The International Steam Pages
Rob and Yuehong in the Golden Land, Burma 2009, Part 1
Since this report (February 2009), we have been back twice to Burma. To be honest neither were the odyssey that this was, but if you enjoy these reports then these contain more similar tales. Collectively, they are a reminder that we are extremely lucky to have a choice of where we live and what kind of life style we follow:
This page contains links to our main 2009 visit to Burma mainly to film and research stationary steam engines in the country's rice mills but also to enjoy a very special country. Summary technical information is available on a separate introductory page.
During our 2007 visit, we discussed plans with our Burmese guide friend Han Win Aung to bring a group of stationary steam engine enthusiasts to visit Burma and see a collection of real working machinery that is only matched in the world today by Java's sugar mills. Alas, first the political problems in late 2007 and even more tragically Cyclone Nargis in 2008 not only wrecked parts of the country but also any hopes we might have had of sharing our discoveries with fellow enthusiasts. Instead, we saved our pennies and went back alone. Compared to our last trip in 2007, local (Kyat, Ky) prices are significantly higher and the USD exchange rate is less favourable (Ky 1050/1100 as opposed to nearly Ky 1200), a triple whammy for us as our income is in GBP which has collapsed in value in the last few months. Consequently, it is no longer cheap for us to travel here, the only good news being that petrol prices have declined significantly to just over Ky 3000 a (British) gallon. I rather suspect that a 'true' rate would be around USD 1 = Ky 2000/2500 and that well meaning aid agencies post Nargis have allowed a flood of cash USD to escape into the economy thereby distorting the market...
This page acts as an index to some of the things we got up to during our four week stay, they contain travel tips for other independent travellers, tales designed to entertain as much as inform and esoteric accounts related to our hobby. Use the page titles as a guide as to what interests you, broadly they are in chronological order, but be warned that the thumbnails and titles may not always be much of a guide to content!
As for Burma in general, the people have no choice in who governs them. However, they do have a choice in how they use their few spare pennies and cents and to spend then on building yet more pagodas, yet more monasteries and supporting yet more monks rather than on self provided education and healthcare seems somewhat perverse when the government is clearly incapable of providing either in any semblance of quality. It seems to me that they have collectively given up on the current life and are gambling what little they do have on ensuring a better re-incarnation, rather like the misguided fools in other countries who pour their money into lotteries as their only hope of a better life. Needless to say, neither set of people gets very much sympathy from me as you can imagine.
If you are new to the joys of travelling in Burma, you might care to read Keeping Body and Soul Together in Burma (2006), since when not a great deal has changed although the roads have got a bit better and because train fares (collected in USD) are unchanged, going by rail is much more competitive but not always quicker (sometimes quite the opposite).
We hope you enjoy reading about our trip and would very much welcome feedback. It cost us far more than our normal budget would allow (about half my annual pension) and if anyone has sensible suggestions as to how we might actually turn the experience into hard cash ('monetise it' as Mr. Google would say), they will be very welcome! Otherwise, future such trips will be as rare as the working steam that inspires them.
It was an immensely satisfying trip. Since 2005, we have now seen and recorded over 250 active steam powered rice mills in the country and visited almost all the accessible (by land) parts of it - consciously we have not been to the tourists traps of Bagan, Inle Lake and the beaches. We have only to complete our filming at Dakhondaing (which will be done later this year) and then it will be time to retire from the scene. Frankly, it's too expensive for us and it's changing too fast and not in the way I would want to see.
From Burma we went to Thailand, it's pretty bland in comparison, but we did find one working steam engine in a rice mill near Sukothai. Thereafter, we went overland through Laos and back into China, flying from Kunming as the big pit at Jalainur needed our urgent attention.
Other explorations are described in pages linked from:
Summary technical information on the stationary steam engines is available on a separate introductory page.
Read more about our travels, follow the links in Rob and Yuehong in Burma, 2005 - 10.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson