Representing continent number one of my seven continent odyssey in 2015, the very beginning of the year found me in the world’s largest continent, Asia, with almost 17 million square miles [44 million square km] of land. I was actually in two countries in Asia within a few days of the first of the year: Myanmar and Qatar. For those of you who are confused about such things or geographically challenged, Myanmar, located in South East Asia next to Thailand, was formerly known as Burma, and Qatar, the site of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, while in the Middle East [a geopolitical region], is still geographically in Asia.
Myanmar is one of those countries that I suggest you get to sooner rather than later, as the trappings of western tourism are just beginning to rear their ugly heads. No there are not yet any Starbucks, Cafe Neros, Coffee Beans or McDonalds, but there were certainly plenty of Santas and Christmas trees as the country begins to celebrate the holidays of consumer spending. Just over a year ago the country made it easier for its citizens to purchase cars and accordingly the traffic in Yangon is akin to that of Rome. The downtown area of Yangon is still peppered with fantastic decayed British colonial buildings that have fallen into a major state of disrepair – but this will not last long. Development in the center of town is going into hyperdrive as there were many planned high rises and commercial centers very close to the fantastic Shwedagon Temple complex. Speaking of temples, this is truly the reason to go to Myanmar. The temple complexes, adorned in gold leaf, are quite spectacular, and if you don’t get “temple fatigue” or foot cramps from constantly taking your shoes and socks off [sandals and socks if you are German], you will have a splendid time. Just watch for the giant reclining Buddhas – they seem to follow you around.
I love the Middle East. Perhaps it’s genetic, as the results of my National Geographic Genographic Project revealed that my DNA is almost thirty percent from the region of “South West Asia” — or the Middle East. Therefore, I try to get to the region as often as I can, monitoring the current political situation as I go along. Landing in Doha I was greeted by a shiny new airport, no immigration queues, and almost ten men in traditional local dress waiting to process my visa on arrival. A small credit card payment of approximately US$30 and I was in [note: they do not take cash]. The city itself seemed quite sleepy, and except for the Museum of Islamic Culture and the souk, many tourist attractions have yet to be built, and are clearly in progress. I stayed close to the museum and the area I was in seemed like a huge construction site with workers, mostly from China, working 24/7. The people were very nice and welcoming and easy on the eye. Taking Qatar Airways [recommended], allows you to take a few days and feel the texture of Doha by sitting at an outdoor souk cafe and watching the locals. This is just what I did.
On to continent number two: North America!