I was reading a book underneath a sprawling tree in a dusty Yangon park when a large snake thudded onto the ground in front of me.
I looked up to discover the source of the thump and was mildly alarmed to be confronted by a serpent that had apparently lost its grip on the branch above my head.
By this time, it had reared up into a strike position, but looked faintly embarrassed by its predicament and, after a few tense moments, slithered off across the parched grass. I moved and returned to my book after gesticulating to a pair of tourists, open-mouthed at what had just occurred, to perhaps also flee from the shade into a more open area.
I suppose I tell this story as, to me, it illustrates perfectly the current state of Myanmar. I will explain what I mean a little later.
You see, there is no denying it; the tourists have arrived. For better and, sometimes, for worse, the suitcase-carrying hoards now step off their air-conditioned aircraft into the custard-thick humidity, show their passports, and are waved through arrivals into the brave new world that is Myanmar in the late-2010s.
As such, hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes, spas and shops have adapted their accoutrements accordingly. Boutique accommodation abounds, Western-style food dominates menus, souvenir shops tout their wares and weary travellers are offered manicures, pedicures and massages to soothe their aches and pains. As I say, this is isn’t necessarily a bad situation; after all, the locals are finally receiving a limited amount of the spoils.
I had spent a day in traffic-choked Yangon (where I met my reptile pal. Incidentally, when I told locals about the incident they unanimously clapped their hands and announced that it was “a lucky sign” to nearly be garroted by a serpent when minding one’s business).
Then it was on to Inle Lake with its gloriously-fragile structures standing on stilts akin to the bent legs of an ancient, scrawny crone. Market day was hectic and you had to watch your step when tripping along the crumbling wooden planks that link each over-the-water wooden building.
Of course Bagan was on the list. A birthday present to myself was cruising in a hot air balloon over the dawn-touched temples, waving at the children below and hearing the hissing of the flame taking us up and over the shrine-studded land.
Then, back to Yangon to gaze upon the gilded delights of the Shwedagon Pagoda, before heading to the airport.
On first glance, it seems that Myanmar is undergoing a sanitation process, mopped clean and sprayed with an international-accredited cleaning fluid that starts to transform all locations into a rather homogeneous-looking grouping. And yet…and yet you can still find those glorious little places tucked away that you congratulate yourself on finding. The ones where you are the only tourist and where the hosts aren’t yet jaded by having to supply laminated, English-spattered menus to sun-scorched shoulders every five minutes.
Just like the park in Yangon, on the surface just when it appears that everything is ordered and losing its ramshackle allure, suddenly you’ll come across someone, something or some place that reminds you there is still wildness in this country. A wildness that is not yet cognisant of how one is supposed to behave around wide-eyed tourists. A wildness that is ripe for exploration.