“Add life to years rather than adding years to life.” – Baba Amte

So far, the year 2009 is shaping up to be the year of uncertainty for me. We are now into May and I’ve yet to find employment. My most promising lead has fizzled out after four interviews since February; the position was put on hold for now.

Having said that, the job market is improving. I suspect the recession is coming to an end. Most global stock indices have rallied over 20% since bottoming out in early March. Stock markets are leading indicators of the economy and they rally well before we get confirmation that the recession is indeed over. Similarly, the markets had started dropping well before we knew we were in a recession.

So, after over three months of looking for a job, do I still think that the risk of quitting my job and going travelling was worth it? The answer is a definite yes. There were some things I wanted to do while I’m still young and I consider myself fortunate to be able to do it. Things like solo backpacking in Southeast Asia, travelling in India, trekking in the Himalayas, and mountaineering. Since when is it wrong to set goals and getting them accomplished? I just happened to have some non-career related goals at the time.

So, rather than drift with the prevailing winds of thought, I decided to do something different, albeit not radically different. Sometimes you have to lose something in order to gain something. And I’ve gained so much…

I still remember a poster that was in one of my classrooms in high school, on which were the words, mind is like a parachute, it works best when open. Travelling has done that for me.

I’ve been blessed to see some of the most beautiful places on Earth with my own eyes. Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Ha Long bay of Vietnam, and the majestic Himalayas, where one can spend an eternity in exalted contemplation of the heavenly beauty. I hope to return to see the Himalayas again someday.

I’m very grateful that I live and worked in Canada, and earned in dollars. Otherwise, it would’ve been very difficult to travel overseas as much as I do.

So, after over three months of job searching, which is a full-time job in itself(!), I’ve decided to take a mini-break and go backpacking to Myanmar (formerly, Burma) and Laos. How can I afford to go travelling again? I filed my tax return forms for 2008 and have just received a tax-refund from the government, which will cover all my expenses, including airfare. So I don’t have to dip into my savings or liquidate any of my investments.

Many people haven’t even heard of Laos and don’t know where it is; it is a land-locked country in Southeast Asia with Thailand to the west, China to the north, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Myanmar to the northwest.

Myanmar was in the news for all the wrong reasons in both, 2007 and 2008. In 2007, there were the anti-government riots which were dealt harshly by the ruling junta, and the devastating cyclone Nargis that killed over 200,000 people in 2008.

Thanks to the United States (during the Vietnam War), Laos has the tragic distinction of being the most bombed country in the world, and millions of unexploded ordnance (UXO) still litter the countryside killing thousands of Laotians every year.

So, why Myanmar and Laos? The movie, Beyond Rangoon, has much to do with my decision to visit Myanmar. Needless to say, my mom isn’t happy with my choice of countries. She would’ve much rather preferred to see me go to Europe. Also, Myanmar has no cellular phone network and e-mail providers such as Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail are blocked by the government.

I think Myanmar and Laos are fascinating places to explore. No doubt, they are very poor countries, but does that mean that the people are bad? Not at all. I think the poor are more compassionate and helpful than the rich. Also, I do think Western Europe is somewhat overrated.

I do risk missing out on some job opportunities while I’m away, but that’s the risk I have to take. It’s only a matter of time before I find a good job. Until then, I will try to make the most of the free time that I do have now, which I probably won’t have in the future.

My itinirary: HOME –> Bangkok* (Thailand) –> Yangon*/Rangoon (Myanmar) –> Bagan (Myanmar) –> Inle Lake (Myanmar) –> Yangon* (Myanmar) –> Bangkok* (Thailand) –> Vientiane* (Laos) –> Luang Prabang (Laos) –> Plain of Jars (Laos) –> Hanoi* (Vietnam) –> HOME.

Itinerary of solo backpacking trip to Southeast Asia

Itinerary of solo backpacking trip to Southeast Asia

* indicate capital cities. I’m only going to Bangkok because it is easiest to get a visa to Myanmar from there. I’m flying home from Hanoi to avoid backtracking to Bangkok. A majority of my time will be spent in Myanmar and Laos. I’m leaving for Bangkok on May 22nd; will reach on May 24th. Like my last backpacking trip to Cambodia and Vietnam, I’m not booking any hotels in advance and won’t be taking any tours. I plan to travel everywhere independently.

One thing is for certain – 2009 will be a year to remember! I will part with these words of a song from the movie Zameer.

“Tum bhi chalo … hum bhi chale … chalti rahe zindagi …”


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Posted by:Neerajon May 01, 2009

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