“The usual suspects”

Myanmar. November 2019. (9 photos)

This is Part 1 of my posts about Myanmar, and Part 1 of my posts about my near month-long visit to Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore in November 2019.

“This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about.”

So wrote Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) who was aged 23 years when he had a three day stopover in Myanmar (also known as Burma), soon after the British victory in the Third Anglo-Burmese War, during a voyage from Calcutta to San Francisco. Kipling wrote about his travels in a series of letters to The Pioneer newspaper, which were later organised into a collection; From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches: Letters of Travel.

“Shwedagon Pagoda”

“Then, a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon – a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple spire. As it stood overlooking everything it seemed to explain all about Burma.”

… Kipling describing his first sighting of Shwedagon Pagoda.

Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, as it is believed to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas of the present kalpa. Built on a hill and with a height of 99m, it is visible from much of Yangon. It is gold-plated and the crown is tipped with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies. Immediately before the diamond bud is a flag-shaped vane. The very top—the diamond bud—is tipped with a 76 carat (15 g) diamond.

“Traditional fisherman at Inle Lake”

But it was an unscheduled stop in Moulmein, the former capital of British Burma, that inspired Kipling to write in 1890 what would become one of the most famous poems in the English language, Mandalay, which begins thus:

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ eastward to the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”

It should be noted that Kipling never visited Mandalay. Recalling the Moulmein Pagoda, Kipling wrote:

“I should better remember what that pagoda was like had I not fallen deeply and irrevocably in love with a Burmese girl at the foot of the first flight of steps. Only the fact of the steamer starting next noon prevented me from staying at Moulmein forever and owning a pair of elephants.”

“Burmese smile”

“Another world”

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a country in Southeast Asia. With a size of 676,578 square kilometres (261,228 square miles), Myanmar is the largest of the Mainland Southeast Asian states by area. As of 2017, the population was about 54 million.

“Street Market in Yangon”

When trucks and cars come along, umbrellas are moved away but the food is left in the middle of the road where vehicles drive slowly over it. I saw one seller get very animated when the wheel of a car rolled over the tail of a fish she had for sale.

Myanmar is a controversial and enigmatic country. In 1989, without any consultation with the population, the ruling military junta renamed Burma to Myanmar. At the same time, other names were introduced to replace British names and more closely correspond to their original pronunciation in the Burmese language. Thus Rangoon became Yangon, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

“The Banana Seller”

The international community is required to take a formal position on the name of a country in English. The name Myanmar was accepted by the UN and most other countries, including my home country of Australia. Hence, I will refer to the country as Myanmar. I did note that locals I spoke with refer to their country as Myanmar, but call themselves and their language Burmese.

However, some governments, including the US and UK, do not recognise the name change and continue to call the country Burma. In 2011, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, visited Myanmar after more than 50 years of estrangement between the two countries. Interestingly, in speeches during her visit she referred to Myanmar as “This Country”.

“Balloons over Bagan”

It’s believed that from the 9th to 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan Plains. Today, just over 2200 temples and pagodas still survive in various states of repair.

“Child wearing thanaka”

Thanaka is a paste made of particular types of ground bark and has been used by Burmese women and children for over 2000 years, less so by Burmese men. It has a fragrant scent somewhat similar to sandalwood. Apart from cosmetic reasons for wearing it, thanaka also gives a cooling sensation and provides protection from sunburn. It is believed to help remove acne and promote smooth skin. It also has anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties.

So this is Burma, as seen through my eyes, and over a series of posts I’ll be sharing more of my photography from my time in Myanmar.

I will try my best to prevent my blog from becoming a pseudo National Geographic Magazine.


This is Part 1 of my posts about Myanmar, and Part 1 of my posts about my month-long visit to Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore in November 2019.

Leica Etcetera, Photography Etcetera

This is Burma


78 thoughts on “This is Burma

  1. I don’t think I’d buy a fish whose tail got tramped by a moving vehicle. On the other hand, it’s interesting that the owner got excited. What do they believe? And did Kipling marry the girl he fell in love with or was that just fancy speech?

  2. Awesome photos! Looking forward to reading about your trip and seeing more photos. It is certainly a complex and complicated country. It is hard to believe it is a land govt sanctioned drug trafficking and genocide when the people are so wonderful.

    • Thank you very much. Yes, a very complex and intriguing country, but give me that any day over a beach holiday. 🙂 You’re right, the people are incredibly friendly, yet they have the “government” they do.

  3. This country? Oh my….

    This was a very enjoyable ride. I love that fisherman. Is that a special technique they use, or you were just lucky to catch him like this?
    I find such food markets stunning. The looks, the smells, everything about them. I’m crazy about open-air markets.

  4. You were in our neighborhood. My home state of Assam in India was devasted by the Burmese army in 1826, killing off nearly one third of the population of the kingdom at that time. They did not even spare the child in the mother’s womb, cutting off the belly of the pregnant women. So much for Buddhism being a rigion of peace. They were ultimately defeated by the British and the kingdom went under British in 1826 in the treaty of Yandaboo. Of course, the British had an ulterior motive. They wanted an alternative source for tea so that they would not have to pay tax to the Chinese emperor. They came to know that tea grew in the wild in the foothills of the Himalayas in our state and wanted an access to it. Of course they did not want to pay tax to another king and deposed of the king of Assam as per the treaty that would be illegal by the standards of any modern law. But who cares when one has the power of the gun behind you.

  5. That seems to have been a November well spent! Did it rain at all? During my visit a couple of years ago in November it rained hard pretty much all day for the two days I spent at Lake Inle. I couldn’t bring out my camera, and I really regretted it.

    Lovely photos of Bagan, Inle, Yangon. Perhaps even Mandalay in one of your future posts? Looking forward to seeing how far you stray from the NatGeo path.

    • It rained heavily at Inle Lake twice, both times starting just before dinner and ending a few hours before dawn, no rain during the day, so it didn’t affect my tourism activities in any way fortunately. I stayed at a location where the huts are on stilts at the lake’s edge, with lotus flowers on the water all round. Very beautiful.

      Thank you very much. I didn’t make it to Mandalay on this trip. When it comes to setting an itinerary, you have to make difficult choices, as you know.

    • Thank you, Sally. It is an amazing place. The country has only recently opened up to tourism, and almost everyday I was there, a local would take a selfie with me. It’s quite an experience.

  6. Fabulous blog, Draco. I teach some Burmese kids, who referred to themselves by their regional group (to make it even more complicated). One said he’s from mayanmar.
    I like the way you’ve woven Kipling into your tale. Thank you. Stunning shot of the fisherman, too.

    • Thank you very much. I believe there are something like 135 distinct cultural groups that make up “Myanmar”, many of them in the borderland areas, so I’m not surprised by what you say. The Burmese are amongst the friendliest peoples I have met.

  7. Another breathtaking journey you take us on, Draco, and much appreciated. Your photos, each one, are works of art. There are so many here that I paused on, and marvelled at, here are my favorites: the line of monks (a brilliant and candid moment), the Street Market in Yangon (food in the road is spectacular), the Banana Seller (says so much), and the Balloons over Bagan (how in the world did you get that?). Looking forward to more of your Thailand/Myanmar creations. Thanks so much.

    • Thank you very much. It’s always the “poorer” countries which swamp you with smiles and laughter. I experienced similar in Cambodia and Cuba and it enhances the experience of travel.

  8. I have to say, I really liked this series. The shot of the traditional fisherman was exceptional. The child with the ground paste covering his face was also very striking. You not only take photos well, but you capture beautiful moments. Fleeting expressions and feats of strength, balance, and grace. Nicely done. (I’m working my way backward through your travels in Myanmar and elsewhere.)

    • Thank you very much. I did look at as many photos online taken in Myanmar as I could before going there, to have an idea of what to expect. It is a visual feast and cultural surprise. A couple of words/phrases learnt and a big smile will get you far in Myanmar.

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