Here’s some of what the Smiling Albino’s – Myanmar – All That Glitters, Asia’s Golden Land Brochure – 2014 has to say about Myanmar:
“Myanmar, or Burma as it was formerly known, holds great mystery, beauty and legend. From Himalayan Mountains in the north, to stunning ancient temples, enchanting lakes and soulful people, we’ll enjoy an experience in one of the world’s last unexplored corners in style.
In some ways, little has changed since the British colonial times where modern amenities in major centers are light years beyond the simple, inspiring countryside life. The contrast is staggering and residents’ perseverance simply amazing. A journey through this nation takes you places you never thought you’d see, and leaves you awestruck at the resolve of the human spirit.
We’ll take you on an intimate exploration of the remote countryside, to the thousands of pagodas of Bagan and finally the photographic haven of Inle lake. We’ll engage and learn from the Burmese people from floating villages to hill stations, and from markets to monuments. Rudyard Kipling once described Myanmar as “quite unlike any place you know about”, and we invite you to come and discover the spirit and hidden corners of this nation on the move.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We were planning a trip to India for a family wedding way back in December 2000 and I suggested to Anil that we break up the journey with a stop in Bangkok on the way. I had been there in 1992 with my brother, his wife and my best friend Cathy and Anil had stopped with Adia and Raj that same winter, but we had never been there together.
It just so happened that I was reading the local Edmonton Journal when I spotted a small article about a couple of young men from Calgary who had started an adventure tour company in Thailand. I looked up their website and was impressed with what I saw there. Anil and I aren’t usually keen on city tours, but these two had devised a couple of tours of Bangkok that sounded really unusual.
I got in touch with Daniel Frazier, one of the two partners in The Smiling Albinos, and booked a full-day City Tour that was designed to show visitors the highlights of Bangkok while riding almost every form of public transport the city has to offer. It sounded fascinating and indeed it was. Our flight to India wasn’t until later in the afternoon, so we booked a morning tour for our second day.
The morning tour was conducted on bicycles and that appealed to my sense of adventure. We rode alongside, and mostly above, the canals that run in and out of the ancient city. When I say above, I mean exactly that – there were four-foot-wide cement sidewalks on stilts suspended above the edge of the canal. If you make a mistake, you’ll go off the sidewalk and into the canal. This is not the place to go into detail, but suffice it to say, Anil took an unexpected plunge that day and has gone down in the history of the Smiling Albinos tour company.
We did two other adventures with Daniel and Scott and had a terrific time on them both. We would have liked to do all of their tours of Thailand but many of them required too much physical strength and agility. We kept an eye on their progress over the years, noting that they eventually expanded their offerings to tours of Vietnam as well. By that time we’d made several trips to Vietnam, but we kept hoping that they’d eventually branch out to Myanmar.
At last the time came and they let us know that Myanmar was now on their radar. We jumped at the chance to have them show us around, because everything we’d read about the country made it sound like a difficult country to navigate. The Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest and the government was very controlling about where tourists went and what they saw.
In 2014 it was still very difficult to access money from ATMs in Myanmar, and very few businesses accepted credit cards. Tourists who were travelling on their own were advised to have loads of US cash, and we saw that as an invitation to a mugging. We felt that by travelling with a tour company, we would only have to have enough cash for incidentals, that the Smiling Albinos would be responsible for paying the hotels, restaurants and transportation companies thereby making our trip that much more safe and secure.
We decided to book the trip – this would be our fourth with the Smiling Albinos. They explained that we should fly to Yangon from Bangkok on a particular flight and that our guide would meet us at the airport. We knew that there would probably be others on the same flight that would be our travelling companions, but we didn’t know ahead of time who they were.