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The trip

Chu en Lai, a very wise Chinese man once said, to get to China you have to make the first step. And look how far China has come (...)

I started my trip doing exactly that, on a cold February morning.

My first steps brought me to the unavoidable Gare du Midi, Brussels: the only railway station in the world with toilets that are visitable only during working hours. But charmingly, there is one piano in the middle of the station, as is the case in Charleroi: the crappier the station, the better the piano!
Next stop was Charles de Gaulle. Marginally better than Gare du Midi, but still with toilets, although in my Terminal no telephone (or internet) signal. And there is not much to do when your plane has 5 hours of delay, you have had enough coffee and plastic sandwiches for life at the one-and-only bar and the one-and-only bookshop available sells exclusively French gossip press.
Finally, more or less 8 hours after leaving home the big bird left for Kuala Lumpur. It felt grand getting in an A380 for the first time. The double decker of the skies! Boasting, hmmm… TV screens, lights for reading and stewardesses, some of them acting rather impredictably… Thank God my fellow passenger was a nice young French guy that had washed, and was thin and polite enough to not take one-and-a-half seat.
After 13 hours we landed in Kuala Lumpur, which seemed as luxurious as a Marcolini chocolate shop. One would think moreover, chocolate is the only product people think of buying when in the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport). And indeed, if you are bound for Myanmar, you'd better buy one or two, because you may regret it as bitterly as bitter chocolate otherwise: I did not see chocolate for sale ANYWHERE in Myanmar, almost a crime.
After another 3 hours of waiting, sipping espressos in over-luxurious shops and somehow being unable to combine such opulence with burqas, another smaller Malaysian airlines birdie brought me to Yangon.
The Yangon airport is like a poor relative of the KLIA. But anyhow, after some fuss but no exhaustive controls, I was driven to downtown Yangon and a place stinking of sewage and shit, to my nice hotel…  I desperately tried to find myself a convenient restaurant, but my guide could not understand the word “restaurant” and I took a taxi to murky, dark and Britishly decadent The Strand colonial hotel, only to realize that the barman could not understand the word “hamburger”.
Next morning already came next flight, my first one with a Burmese airline. I had read a lot about Burmese airlines, but nothing happened and all three that I used were exemplary. Offering food even for very short flights, as well as smiles to everybody, coming from young women that could otherwise have had a more enriching career as Hollywood models.

In between I used all possible means of transport in Myanmar, except oxcarts, which seem to be an extremely common means of transport, a rather slow one, although closely competing with Burmese trains.   I even used an electrical moped, swooshing in the empty streets of Bagan a bit like Kate Winslet on Titanic’s bow, my hair blown in the wind. OK, I exaggerate a little.

It was less funny of course when I fell, or when I was out of battery in the middle of nowhere, but a dollar is a lot of money in Myanmar and you can always have somebody else ring for help (your telephone has no roaming in Myanmar).

As for the rest, missing somehow the Highlight of the trip is slowly becoming a tradition… As I missed the Tiger’s nest in Bhutan due to sickness, this time I missed the hot-air balloon flight, twice and with different companies, because the air in the upper layers was one or two degrees colder than safe. And had to wake up twice at 04.00 in the morning for nothing, which left me exhausted when running next day(s) to get my money back, with my hair blown by the wind Titanic-wise of course…

I will never forget the hours spent in lake Inle, sitting or standing on the pirogue and watching life unroll in this liquid environment. The fishers working in this unique manner of paddling with their legs and keeping both hands free for manipulating their nets. A lot happened: unexpected visiting of a family producing cheroots (Burmese cigars) in their floating house, crashing on floating islands when the captain could not figure out the right path in the darkness, and then pushing apart the islets to get through! But the highlight has to be these 5 minutes when, one starry, moonless and rather chilly evening we killed the engine and just stayed there, watching the stars, in the absolute silence. Thanks, Diamond, for yet another memorable idea…

The way back was less interesting of course. Kuala Lumpur seemed like a thousand times less exciting than Myanmar. Like a B&W picture, compared to millions of colors.  And of course, the whole journey was marked by the horrible crash of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, just one day before I traveled back home, that alarmed friends and family. More than one month after, when I write this, no debris have been found and it is unlikely they ever will, in what seems to be one of the strangest disappearings in the history of aviation. KLIA seemed tight and sad the day I took the plane back home: multiple checks and controls, even at the last moment before boarding. But happily no delays.

Once in CDG, I had enough espressos to wake up an elephant, dragged myself on dirty, cold floors waiting for my train to come and as soon as I got to Brussels’ creepy Gare du Midi headed straight to work, where I was as productive as the pictures hanging on my walls that day.

But the only thing that matters is, the pictures of this beautiful country that is Myanmar, in my head…





(Do I really want that?)



Malaysian airlines A380 at work!