From Burma to Myanmar by Lydia Laube
Wakefield Press, 2015. ISBN 9781743053928
(Age: Adult) Recommended. Lydia Laube has been 5 times to Burma, now called Myanmar, and this book tells of those travels, from the first two trips with her sister, to the most recent solitary journey (at the age of 66, I calculated), on a freight ship, the Buxstar, sailing from Adelaide to Sydney then around the bottom of New Zealand, up through the Torres Strait, past Indonesia to Singapore then overland to Bangkok and a short flight to Yangon.
Lydia often chooses unconventional travel - boats, buses, trains, tuktuks, horse carts and motorbikes - and it seems that half the fun is negotiating transport and time schedules and language misunderstandings. There are many misadventures that I am not sure I could handle as coolly as she seems to. She describes arriving at one train station in Burma in the early hours of the morning -
'there were six men standing in a half circle around me all telling me the train to Yangon left at nine in the morning and that I should wait there until then as there was no taxi. 'No sleeper' they shouted like a Greek chorus.'
She ends up sleeping in the stationmaster's office under their continued observation.
Lydia often finds herself in bizarre circumstances, the lone foreign woman, an object of much curiosity, but she always seems to take everything in her stride with a cool unflappability. One young 'Friend' who commandeers her transport arrangements attempts to extort extra money from her . . .
'He said the taxi driver wanted another five thousand kyat. He could not look me in the eye when he said this so I knew it was a con. He also entered my room, shut the door and lay on the bed to deliver the message, which is not done in polite circles, Burma or anywhere. I paid him the five thousand to get rid of him.'
And that is all she says about it! Nothing seems to unnerve her.
Generally, however, she meets with curiosity, kindness and extraordinary generosity and helpfulness; people she encounters seem willing to go out of their way to help her with accommodation, transport and advice.
In her usual understated way she tells of challenges with plumbing, toilets and strange unidentifiable food that never seems to get the better of her appetite. She clearly loves travelling alone, finding her way without fear, and in the process we share in her adventures and learn about the many treasures of Burma and other out of the way places in the world.