TRAVELLING TO BURMA

There's something about traveling that just inspires photography.  It's wrapped up with the excitement of exploring new places and the sense of being on an adventure.  Returning to familiar locations is a good way of honing technique, but for me it's the thrill of encountering new places that really gets my creative juices flowing.

So tomorrow I'm off to Burma for 2 weeks, and I'm really excited. Excited to be experiencing a new culture and excited to be seeing some amazing new places.
Why Burma? Well, lots of reasons really. 
First of all, I wanted to go somewhere that wasn't just about landscapes.  My last trip to Iceland was fun, and I enjoyed shooting the amazing landscapes there, but when I compared it to trips to places like Morocco, it seemed a little...I don't know, unsatisfying.
I realized that the reason was that I'd really missed street photography, capturing images of people and immersing myself in the culture. That's why I fell in love with traveling in the first place.

What I love about traveling is the sense of discovery. Of seeing ways of life, cultures and places that are so different from what I'm used to. It's the feeling of having my eyes opened to the world which makes the experience that little bit more visceral and stimulating. Landscapes alone don't really provide this.  So my wife and I wanted this trip to have that "x" factor of taking us out of our comfort zone and fulfilling that need for a sense of discovery and adventure.
We tend to always be pulled to South America but we both wanted somewhere radically different so we started to look at South-East Asia.  As Teresa has already lived and travelled there a little, we wanted to go somewhere that was new to both of us, so it came down to Laos or Burma.  While Laos looks amazing, the combination of Burma just opening up after 50 years of being closed off, and incredible looking places like Bagan and Inle lake, just made Burma irresistible.

One of the aspects I love most about making trips is the research and planning part. I knew next to nothing about Burma, so first of all there was the process of finding out about the different places and looking at where would be interesting to stay.  Of course, from a photographic perspective the planning is always a little bit more complicated by trying to make sure that I have enough time in each location to make the most of it.  I usually try to have 3 days and nights in each place, which means 3 sunrises and sunsets, but on this trip that's proved impossible, so in the case of the cities of Yangon and Mandalay, and the pilgrim site of Golden Rock, I'll have less time than I'd ideally like. Having said that, just looking at places like Bagan and Inle, it seems I could happily spend weeks there.  There's always a compromise when traveling, and always the sense that we need to spend more time, but ultimately there's always a schedule that we have to keep and the trick is to make sure we make the most of the time that we do have.

After the planning and research comes the organizing, and Burma has been pretty tricky to in that regard.  It's a country that's just opened up to the outside world, and consequently it can be tricky organizing things there via email.  Arranging accommodation, guides and internal flights all took hundreds of emails, and even planning around 10 months in advance, we found many places were already fully booked due to there basically being a higher demand for accommodation than there is supply. Getting our visa was also complicated and needed to be done in advance as you need a visa before you travel, and Portugal has no Burmese Embassy, so we had to post our passports to their Embassy in London. Even currency; only brand new uncreased, unfolded, dollar notes are accepted, wasn't straightforward.

Packing however, has proved mercifully easy as it generally is for warm countries. Ultra lightweight merino t-shirts (Icebreaker are my favorite) are in order.  They are so breathable and don't get soaked in sweat like cotton.  They wash and dry super easily and are odor resistant, so 4 or 5 t shirts and a couple of long sleeves will be enough. A pullover and Icebreaker merino fleece for when it gets a bit cooler at night pretty much makes up the rest of the clothing, and all of this can be packed down really small and takes almost no weight.
Also, in the suitcase will be the tripod, along with a bag for all the cables I'll need (chargers for iPad, iPhone and camera), and a medical kit.
That just leaves the camera bag, which doubles as carry-on luggage.  About 6 months ago I switched from the Lowepro Primus to the F Stop Kenti.  I'm planning to write a review on it in the new year, but I'm already really impressed.  It's considerably smaller and lighter than the Lowepro bag, but carries everything I need it to.  Basically, for landscape and travel photography trips I'll just pack a body, the 17-35mm, the 70-200mm VR and a fast prime like the 50mm or 85mm.  Because I'm planning to shoot lots of portraits, then the 85mm f1.8 will be coming along to Burma.  Also in the camera bag is a filter bag, cable release and a head torch, my iPad and then various other bits and pieces for cleaning the camera and spare filter rings, batteries, cable release, etc.  It's a pretty small kit, which is pretty much how I like it. I hate carrying heavy bags, and don't like taking things I'm not going to need, so the kit is as small and light as it can be.
I don't take a laptop with me.  I've never understood why people want to take their laptops with them when they travel.  Not only is it extra weight and something that can easily get lost/stolen/broken, it's also a massive distraction to the act of traveling.  I don't want to spend time when I'm in an amazing place editing images, nor do I want to spend time checking emails.  When we're traveling, even when there's downtime, I want to connect and be "present" in the place I am, and laptops are an obstacle to that.  An iPad mini is great as it works as a Kindle for reading and guide books on flights or on the beach, and it also serves to carry reservations and stuff in PDF form. I can email family and friends back home with it in a quiet 5 minutes each day, but apart from that I don't really want to spend time looking at a screen, so the computer always always stays at home.

But now everything is ready, we're all packed and tomorrow we get on the flight to Bangkok, where we'll spend a day or so before heading over to Yangon to start the circuit of Burma.  There's something ridiculously exciting about being at the beginning of a long journey to a new place…