Our plane banked over the vast river delta of the Ayeyarwady River. Below us stretched a patchwork of dirt-brown rice fields in all directions, with few visible signs of roads or cities. Suddenly a glint of gold stood out from the dull background. A giant, bell-shaped “paya”, a Buddhist monument that might be called elsewhere a “chedi” or “stupa”, towered above the surrounding landscape.
We knew that Myanmar was a poor country whose brutal military dictatorship had isolated it from the rest of the world. Despite this grim picture we had heard many good things about Burmese culture and especially about the ordinary people who were so desperate for change. We made a decision that if we were to visit Myanmar, as little as possible of our money would end up in the government's pockets. We would avoid trains, ferries and luxury hotels. By visiting the country in a sensitive and open manner and by seeing the situation with our own eyes we hoped to do our small part, as tourists, to promote improvement.