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Lots of questions about Myanmar & maybe (a bit of) Thailand

Lots of questions about Myanmar & maybe (a bit of) Thailand

Jan 2nd, 2017, 06:34 PM
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 2,759
Quote: "I am going to also look more closely at Bali. Would you still consider it "exotic" despite all I read about fancy restaurants, shopping, spas, deluxe resorts etc.? Our aim is to try to visit places that are definitely not home. We don't need or want SEA lite made to appeal to inexperienced or nervous travelers. Could be my impressions are wrong from what I've read though."

Julies, I'm an American about the same age as you, originally from the Midwest. I've lived in Indonesia for 22 years, the last 5 in Bali. For me, Bali still satisfies my "weird and wonderful" requirement, but you have to look a little harder for it than you would in other parts of Asia. After Burma, it may seem overdeveloped, but less so, I'd say, than Singapore, Western Malaysia, or much of Thailand.

Kja's recent trip report is a good overview of what to expect in Bali (and Java).

Basically, there are two cultural strata in Bali -- the resort/tourism economy which employs a large number of Balinese in the southern beaches and around the town of Ubud -- and the agrarian, village economy which co-exists with the tourist economy everywhere, especially in the 90% of Bali which is not Ubud or a beach resort.

In the villages, traditional life revolves around growing rice and celebrating the many, many events on the Balinese Hindu calendar. All Balinese take their responsibility to their birth community very seriously. Even if they work at a fancy resort, they are required to return to their native villages at least once a month to participate in religious events, often summoned at the last minute. Your waitress may be a dancer, tour guide a gamelan player, cook an ikat weaver. Every Balinese has a dual personality!

Performing arts like gamelan performances and dances thrive all over Bali, often as part of irregularly scheduled temple ceremonies. There's also a healthy attention to traditional arts and crafts like handwoven textiles, carved masks, basketry, painting, sculpture, silver jewelry. Yes, some of the merchandise on sale in Bali is commercialized, and a lot of it is actually made in Java, but the real deal is alive and well, even where you'd least expect it.

Hardly a day goes by when I don't see or hear a ceremony on the beach or at a nearby temple. On Christmas Day, walking home from brunch at an upscale beach resort I came across a traditional dance performance featuring about 100 lavishly costumed Balinese children, in training to serve their village communities. Everyday, a neighborhood woman leaves a handful of offerings at auspicious spots around my house.

People have mixed reactions to the town of Ubud. Although it's the center for people that want to preserve and protect Balinese culture with many fine museums, performance venues and sophisticated restaurants both Indonesian and other, it's also become the default destination in Asia for New Age wellness, meditation, yoga, raw food etc. which either appeals or doesn't. But once you get outside of town and away from the resorts along the Ayung River, rural Balinese life endures.

Aside from Bali the other places that I would recommend for you would be Central Java and Central Sulawesi (Toraja). I think you would find more of what you're looking for in wander-able countryside, indigenous culture, history and arts. Both have a reasonable balance of travel infrastructure and unspoiled countryside, and both have fascinating visual and spiritual cultures.

AirAsia has good, cheap flights from Bangkok, KL and Singapore to Yogyakarta, Denpasar, Makassar and Manado. You will get some rain in February but you will also pretty much have the place to yourselves.
marmot is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2017, 06:21 AM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,229
Last night we watched two episodes of Samantha Brown's Asia--Malaysia and Bali. Both places looked very interesting to us. In fact, possibly more so than Myanmar (we'd watched a different travel series video about that last week). Part of the appeal is the lushness--something we'd like to see after so many trips to Asia in time periods that are post-monsoon and dry and dusty. The cultural differences from a strictly Buddhist-oriented trip are also appealing. As some of you know, we have traveled extensively in India and have experienced quite a bit of the Hindu culture. The different variations that we saw in the films about Bali and Malaysia are compelling and seem to call for further investigation.

I also had a long conversation with a friend who, like us, visited Cambodia last year but who, rather than spending time in Laos like we did, visited Thailand and Myanmar during their two month trip. They really liked Myanmar but did not spend an extensive amount of time there, with Inle Lake being their favorite. At this point, my husband commented that he really doesn't feel the need to see many more statues of giant sleeping Buddha's. And, I spent over an hour reading a blog on Myanmar that someone here had linked at one time. The blog was from a February visit, so the photos helped me to see how dry and dusty Myanmar will be at that time of year.

Then, I just got an e-mail from the 3rd agent I had contacted last week. That agent said Kengtung is closed to tourists now. So, one more place I'd been interested in in Myanmar is now off the table.

All in all, I think I may be going back to the drawing board and looking at Myanmar as a 2 1/2 to 3 week trip (the same basic one that most tourists do) with peninsular Malaysia and Bali added on. I'll have to try to figure out the logistics and whether it makes sense at all.

marmot--Thank you so much for your incredibly detailed response (and the link to kja's trip report). You are a wealth of info about your new home country and what it offers. Do you live in the Ubud area?

I am going to take an in-depth look at Bali possibilities for us. It is a good thing we have a fabulous library system here; I have a huge stack of books on these different countries. As you said, we wouldn't have the hordes of people kja referred to contending with in Ubud. Some rain (which it seems happens all year anyway) would be a good trade-off as far as seeing fewer people.

All of the new age stuff doesn't do a thing for us, and we saw the same prevalence of this when we visited Rikikesh in India. OTOH, I can also understand the more positive side of a totally tourist oriented town as far as having the infrastructure there to make it easy for tourists. Sometime that is nice to have. And, I'll bet if I look around I could find a couple locations with lodgings that would be perfect for us.

From what I saw in the video it seems as though you may have picked a perfect place to move from the US's midwest, even though as kja kept repeating throughout her trip report that the heat and humidity are repressive. Her trip was in the summer. Would we find it the same way in February?
julies is offline  

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