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Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

I was wandering round the Shwedagon Pagoda and spotted this old monk having a smoke. It’s the country’s most sacred Buddhist pagoda, and a beautiful spot, but it’s also a great place to see locals from all walks of life, with some chatting and others meditating against the grand, gold-plated stupas. The monks have to abstain from meat and other indulgences, so smoking is a rare earthly pleasure.


Myanmar for the people
Now that change is coming to Myanmar, there’s never been a better time to go. But the best thing about the country is still its people, says photographer and regular visitor Jean Loo, who tells us the stories behind some of her favourite shots

Myan Aung monastic complex, Mandalay (inset)

This young monk lives in the Myan Aung monastic complex, a serene community of monasteries in a quiet Mandalay neighbourhood. He’s playing with bows and arrows created with tree bark and cloth from the monks’ old robes. Mandalay doesn’t have the obvious attractions of Yangon, but it’s a good place to see the Burmese way of life and marvel at their dedication to Buddhism – especially at religious sites like Sagaing Hill, a bustling community of monasteries and nunneries, and the Mingun Bell, one of the largest bells in the world.

Myintha Myo Oo Monastery and Orphanage, Yangon (left)

This photo was taken during lunchtime at the Myintha Myo Oo Monastery and Orphanage. There’s an unspoken rule of silence, and it’s all very strict and rigid. The children have to pray for the country’s wellbeing and thank Buddha for his blessings before they can eat – usually rice and vegetables from donors.

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I saw this farmer on the way to Pindaya Cave. I love her hat and the warmth in her face

Bali at its best

This beach paradise is also home to a fascinating indigenous culture and countless scenes of captivating beauty. Take our tips on getting the most out of your trip to Bali
B ‘Jungle Juice’ or ‘Bomba’ is a

kind of cocktail often found in unassuming tumblers. Don’t be fooled: most of these drinks are concocted with arak, an extremely potent Balinese liquor which recently caused the death of a few unsuspecting tourists. \ Lauded as the most delicious barbecued baby back ribs on this side of the world, the succulent slow roast at Naughty Nuri’s Warung in Ubud starts from IDR60,000 (S$8) for one portion, which is never enough. Anthony Bourdain has said its martinis are the world’s best outside New York. F Nothing beats Bali’s nasi padang. Select from a wide range of à la carte dishes, from meat to vegetables and gravy. It usually comes to around IDR15,000 (S$2).  While Kuta is famed for its beach party atmosphere, head down to beaches in Ulu Watu and Padang Padang for a more serene getaway.  Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts, was partially filmed in Ubud, and the success of the movie has prompted a rush of visitors to this cultural hotbed.

Near Pindaya Cave, Shan State (top)

What to do The classic Myanmar itinerary includes Yangon, Inle Lake and the temple city at Bagan. While Yangon still has more colonial buildings than any other SouthEast Asian city, many travellers complain that Mandalay now looks like a dirty, ugly Chinese satellite city. Nevertheless, it’s home to 60 per cent of the country’s Buddhist monks, and the booming trades in rubies, jade and heroin help make it an interesting place for cultureand people-watching. Getting there Jetstar is usually the cheapest airline for getting to Yangon, with return flights from $350. Internal flights aren’t cheap and, almost quaintly, are booked by

We were on the way from the Pindaya Cave, a Buddhist pilgrimage site with over 8,000 statues of Buddha, when a farmer taking a rest from her work in the field caught my eye. I love her hat and the warmth in her face.

Near Inle Lake (above)

While trekking in a bamboo forest by Inle Lake, a thriving community that many tribes call home, we came across a villager hanging her laundry out to dry. Like most of the people in her community, she lives on the outskirts of the forest, making a living from selling souvenirs and little toys carved from bamboo. Like the monk, she’s enjoying a smoke.

directly emailing the airline. Yangon Airways, for example, fly to Heho (for Inle Lake and Pindaya Cave, US$178/ S$224 one-way), Nyuang U (for Bagan, US$178/$224 one-way) and Mandalay (US$188/S$237 one-way) – email to book flights. Other operators include Air Bagan ( and Air Mandalay ( You could also join a tour, though many are dubious in terms of quality and ethics – Lonely Planet says Good News Travel (www.myanmargoodnewstravel. com) and Columbus Travels (www. are the best. Getting a visa 28-day tourist visas are available at the Myanmar Embassy in Singapore for $35 (see

Don’t be seen exiting a hotel chain. Stay with Roomorama at one of our stunning villas.

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