I had, for a long time, hesitated to visit Myanmar. The presence of a totalitarian military regime and the religious war in the communities of the north and west of the country made me puzzled.
Then, I met a Malaysian and his Burmese wife in Melaka, who changed my mind about the country. They clarified that in Myanmar, especially in the center of the country, a great difference existed between the perspectives of the local population and the political decisions of the government.
On hearing that, I accepted their explanation and quickly headed for Yangon from Bangkok.
A visit to the temples of Bagan alone was worth the trip. The ancient city has many red-bricked temples, built together on a very extensive plain – reminiscences of the medieval cathedrals in Europe. In only 230 years, close to 10,000 temples were built, but only 4,000 of them remain today.
A bicycle is the easiest and most enjoyable way to discover the valley, since the visits mainly consisted of entering abandoned temples.
Only during the visit to these forsaken places, in the space of a moment, I could almost feel that I have stepped into the shoes of an explorer.
- Thailand is the world’s 20th most populous country, with close to 67 million people.
- The full spelling of its capital, Bangkok, was clearly finalised before the days of Twitter. It is known to Thais as Krung Thep Maha Nakho, but its full ceremonial name is Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit (a Tweet-busting 169 characters).
- Kitti's hog-nosed bat – thought to be the world’s smallest mammal – is found in Thailand. It weights just two grams.
- According to the World Economic Forum, Thailand is the 13th friendliest country in the world. Iceland is the friendliest.
- One of the country’s most unusual festivals is the annual Monkey Buffet, held in front of the Pra Prang Sam Yot temple in Lopburi province. More than 600 monkeys are invited to feast on over two tonnes of grilled sausage, fresh fruit, ice cream and other treats. The locals see it as a thank you to the monkeys which inhabit the village and bring thousands of tourists there each year.
- Another is the annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival. The event, a version of the Taoist Nine Emperor Gods Festival, involves much gruesome self-mutilation.
- Thailand has won just seven gold medals at the Olympic Games - three in weightlifting and four in boxing. Muay Thai boxing is the national sport. It is known as “the art of eight limbs” as it uses punches, kicks, elbows and knees.
- Thailand is the only country in south-east Asia that hasn’t been colonised by Europeans.
- It is strictly against the law to criticise the monarchy.