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Few tourists have ventured the length of the river from Mandalay to Yangon and even fewer on the stretch from Pyay to Yangon. It was a step back to the time without mobile phones, cash machines or supermarkets, to discover a traditional, deeply spiritual society. Only recently opened to the outside world, this was the best time to visit, to experience the true authenticity before it inevitably takes its place on the tourist map.
Our 1000 km cruise was the perfect, most stress-free way to see Myanmar as it begins to emerge from years of repression and isolation. We discovered rural Burma, where traditional dress is the norm and cars are a rarity. With 135 ethnic groups, Burma’s people are incredibly diverse. However, one homogenous trait exists – their complete genuine friendliness, ever-smiling faces and delightful children who are curious about their visitors and ever willing to pose for photographs.
In contrast to Myanmar, Thailand has transcended to become the most visited country in Asia. Its temples glisten with gold and are clean and well maintained and there are reasonable toilets at all sites. In the late 19th century, King Rama V initiated the first steps towards modernisation when he brought back ideas from his visits to Europe. He was responsible for changes such as the abolition of slavery, the first railway, the first museum, the introduction of knife, fork and spoon (previously fingers), shirts and trousers for men.
Thailand means ‘Land of the Free’ but the country is often referred to as the ‘Land of Smiles’ and it’s easy to see why. The people were very easy going, courteous, friendly, genuinely helpful and always smiling.