Ampersand's Travels...

Reflections on Burma - reporting back from our research recce

Ampersand's MD, James Jayasundera, has recently returned from a research tour of Burma. Here's what he thought...

     
The ethos of Ampersand is that 'luxury is in the experience' and Burma is a great example of this.  It is a country I’ve always been fascinated by but, as we all know, it is a contentious country to visit. We first went to Burma in 2010 and have been selling it for the last year. Due to the growth in tourism and interest from our clients, in April 2011, my South East Asia specialist Mark Wright and I flew to Burma for a very extensive recce throughout the country. We found that at first sight there was no sign of an oppressive regime, which of course doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, but we certainly didn’t see it. We saw one policeman and one member of the army in 2 and a half weeks – you see more police presence in the UK. Opinions on whether it is right to visit Burma have changed a lot in the last 18 months. To better understand the arguments for and against travelling to Burma you may find the following website helpful:  http://www.tourismtransparency.org/

The people
Politics aside, Burma is an extraordinary country with a fascinating history. There is so much to see and do, the people are really kind and fun, and the guides are, bar none, the best we’ve ever encountered anywhere in the world. My overriding impression from the trip is that it is an exceptionally devout country.  I've always felt that temples and places of worship are only interesting when you can see the rituals taking place and that is one thing there is no shortage of in Burma. All the monasteries are absolutely packed full of novice monks and nuns who are all chanting away and completely focused on what they’re doing. The discipline and faith of the people is really touching and you really do see it everywhere in Burma.

     
The landscape
The scenery is amazingly diverse. It’s a country with such a range of topography: you’ve got the tail end of the Himalayas in the north with mountains over 4,000 metres high; you’ve got a large border with Thailand in the east; and there is the huge stretch of the Andaman Sea on the west and south with islands and beaches that you would normally associate with Thailand. A 10 day trip would allow you to experience a broad range of landscapes and the great thing is that it is very easy to travel around the country.

The service
What I was most struck by was the extraordinary efficiency of the Burmese people – they are incredibly competent and capable. You might think that somebody hasn’t understood you but in fact they’ve understood every single word. It doesn’t matter how silly or tricky the request is – from being allocated the right seats on the plane or room in a hotel , to ordering unusual cocktails at the bar – it all comes out just right without any fuss at all. Where Burma stands out is the ground handling and the guiding are fantastic.

The hotels
The standard of hotels in Burma is remarkably good. Whilst there are a few good 5 star hotels, on the whole, the best one can find are 4 star properties which are immaculately clean and well run, fit for the fussiest traveller. The thing about Burma is that it feels as if you are maybe 10 or 15 years back in time. It is ideally suited to people with a sense of adventure who enjoy engaging with the countries they visit. People with specialist interests – be it food, architecture, religion, botany, anthropology etc – are particularly well catered for due to the incredibly knowledgeable and qualified guides.

Browse our portfolio of Burma itineraries and please call Mark Wright or me, James Jayasundera, for more details on 020 7289 6100. We particularly recommend The Golden Land of Burma itinerary, which we designed off the back of our trip. It uses all of our favourite hotels and provides the perfect balance of experiences whilst ensuring you don’t get too “templed out”! To see more photos of our trip, please take a look at our Burma album on Facebook.