Burma. It occupied a special slice in my mind, one murky with half-remembered news headlines and foggy recollections of local military history that had been looked up and forgotten. Other travellers talked about Burma as though it were a secret hidey-hole, a hidden place accessible only with great cunning and with great effort. The ability to enter Burma required the cleverness of the djinn, the swiftness of the Pegasus, the strength of the minotaur. According to backpacker legend, controls on tourism had only recently been relaxed, and entry past the border necessitated unmarked, non-sequential US currency in a pristine leather valet case, several hidden bottles of high-quality foreign whisky, and the rights to your unborn children.
In actual fact, going to Burma involved booking a ticket, then talking to Jane, the nice lady at the travel agency, and handing her a neat stack of yuan for my visa.
My feet hit the ground and still I felt a tiny swell of pride, the surge of self-assurance that I was achieving something. Sure, our plane was packed full of Korean tourists and missionaries, but wasn’t I still something of a ground breaker? Forging into new lands? As always, the myth is more endearing and enduring.
As we woke on our first day in Yangon, our friend declared that he had already seen much of the city, and wondered if we might explore what lied across the river on the opposite banks. The journey was simple: bypass Sule Paya, veer through the verdant park just beyond, and ride the ferry to bucolic quaintness.