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Ageing Traveller Series

The Ageing Traveller series is written by Rose Howell, who has been traveling the world for over 40 years, beginning with New Zealand and then the ‘Hippy trail’ in the 70’s. Her travels have taken her to; Asia, Middle East, UK, Europe, Africa, South America, USA, Canada, China and the Pacific Islands. In total she has visited 67 countries plus all the states of Australia except Western Australia, and her goal is to make the century club. Her passion for travel is documented on her website www.ageing-hipsters-travel.com.

Click here to find out more about Rose.

Burma (Myanmar) October 1976 Part 1

Following is the beginning of our trip to Burma in the 70’s. This post is in several parts because it is too long to put into one. So every month you will be able to read about this exciting place.
# Note: My ex-husband Alan Davis and I kept a diary of our travels of which the following has been taken from.

At the end of October 1976 on our Hippy trail travels, we decided to travel to Burma (Myanmar). Back then you were only allowed a 7 day visa and you were in trouble if you overstayed it. We heard of travelers that had overstayed their visas and ended up in prison, so we knew there would be a lot of pressure on us to ensure we flew out on the 7th day.

Before flying from Thailand into Rangoon, we purchased 2 quart bottles of Johnnie Walker Red at $5US each, 2 x 200 cartons of 555 State Express cigarettes at $3.50US each and hid Kyat notes in our shoes.

Why? Because the spending power these purchases supplied us in Burma was crucial.


Irrawaddy River (Photo belongs to Rose Howell)

Looking out of the plane window on approaching Rangoon you get a view of the Irrawaddy which is one of the great rivers of Asia, and Burma seems virtually a flood plain for this massive river.

Most of the passengers doing this trip were hippies (some of the most adventurous group of travelers in that era of the 70’s)

On arrival we went through copious form filling and the infamous document ‘currency declaration form’. (On this piece of paper you must accurately record all currency brought into the country, notes and travelers cheques). Money could only be changed at official banks and hotels, and all conversions had to be recorded on the form. The result was, whatever you changed must add up against how much you brought in. ‘Officially’.

Unofficially, many people smuggled in American greens and got a rate about 3-4 times the official  by exchanging with Indian traders. But, this was a dangerous game because of the presence of police informers amongst the traders.

A month stay in a Burmese prison would have been a rather unpleasant experience. That is why we bought Kyats in Bangkok at approx. 4 times the rate so that we didn’t have to deal with the traders.

Our accommodation was the YMCA where most budget travelers stayed.
Rooms were primitive with no bathroom but the price was right.
Accommodation wise, except for the YMCA, the only alternative was ‘Hotel Strand’ an expensive old fashioned hotel, where you had to pay for everything in foreign currency, local currency kyats were unacceptable. (Fancy being unable to spend Australian Dollars in the Hotel Australia?)

At the YMCA we gathered information on how to get the best price for our duty free goods on the black market. Never thought I would be involved in anything to do with the black market but we had no choice if we wanted to have a good look at the country without running out of money.


Buildings in Rangoon (Photo belongs to Rose Howell)

A quick stroll around Rangoon showed once grand buildings from the British Raj days were left rotting and falling apart at the seams. In some of the buildings you could see trees growing out of the green slime covered concrete. You could tell the city was once dominated by beautiful architecture, wide boulevards and beautiful gardens. But in the 70’s and I assume nowadays they have badly suffered from the ravages of time and neglect.
Many of the buildings were occupied by the poor and homeless.


Pre-war bus (Photo belongs to Rose Howell)

Old prewar buses provided local public transport. Trishaws and bemos were everywhere.

Old Austin’s and Morris zip past. The trucks were so ancient it was a wonder they would go at all. Willy’s jeeps were rather common, left over no doubt from the Americans 2 year stay in 1945-47. To top it off though, when visiting the Pagodas it was a horse and cart (loved it).


Local dress (Photo belongs to Rose Howell)

Other realisation’s of the shortages was in the way people dressed. Men always wore sarongs, because trousers weren’t available. I could have sold all of my clothes down to my bra on the black market.

When entering a large restaurant with hundreds of tables and the only thing on the menu is tea, coffee, local orange soft drinks (no two drinks tasted the same). When you asked for coffee you got told there is none left (was there any to begin with?) The shops had virtually nothing on their shelves.

Burma as a Socialist Government meant that everything was nationalised. They sent the Chinese and Indian merchants away and that left no one to run the businesses. Thus all the factories and offices shut down. We noticed that there were no new buildings being built. It was as though time had stood still.

 


Gold Pagoda (Photo belongs to Rose Howell)

One thing they did look after within the city were the ‘Buddhist Pagodas’.  They were beautiful.
Even though we were not of the Buddhist religion we were welcomed into these temples.

# Our exploration of the country begins

 


Train travel (Photo belongs to Rose Howell)

With 7 days to see as much of the country as possible, we began our trip on an early morning thirteen hour train trip to Mandalay.

Everyone who arrived on the same day as we did, was forced to take the same route, the same transport, stay in the same hotels. Why? The only way into Burma is to fly and that means everyone starts their sojourn in Rangoon.

The Mandalay/Rangoon express was the only good train in Burma. Not a good idea to travel on the local trains.

We did see a lot of steam trains and I was relieved that we didn’t have to travel on one of those. (In the past we thought it was exciting until you look at your face at the end of a trip and you are covered in black soot.)

Our train was dark and dingy with straight backed all wooden seats and wooden louvered windows. We had to sit opposite the toilet, and every time the door was opened, we caught a glimpse out of the corner of our eyes the result of someone’s inaccuracy.

We kept reminding ourselves we were in ‘Burma’ and what an experience it was going to be.

We passed large stretches of flooded rice paddies and very poorly built houses on stilts. Poverty was so evident in the country side even more so than the city.


Burmese cigar smoker (Photo belongs to Rose Howell)

Sometimes we caught sight of what Kipling describes as ‘whopping great cheroots’ and it was really something. These cigars can measure up to a foot long and nearly an inch thick and to see a woman with one of these whoppers hanging out of her mouth is something to behold. In fact women seem to partake in the habit as easily as the men. 

Women don’t seem to be classed as second class citizens but as equals, they run what little remains of the retail business.



This is the end of part 1. Next month look out for part 2. Mandalay and beyond.

If you want to find out more about a visit to Myanmar (Burma) then visit their tourist site.

Rose Howell Biography

Rose has been traveling the world for over 40 years, beginning with New Zealand and then the ‘Hippy trail’ in the 70’s. Her travels have taken her to; Asia, Middle East, UK, Europe, Africa, South America, USA, Canada, China and the Pacific Islands. In total she has visited 67 countries plus all the states of Australia except Western Australia, and her goal is to make the century club.
She has taken all kinds of transport and accommodation from budget to luxury. She has travelled through war zones, survived a bus accident in the Andes and visited areas that are no longer available to tourists, such as the Khyber Pass and Bamiyan Statues in Afghanistan.

Rose wants to inspire others to travel and offers free advice to all travellers in particular those who are embarking on their first travel experience. She has a passion for travel and since retiring from an Adult teaching position with TafeSA, has recently resumed clocking up kilometres interstate and overseas.
Her daughters have inherited the travel bug from their parents. The eldest daughter is a travel journalist/documentary maker based in a beautiful area called ‘Byron Bay’ in New South Wales and with her husband, has two globetrotting toddlers who at the age of 5 and 2 also love to travel. Her youngest daughter and fiancé have recently returned from 2 years working and traveling in the UK and Europe. They have only been home a couple of months and are already getting restless. Oh the travel bug!!!!

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