Sometimes political change opens up an entirely new area of the world for travel. Such was the case after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, and a few years later the end of apartheid in South Africa produced a similarly dramatic effect.
Now another potentially transformative moment is at hand: After a prolonged struggle, the heroic Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, have come to power in Myanmar (formerly Burma) following an electoral landslide. True, the situation is not ideal: the military still automatically retains 25 percent of the seats in Parliament, and Suu Kyi is barred from the presidency. But change was palpable nonetheless on my recent trip. When I first visited Burma in the 1980s, it was self-evidently a police state; now people are no longer afraid to speak to foreigners and all the talk is of new opportunities for reconciliation and development.
Myanmar is a relatively large and untouched country, with landscapes that range from Himalayan snow peaks to tropical beaches, plus a fascinating Buddhist culture and naturally friendly and hospitable people. Visitors tend to follow well-established routes as there are only a few hotels and resorts of distinction, and the roads are dire. The next few years will doubtless see many new opportunities arise. But now is the time to experience a land still frozen in amber, before the forces of modernity inevitably intrude.
Cities, too, can undergo rapid and unexpected change. In this issue you will also find my report on the transformation of Bordeaux in southwestern France, which in recent years has seen the complete renovation of the majestic 18th-century limestone buildings that make up its core. On my trip, I discovered two delightful new boutique hotels, as well as fine restaurants befitting the “wine capital of the world.”