Many travelers like Myanmar because of the wonderful and amazing people. And I think they are absolutely right. Especially in areas away from the popular tourist destinations. And it is still very simple to explore the authentic way of life in Myanmar. Visit a big market in the outskirts of Yangon for example, or stay a couple of nights in Sagaing, take enough time to visit the monasteries there and get in touch with the monks and the Buddhism way of life. In a monastery in Sagaing I asked the monks if they receive a lot of visitors, they answered that I am the second tourist since a couple of years!
Here a few practical tips if you like to visit Myanmar any time soon. The travel guides like for example the Lonely Planet from 2011 are already partly outdated. Things are changing too quickly in Myanmar right now.
Changing money: Don't listen to the travel guides like Lonely Planet! You get by far the best rates at the airport. You should change money directly when you arrive in Yangon. Or you go to Bogyoke Aung San Market, leave all the black market moneychangers behind and go to a small bank at the far end of the market to change money with a very good rate. They also accept smaller banknotes for the same rate, which the black market moneychangers don't do.
I just returned from a one month magnificent trip to the Suri tribe in the South Western part of Ethiopia. To reach Kibish it is still a 3 days drive from Addis over Jimma, Bonga and Mizan. There are two roads from Mizan to Kibish: the old road via Bebeka Coffee Plantation and Dima, or the new Waji-Maji road via Tum and Koka. From time to time the roads are blocked because of rain, so you should better ask in advance which road is open. Drivers usually prefer the new road, although the new road is a detour and the old road is well maintained and the scenery is by far more beautiful. But there are security issues between Dizi and Suri people around Dima and sometimes government cars are attacked, but for tourists it should be safe. Beginning of October only the old road was passable so we had no choice.
The countryside in October after the raining season is lush and green, and more diversified than the more commonly travelled South Omo. In four weeks I only met a handful of tourists. The area around Kibish, Tulgit and Koka is still quite untouched, and there are plenty of opportunities to see and experience the traditional life of the Suri tribe.
The Suri people love to sing and dance. First day on the trip we had car trouble, the leaf spring was broken, so we spent the afternoon in Tulgit where a Suri mechanic repaired the spring. Luckily there was a big dance in Tulgit this afternoon. But suddenly a fight between young men started during the dance, and from one moment to another I was in the middle of a pretty violent stick fight. The stick fights are called Donga, and the government banned the Donga for Suri people. But a Donga is still a very important tradition for young Suri men, so the Suri keep on fighting secretly. October is Donga season, so almost every day there is a Donga somewhere around Kibish, Tulgit or Koka. And obviously the young men on the dance still had to settle an outstanding score of the last Donga. Lucky for me to get at least an impression of a real stick fight, since I'm not allowed to join and watch a Donga as a tourist.
The coastal desert "Namib" in Southern Africa is often referred to as the world's oldest desert and it stretches for more than 2,000 kilometers along the Atlantic coasts of Angola, Namibia and South Africa. In the heart of the Namib the Namib-Naukluft National Park is located, the largest game park in Africa and the fourth largest park in the world. The most famous and scenic attractions of the park are the red sand dunes at Sossusvlei, which are the tallest sand dunes in the world with an altitude up to 300 meters. "Sossus" is from Bushman and Nama origin for "gathering place of water", while "Vlei" is the Afrikaans word for a shallow depression filled with water. Basically "Sossusvlei" is only the name of the huge clay pan covered in a crust of salt-rich sand. But the name is also commonly used in an extended meaning to refer to the surrounding area of the high red dunes and the famous neighboring Dead Vlei. The clay pan itself is only filled with water after a heavy rainfall, which is a rare event in this area, in average every ten years.
The best time to visit Sossusvlei and the sand dunes is early in the morning at sunrise, the red color of the sand is very strong and bright, allowing wonderful photographic opportunities. The sand dunes of Sossusvlei are about 66km past the gate, which is located in the small settlement Sesriem, a main access point to the Namib-Naukluft National Park. The gate to Sossusvlei opens at 5:00 in the morning. Since there are no accommodation facilities directly at the dunes, you have to stay in one of the lodges or camps around Sesriem. From the gate the drive to the sand dunes takes about an hour. You are certainly not the only visitor, so be sure to expect other cars or trucks waiting at the gate, especially in the high season around July to October. 45 km past the gate the Dune 45 is situated, also known as one of the most photographed dunes in the world. The dune is 80 meters high and it is not very steep, so that it can easily be climbed. If you start at 5:00 at the gate, you have all the time to reach the dune and climb up the dune before sunrise.
When you are travelling off the beaten track there is no guarantee to only see the wonderful things of the world. In fact, sometimes you also have to face very sad situations like for example begging children. You shouldn't give them anything, because they supposed to go to school, but they learned that is simpler asking tourists for sweets or money instead of walking a long distance to school and study. Sometimes it breaks your heart, but that is also part of travelling, especially in Africa.
Recently I watched a German documentary (still unreleased) with the title 'Süßes Gift' (which means translated 'sweet poison'). And I read the book 'The Trouble with Africa' from Robert Calderisi. Both publications, the documentary and the book, describe the problems with foreign aid, food aid and the huge difficulties the continent of Africa still has to deal with. Like the 'forbidden gift' to the begging children, a lot of people are questioning the foreign aid and the food aid. Among others it has been argued, that as long as the people in Africa are used to getting free food aid, why should they use their own strength and help themselves? Well, maybe the connection between begging and ditching school in case of children is quite obvious, but is foreign aid really a 'sweet poison' and are all the Africans lethargic? The whole field of foreign aid is undeniable far more complicate. But as a matter of fact, foreign aid is a global business.
Historically the idea of the foreign aid started after World War II. Institutions like the World Bank and the IMF were founded in 1944. The Marshall Plan (1947) was a major program to rebuild the war-battered European economies. In the 1960s the foreign aid flourished when most of the African Countries became independent. A basic idea was to give money to undeveloped countries that they supply raw material and manufacture light products like textiles and shoes. Right from the beginning the foreign aid was a business and the donor countries expected to benefit from the process as well: Foreign aid is given as a loan and, if the development is successful, the rich countries eventually find new ready markets for their products. Since the 1960s the foreign aid was increased steadily. In 2009 roughly $35 billion of international foreign aid from the ODA countries went to sub-Saharan Africa each year.