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This is a travel itinerary in motion with my own thoughts, musings, inspirations and edits for an escape I am planning to Burma in January 2013. I will be updating this ‘journal’ over the next few months... as the Buddhist philosophy suggests, the only constant in life is change... and I am sure this will be reflected in my notes!  x apsara

BURMA – Burma, also known as Myanmar, has long been considered a pariah state, isolated from the rest of the world with an appalling human rights abuse record. A civilian-led government has recently ended nearly 50 years of rule by a military junta that wielded absolute power in the face of international condemnation and sanctions.  Burma has been all but closed to travellers, under an unofficial tourism boycott while opposition politician and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest. However, last November she was released, has since gained a place in the Burmese lower house and a series of reforms are underway. Now the country has truly opened up to intrepid travellers for the first time in many years. Explore the road less travelled to reveal the unseen treasures of this South-East Asian country, from its mist-covered lakes and hills to its golden Buddhas and diamond-studded pagodas.  [Images by Steve McCurry - recognized universally as one of today's finest image-makers, he is best known for his evocative color photography. In the finest documentary tradition, McCurry captures the essence of human struggle and joy.]

What's in a name? In Myanmar - or Burma - it's political. Los Angeles Times
In a divided country racked by ethnic violence and edging toward reform, one of the most stubborn battles may be a war of words: Is it Burma or is it Myanmar? After democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi toured Europe and Thailand, calling her country “Burma” as she was greeted by adoring crowds and a deluge of press, the national election commission issued a complaint in the state newspaper saying she should respect the constitution, which refers to the nation as “Myanmar.” Suu Kyi shot back that she will keep calling the country what she wants. Her party has argued that it isn’t against the law to call it Burma, the name it favors. "The right to speak one's mind freely doesn't insult anyone. This is also about democratic principles and policy,” Suu Kyi was quoted as telling reporters by Agence France-Presse. “So I assume that I can use whatever I want to use as I believe in democracy." The names have political overtones. The country long known as Burma was renamed in 1989 by the ruling military junta, which explained that the name Myanmar would separate the nation from its colonial past and be more ethnically inclusive than “Burma,” which reflects the traditional name of the majority Bamar ethnic group. The junta also renamed cities and streets; Rangoon became Yangon, for example. Political opponents of the junta rejected the new name, sticking with Burma. “The whole idea of changing the name was to legitimize their rule,” said Jennifer Quigley, advocacy director for the U.S. Campaign for Burma. “For us, using the name is political. Our activity is for promotion of democracy and human rights. So we will not legitimize this regime.”

A source of inspiration before a visit to Burma is The Lady - Luc Besson's film starring Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi.

TOP TIP:  Choose 'Responsible Tourism' - ensuring that the profit goes to the right people, as this is important especially considering this South-east Asian country’s history when looking at travel. Contacting a private operation is one way to ensure that the local communities benefit and researching the 'responsible' tours is key.

TOP RECOMMENDED TO DO's: I have friends who have been to Burma in the last three years and so will blend their personal recommendations with research from the following recommended tours courtesy of cntraveller.com to make an itinerary that best suits my husband & I.

Diamond studded pagodas and a golden Buddha

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend as they say so this trip may prove irresistible! A 14-day group tour, this includes visits to Yangon, home to the reputed truly awe-inspiring solid gold and diamond-studded Shwedagon Pagoda;  and Mandalay  where the ‘must-see’ is the Mahamuni Paya, home to a Buddha statue covered in gold leaf by followers so often that apparently, although the face remains visible, it has lost its original shape; a monument-filled Bagan; and Inle Lake, where traditional fishermen row with one leg and the other is used to balance on the boat on the Irawaddy River.

From £2,395. To book visit www.balesworldwide.com

Caves, falls and the world's largest bell

This 14-night trip includes a visit to the six-storey reclining Buddha at Chauk Htat Gyi, Yangon; the former British hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin; the Peik Khyin Myaung Caves and Pwe Kyauk Falls; and the world's largest ringing bell at Mingun.

Price £1,995. To book visit www.vjv.com

Trekking and swimming

This itinerary combines trips to bustling Bagan and the quieter countryside over 16 days [which I believe is always a great opportunity to interact with local cultures, whether with a smile or a wave or simple eye contact as this always transcends all language barriers! ] Highlights include the chance to swim at the base of extinct volcano Mt Popa and explore the brick temples and petrified forest on the slopes; and the Taungkalat Monastery, which displays 37 Nats (spirits) at its peak.

From £2,199. To book visit www.exodus.co.uk

Hill tribes and bike rides

As well as exploring Bagan by bicycle, guests on this 13-day trip take a train journey from the hill station of Kalaw to Shwe Nyaung, and join monks on the school run in Ava. There's also a hill-tribe trek in Intha and visits to Buddhist pilgrimage site Pindaya Caves – although only the southern cave is accessible it holds numerous images of Buddha.

From £1,340 per person. To book visit www.travelindochina.co.uk

And finally....

CAUSES CLOSE TO THE HEART

In an interview set up with students at Berkeley University, Aung San Suu Kyi was asked by a Burmese student what they could do to help. "Please don't forget your roots" she replied and reminded her that young people in Burma do not have the same educational opportunities available to those in other parts of the world. "I would so much appreciate it if young people would concentrate on helping young people in Burma get a better education" she said, adding that in addition to moral support "I would like you to do something practical" such as assisting with educational funding.

PROSPECT BURMA - gives young Burmese people access to education - one of the United Nation’s fundamental human rights. Since 1988 Burmese universities have been repeatedly closed and education remains in crisis. A whole generation has been deprived of education and the effect on Burma’s future is incalculable. Since their foundation in 1989 they have funded scholarships for over 1,500 Burmese students, enabling them to qualify as professionals and to go on to work for Burma both inside and outside the country. As the message below attests, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi endorses their work and she generously donates part of the income from her Nobel Peace Prize and other prizes towards their work.

DAW AUNG SAN SUU KYI APPEALS FOR PROSPECT BURMA

Education has always been one of my chief concerns as it is, together with health care, the most important need for the future of Burma. Without an educated and qualified population efforts to build a stable, developed society would be obstructed by insurmountable difficulties.

Prospect Burma is a non-political charity which does its best to fill the gap. It funds scholarships for young Burmese, most of whom have been forced to look for their education abroad. I am very proud to learn that Prospect Burma has grown so much since its foundation. Unfortunately an enormous amount still remains to be done to help young people in Burma acquire education of a standard that would enable them to take their country forward in this global age.

I therefore appeal to our friends and supporters all over the world to help Burma towards a sound future by giving generously to Prospect Burma. Every penny given can make a difference to the prospects of our young people and hence of our country.

Aung San Suu Kyi

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