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burma airlines

Home again after some months away, including Dec/Jan in Burma.

My recommendation is: if you're flying with any of the internal airlines in Burma, such as Air Bagan, take out extra insurance for the benefit of your heirs. These Fokkers (yes, that's the brand) planes still have ashtrays in their armrests!!!

We kissed the ground twice when returning from Mandalay to Yangon via Bagan. Every time the plane touched down we said a Hail Mary, and every time it took off we said an Our Father.

Seriously, though, a friend who we stayed with in Rangoon told us some seriously worrying things about the internal airlines. Because of the sanctions until recently, the fleet of 30yo+ planes is maintained in other Asian countries, mainly Indonesia, which does all of Burma's teak trade with the wider world on a quid pro quo basis.

The planes within Burma don't fly above 8,500ft, because nobody(including the pilots) knows how much weight is aboard, especially during the wet season, when hardly anything can be transported by road.

When we were there at Christmas, a plane went down in clear weather at Inle Lake on Christmas Day, not because of weather, but because of overloading.

They don't weigh bags or carry-on luggage or commercial cargo, they bribe the cargo handlers, and if you're a person who has worked in airlines or travelled extensively for business as we have, and you hear the aircraft struggling to get off the runway (hence my "kiss the earth" comment earlier) you really dowhen you're back on solid ground.

I know Kathie and company here effuse about Burma (and it is a lovely place), but I have lived and travelled in and around Asia with my husband for 40yrs, and I found present travel arrangements in Burma as dangerous as they used to be in Thailand in the 1970s and Vietnam in the 1990s.

By the main road from Yangon to Pyay, a distance of 180 miles, it takes nearly seven hours by motor over a road that the British built before 1910. From Katha in the northern province near China, it takes nearly two hours to travel 10 miles by any sort of motorised vehicle, or a day by ox-cart, which is why elephants still do forestry work.

Of course this type of country is interesting to see, and the stupas are "stupafying", but if you're going there expecting some type of armchair view of the Asia that once was, you'd better expect something a bit tougher in terms of comfort and safety.

And I haven't even started on the political/military situation, which is a whole other thing (apologies to The Lady).

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