I have just returned from a two week business trip to Asia where I visited China, Singapore and Malaysia. One of the things that struck me most on this trip was the degree to which Asia has leapt into the 21st century over the nearly 50 years since my first visit to the continent in 1970.
Once primitive transportation hubs, pothole-rutted roads, and quaint local guest houses have all given way to glistening state-of-the-art airports, vast ground transport and communications networks, gleaming skyscrapers, cosmopolitan hotels and fashionable shops in almost every major Asian city. Today’s travelers have to look long and hard for vestiges of the continent’s true local history and culture because of urban modernization and the overbuilding of destination resorts targeted to travelers in search of a tropical paradise.
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit many of Asia’s premier destinations in the 80’s and 90’s when it was still relatively easy to discern and experience the soul of the destination. One country that I visited on several occasions in the early 90’s was Myanmar, which at the time had just changed its name from Burma, as it was known since it became a unified state in 1057. If experiencing Southeast Asia as it once was is on your future travel agenda, then, I can confidently recommend Myanmar as perhaps Asia’s last natural frontier.
Called the “Golden Land” because of its thousands of gilded pagodas, Myanmar today is similar to what Thailand was like 25 or more years ago. But things are quickly changing. Just five years ago (when a military junta turned power over to a civilian government), less than one million tourists visited the country. By last year that number had escalated to nearly five million. It’s just a matter of time before this once untouched country will be mainstream.