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Burma North of Mandalay.

Has anyone been to Mandalay or north in Burma along the road toward Yunnan since the crackdown?

Is it open? Are police unreasonable to travelers who appear low key? Will people talk to foreigners or are they too afraid?

Thank you.

Best Always,


by [a former member] at 2007-10-18 14:37:44 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) Tokyo , Japan | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Things have quieted down a lot in the last two weeks. If you are not openly and obviously taking photos of soldiers, you should not have any problems.

As for the road toward Lashio from Mandalay, that has been closed for years, or at least some areas are closed such as Mogok. Even if it was to open, the trip would take quite some time as the infrastructure is very basic.

You can go from Tachileik in Shan State up through Keng Tong and to the border, or else you can fly to Myitkyina in Kachin State and then move east toward China.

by Andrew McGrath | 21 Oct 2007 05:10 | Yangon, Myanmar | | Report spam→
Dear Andrew,

Thanks for the information. Last February (2007) in Mandalay, I researched going up that route but ran out of time. The road was open but you could not cross into China as an independent traveller.

It sounds like some sort of normalcy has returned on the surface in the country but I wanted to check if anyone had been up that way.

Good luck in Rangoon.



by [former member] | 21 Oct 2007 12:10 | Tokyo, Japan | | Report spam→
I’m not sure how much this will help, but I’ll chip in anyway….
I was in Burma this time last year as a tourist. I stuck to the main loop – Rangoon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake. Unfortunately I found that no-one spoke too openly for fear of people listening but I never made a huge effort to put them on the spot and ask them as I never wanted to make them feel awkward, but I had plenty of evenings speaking away about general things.
I met an Isreali couple who looked into travelling up north (where exactly I don’t know) but they gave up as wherever they wanted to go they had to apply for a visa with a $150 deposit, and it took up to 2 weeks to hear a yes or no, and they never had the time to wait for a decision.
Later in my trip I met an Irish guy who tried volunteering at a school a bit off the normal tourist trail. He was met by an enthusiastic local who met him in the city and took him to the town. He had a great experience but he eventually had to leave as he was pretty much told to. He told stories of secret police looking through the windows to watch what he was up to. He had only followed leads that a friend gave him, who had volunteered doing some teaching earlier on in the year (he would have been there early 2007).
I hope you manage to get to where you want to. The people in Burma are great – really friendly. It’s just a shame about all the other stuff that happens.

by Darren Craig | 22 Oct 2007 18:10 | Edinburgh, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
As one with a dozen years’ experience in the country, I can safely say that things are not always as they seem. One does not learn this in two weeks, however, and if one does not know the language, the learning curve will be even longer.

I have visited hundreds of Burmese homes over the years, ranging from a few nice modern houses to (mostly) bamboo huts whose total square footage might barely reach double figures. Rarely, if ever, has anyone held back in his or her conversation, and only on a handful of occasions has my visit drawn any attention of the authorities. It is not uncommon, however, for an entire village to surround the tiny hut when I am there and watch me share a meal with the house owners, laughing at and critiquing my every move.

Often I have found foreigners assume that if the Burmese do not talk to them it is out of fear of the “secret police”. In fact sometimes it is simply fear of foreigners. The country is, and has been, isolated, and outside of the major cities foreigners are quite rare. In general, though, the people are quite easy to approach, and only a small percentage fear that “talking with a foreigner” can lead to problems. They are more concerned, and sometimes fearful, of speaking with each other, in Burmese, in a public place, as every neighborhood has numerous informants.

While some foreigners do draw the attention of the “secret police”, this is most often more amusing than sinister. If you become a “target” someone might well follow you and document your every move in pedantic detail, even to how many cups of coffee you drank or EXACTLY how many peanuts you ate. The watcher will then write a lengthy handwritten report, using several sheets of carbon paper to make multiple copies, and submit the report to his superior. The superior will initial and stamp the report with multiple stamps (which probably change daily), and the report will be duly filed away in some fetid, poorly constructed storage box, where the humidity will very quickly turn the report to mush.

This is not anything about which a foreigner should be concerned. I have found that many foreigners come to the country with preconceived notions, and then they make false assumptions on top of this. Mostly this just leads to lots of after-the-fact stories that travelers can tell friends back home, though the stories bear little semblance to reality. It’s just part of the whole Burma experience.

If anyone does travel off the beaten path, your major concern should be malaria and dengue, not the police. In the last fifteen years, the authorities have been involved in the deaths of only two foreigners—-one in Yangon three weeks ago (the Japanese photojournalist), and one eleven years ago. A much larger number of foreigners have passed from a mosquito bite.

There are many areas of the country that are closed to foreigners, or else can be entered only with the requisite permission. The reason for this is usually because there is rebel activity, or roving bands of dacoits, or even the armies of drug lords who might suspect a foreigner of being a DEA agent.

For what it’s worth, my advice would be just be nice and enjoy. Smile a lot, don’t lose your temper or make a scene since any problem you might have pales in comparison to their daily life, carry a lot of ballpoint pens, watch the mosquitoes, and avoid stepping on any cobras or Russell’s vipers (they take offence at this…the snakes, that is). And every single thing you see will look like a photo opportunity.

by Andrew McGrath | 23 Oct 2007 00:10 (ed. Oct 23 2007) | Yangon, Myanmar | | Report spam→
Very interesting post. I’ve always found it good to hear more about the country, but unfortunately that has mostly been after coming back!?!

by Darren Craig | 23 Oct 2007 06:10 | Edinburgh, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Dear Andrew,

Thank you for the information. The Burma you described
was the Burma that I have known over the years. The
people have been kind and open to me and definitely
unafraid or wary.

I feared, after viewing severely long frightened faces
in recent photos that the demeanor of people may have
changed, in the short term.

The people in Burma are wonderful and that is what
makes this crime against them so much more acute.



by [former member] | 23 Oct 2007 09:10 | Tokyo, Japan | | Report spam→
This is a response to a private message, which I cannot yet send directly because my account is new:

Mogok (the gem mining area) is not open to foreigners at this time. The reasons are unclear. It might be because of bandits, or because of the discovery of commercial amounts of uranium. Given that it is Burma, it might also be because someone in authority closed it, then forgot he did so and has yet to remember to open it again.

Over the last ten years it has rarely been accessible, but on occasion special permission has been granted to travel there. Often one was required to take armed bodyguards, ostensibly to protect the traveler from bandits and rebels who might emerge along the isolated road.

Getting there takes seven hours from Mandalay by car, even though it is less than 200 kilometers. After passing paddy and savannah, one moves through some jungle, then the mountains begin. One can go an hour without seeing a village or another human being during this travel. In a mountain valley Mogok suddenly emerges, and its 500,000 inhabitants stand in stark contrast to the virtually empty lands one has spent the last few hours passing through.

If it ever opens again, make the trip. It is worth it.

by Andrew McGrath | 24 Oct 2007 00:10 | Yangon, Myanmar | | Report spam→
Hi Andrew and everybody.

I’ll be arriving Rangoon in three weeks. I’m going there as a tourist but i fear about the photo equipment. 1D, 17-40 mm, 70-200 mm, flash, batteries, hard disk… lot of things, you can suppose.
Can you tell me if there are problems in the airport with it?

Thanks and apologizes by my poor english.

by gabi garcia | 24 Oct 2007 14:10 | malaga, Spain | | Report spam→
Bringing a 1D and huge lenses is absolutely NOT the way to go. Those getting photos and getting away with it are those using small cameras. Carrying around a 1D with a long lens is just asking to have it taken away. I went to a location last month and we just happened to turn in front of a military or military-type building. I was carrying my camera and as soon as I was seen I got extremely hard looks. They followed my actions until I was in the car and driving off – once I was on my way they smiled and waved but it was a bit shocking at how their demeanor changed.

I am going tomorrow to the Burmese embassy to see what the status of my visa is (already sent the paperwork in) and plan on going as quickly as possible. I’ve been to Burma more than a dozen times and left around a week before the protests and it’s been my experience that laptops are not normally a problem – but now is not a normal time in Burma.

My main concern would be having it or an expensive camera(s) confiscated. According to my Reuters contact, this has happened to quite a few people. If I’m in an out in a short period of time I’ll post more information. Good luck in your travels there.

by Scott Mallon | 24 Oct 2007 15:10 | Bangkok, Thailand | | Report spam→
Most of what’s already been said here is what I’ve feared about the situation in Burma recently for photogs – camera grabs and general agro from anyone in uniform, after all we who are not in a herded tour group have always been regarded with suspicion there – as well as some of the better stuff from ordinary people. I would try to go there myself if only to check up on some Burmese friends, but just feel so depressed about the place and so despise the brutal bastards who rule them that I’m afraid of what I might get drawn into. I ususally get drawn into something when I’m there: usually it’s been very positive but always with an undercurrent of pain and the repression really gets to me in the end – and that was before what happened last month! Too bad as otherwise I love the place and most of the people I’ve met.
Is now a good time to photograph there? I just met an English photog who was there just after the crackdown and he couldn’t do anything photographically in Rangoon as he was constantly being watched or followed and threatened by the police/military. What kind of imagery comes out of an atmosphere like that? Ask James Nachtwey, he should know. But I ain’t him, that’s for sure.
Regarding the original question from JWD: I travelled from Myitkyina down a part of the old Ledo road to Bhamo last summer which was something I couldn’t do a few years back due supposedly to Kachin insurgents. From Mandalay you could always go as far as Lashio, although I never got further than Hsipaw. But that was my choice.
Now I’m wandering along the border region with Thailand, although I’m not optimistic about meeting many recent refugees. The Thai police want to keep them out of sight anyway least their presence upset one of their trading partners and potential sources of cheap electricity. Don’t go imagining that anything much will get better on the Burmese side any time soon – unless China first becomes a democratic entity and begins to recognise basic human rights. Fat chance!

by Nigel Amies | 25 Oct 2007 10:10 | Vientiane, Laos | | Report spam→
Note that the Washington Post had a story yesterday from there by a staffer who took a fair number of pics (look at the gallery). It looks like she was masquerading as a tourist and shooting a P&S camera out of a car window or surreptitiously.

by [former member] | 25 Oct 2007 17:10 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Since around 3 October it has been quite safe to have one`s camera in full view again. There doesn`t seem to be any problem bringing equipment through the airport, nor have people been getting hassled around town (Yangon). Likewise leaving the country: no problem carrying camera gear. Perhaps if one lines up with a telephoto outside of a monastery being guarded by soldiers……but otherwise all is okay again from a photography point of view.

by Andrew McGrath | 26 Oct 2007 11:10 | Yangon, Myanmar | | Report spam→
I came in to Yangon 2 days ago. I wasnt searched at airport and brought in 1 body, 17-55 and 70-200,and 30mm prime.

I travelled very light in a small backpack and small camera bag and looked like a scruffy backpacker.

I haven’t had any problems shooting yet but have been discreet mainly using small prime and keeping camera in bag when not in use.

Pics here if interested:

Good luck,


by Adam Dean | 27 Oct 2007 12:10 | Beijing, China | | Report spam→
How long did it take to get your visa? I put in for mine on the 10th of October and still haven’t got the phone call. When I went back to the embassy to find out why I still hadn’t received confirmation, I was told, “Look at the stack of visa applications that are going to Rangoon. It might take them a month to get your paperwork back!” It used to take me 2 days, now it’s taking over 2 weeks…and counting.

by Scott Mallon | 28 Oct 2007 01:10 | Bangkok, Thailand | | Report spam→

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Andrew McGrath, Andrew McGrath
Yangon , Myanmar
Darren Craig, "inbetween jobs" Darren Craig
"inbetween jobs"
(wannabe Photojournalist)
Perpignan , France
gabi garcia, photographer gabi garcia
Malaga , Spain ( AGP )
Scott Mallon, Photographer / Writer Scott Mallon
Photographer / Writer
(I push buttons and turn knobs)
Bangkok , Thailand ( BKK )
Nigel Amies, Photographer/writer Nigel Amies
[undisclosed location].
Adam Dean, Freelance Photographer Adam Dean
Freelance Photographer
(Panos Pictures)
Beijing , China


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