Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Myanmar (Burma)

Bella1 Bella soaking up the stunning temple vistas at Bagan © Bella Falk

Bella Falk, freelance director and producer, recently returned from a two-week group trip around Myanmar.

Tell us more… As a photography geek I had lusted after Myanmar for ages – I’d heard the people and landscapes are a photographer’s dream. I’d booked to go with a group tour as my boyfriend of five years wasn’t able to get the time off work. Then, four days before I was due to leave, we broke up. I went anyway, and it’s a testament to how inspiring Myanmar is that I had a great time regardless.

In a nutshell… Myanmar has only recently re-opened to tourists after a long period of military oppression, and the atmosphere of a country that’s just woken up after a long sleep is palpable. Everything is still delightfully innocent and unspoiled, a bit crumbly, a bit awkward and unsure, but there is an air of optimism and excitement that’s infectious.

Defining moment? Watching the dawn over Bagan, a vast plain studded with over two thousand ancient temples and pagodas, and one of the iconic sights of Myanmar. A few of us got up early and made a perilous scramble up the walls of one temple (health and safety has definitely not arrived here yet!) to get a good perch looking across the landscape. As the sun came up, a dozen or so hot air balloons took off, dotting the sky. It was so perfectly choreographed we could have been on a film set.

Umbrella-maker, Pindaya, Myanmar An umbrella-maker decorating a beautiful parasol © Bella Falk

Fridge magnet or better? Myanmar’s markets are a photography goldmine – especially 26th Street Market in Yangon and the market at Nyaung U in Bagan – so I wasn’t really there to shop, but they do showcase some stunning craftsmanship. I fell in love with the beautifully-decorated paper parasols but I didn’t know what I would do with one when I got home, so in the end I settled for a hand-woven silk scarf in shimmering shades of blue, and a little lacquerware bowl for putting odds and ends in.

So, learn anything new? As a photographer I am often criticised for looking at things through a viewfinder, and not ‘in the flesh’. 'Put the camera down and experience the place properly!' people say. But I think wandering with a camera really helps you to see and interact with a country in a unique way. You look at the details, you engage with locals, and you connect with the place. In Myanmar, escaping from my reality as I was, I immersed myself in the country, and took some of the best photographs of my life.

If you do one thing, do… A dawn boat trip across Inle Lake. At 6am the lake was perfectly still and the early morning light was breathtaking. We were able to get up close to the famous leg-rowing fishermen and float beside them while they quietly paddled their boats and examined their nets for a catch. By 8am we were at In Dein, an otherworldly temple complex that has been consumed by nature. It's known as Myanmar’s answer to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We had the entire place to ourselves until the tour parties started showing up at 9.30am, when we retired to a nearby café for the best chocolate and banana pancakes I have ever tasted!