Shwesandaw Paya templeSenior editor Michelle Baran recently returned from Myanmar with Haimark Travel. Her first dispatch follows.

It started like any great adventure should -- with a hiccup in obtaining my visa. I got the fateful call on a Friday, five days before my flight to Yangon. The Myanmar Embassy in Washington wasn't going to issue me a visa because I didn't have enough pages in my passport.

It didn't take long to do the math. Between needing to obtain more pages from a U.S. passport agency, getting the passport back to the embassy and then back into my hands, I wasn't going to make my Wednesday flight. And my anguished plea to the woman at the Myanmar Embassy wasn't going to change that.

But fortunately, only two days later than originally anticipated, I got the visa and was on a flight to Yangon via Seoul on a recently established Korean Airlines route. And the mystical world of Myanmar (aka Burma) that unveiled itself to me definitively dwarfed that initial small hurdle -- thanks in very large part to Haimark Travel, which is hosting my trip, and which through experience and a good passport and visa expediting service was able to help get the visa issued.

There is such a heightened sense of curiosity and excitement when getting ready to visit a country like Myanmar, which had been so closed off to the world for so many years, and where there are such abundant changes afoot.

Mahamuni Paya StatueIt is like preparing to witness a bit of history in the making. And that's exactly what the initial days in Myanmar felt like -- like stepping into the middle of something so much larger than this moment.

In between visiting plentiful pagodas and tons of temples, speaking with the people of Myanmar is like engaging in one big group therapy session, with everyone so eager to unload their stories, clearly exhilarated with finally being able to speak freely and openly about the country's tortured past and its still fragile future after years of government oppression.

One guide brazenly told me about how he had been sequestered for two months along with other students in Mandalay when he was in ninth grade, and how his cousin had been jailed for several years. Two years ago, he said, he wouldn't have been able to tell me all this.

A famous comedy trio in Mandalay, the Moustache Brothers, take it even further, openly criticizing the government and expressing only cautious optimism about the changes under way. They have reason to be skeptical: One of the troupe's members, Par Par Lay, has been imprisoned three times for routines that regularly take jabs at the oppressive nature of the country's military rulers.

The people of Myanmar are clearly ready for change, and with the country having moved away from the military junta to a quasi-civilian government over the past 18 months, foreigners are increasingly feeling confident to come here and experience that change with them.

The coming months and years will bring about a lot of it -- surely some will be good, and surely some will be not so good. But if it opens up this intriguing place to more visitors, for a greater cultural exchange between the Burmese and foreigners, that will be a welcome improvement over the past several decades of isolation.

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.


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