Sunday, September 22, 2013

Myanmar/Burma: Where's that?!

Want to go somewhere unique and developing, yet functional and relatively safe? Check out this magical Southeast-Asian nation. Despite lots of growing pains and a still shady government, adventurist tourists have discovered Burma at an exciting juncture in its history. So, if you’re looking for a challenge, beautiful sights and friendly people, come check out this emerging country. Gays are flocking here too! Being LGBT might always be difficult in a relatively conservative society, yet the predominant religion (Buddism) remains relatively ambivalent and you’re likely to find friendly eyes just like everywhere else in the world.

What’s in a name?
So what should you call it? Burma or Myanmar – the regime officially changed the name to Myanmar, but in the local language the words are the same. Refusing Myanmar might be a political attempt to dis the ruling junta, but for your purposes as a tourist, it really won’t matter. The people don’t care either way – some will tell you that people prefer Myanmar. After all, Burma was just the English “translation” of the word; this BBC article breaks down all the details, if you're concerned.

To gain access to the country, I used a (questionable) Internet site that actually worked out: Becoming  part of a “tour group” visiting the country, my visa request was taken care of before I arrived. At the airport, officials stapled the visa to a passport page (I'm planning to remove it, when I need more space - which will be happening soon!). It only cost me about $70USD; the visa is $30, the extra ~ $40 saved me a day of going to the embassy since I was in Thailand (definitely worth the cost in time and frustration unavoidable when traversing Bangkok).

For more Free LGBT news & info - subscribe to my weekly gay travel news brief!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Nepal: Kath-MAN-DU!

Can you see Mt. Everest?

Please support Nepal's efforts to survive and rebuild the historic sites mentioned below by giving to Earthquake relief funds like this one or simply text "Give Nepal" to 80088.

Kathmandu must be one of the most beautiful places to arrive by air (likely also meaning most complicated for pilots!) – as you dodge mountains and the bustling city teems from below, it feels like you’re about to land on a different planet. On the way in, you also have the opportunity (if the weather is right) to catch a glance at Mt. Everest, its outline barely visible; you have to train your eye to recognize the snow vs. the clouds. Great, I thought – I don’t have any need to climb Everest (though it might make headlines), I’ve already seen it!

For all the serene beauty on the way in, you’re about to land at one of the least-updated airports in the world. And, of course, authorities at Tribhuvan attempt to make a buck off everyone who enters. You need this or that visa for this many days – so much to hike, so much to climb. Many are not prepared with cash for the required permits and fees - I watched some young people struggle to find an ATM. My biggest problem:  I lost my pen to fill out the long visa on arrival application.