To Myanmar With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur edited by Morgan Edwardson and photographs by Steve Goodman (ThingsAsian Press)

Myanmar is often in the news and often for reasons that make people determined that they will never set foot in the place. To find any information about what lies beneath the government's actions and policies or the latest national disaster takes such effort that the casual inquirer is likely to give up long before any results are found. And yet a lingering desire to know about the people, the culture, the daily life of this much-maligned country continues to tease curiosity, unsatisfied--until now.


"You have to go," the editor of To Myanmar With Love was told by a traveler, "It's such an amazing place and the people are so sweet." Morgan Edwardson put aside his qualms and set off to see Myanmar for himself. He was so delighted that he "returned three more times in the following year. Each visit was unforgettable." He goes on to say that the people of Myanmar, "not the government, are the focus of this book."

And they are--as contributors to the essays in the book as well as the subjects of the essays, generously and wholeheartedly eager to share their country and their culture with the outside world. As one Myanmar citizen said, "Show people that my country is not some sort of hell."

This book does this so well and so vividly that readers will race through the essays, vicariously savoring noodles with Yangon gourmet Ma Thanegi, having a traditional teashop breakfast with Win Thuya in Bagan and other places, carbo-loading with Giles Orr before tackling the sightseeing glories of the Shwedagon Pagoda. With Robert Carmack they will explore the colonial glories of the Strand Hotel in Yangon, learn the pleasures of being derailed in Bago with Peter Walter and a friendly railway clerk, and watch the launching of fire balloons that are three stories high with Anne Marie Power in the Shan State town of Taunggyi.

Breakfast with 2,700 monks in the company of Morgan Edwardson, explore a forest where spirits reside with Hpone Thant, visit a market where not a single souvenir can be found with Guillaume Rebiere where "colors, fragrances, and sounds are all sewn together into a patchwork." Deep sea dive in the Myeik Archipelago with Graydon Hazenberg, find the elusive Ayeyarwady dolphins with Hpone Thant and learn how these extraordinary creatures help the local fishermen. Take a bicycle, a boat, a pony cart, a trishaw, or a slow, slow train. Learn the joys of chewing betel or the casual elegance of wearing a longyi or savor the sweetness of tamarind flakes dissolving on the tongue.

<br. The two features that appear in every volume in the To Asia With Love series of guidebooks are particularly outstanding in this book.

Paying It Forward: Suggestions for giving back while you're on the road reminds readers that "a donation can include more than just money." Viola Woodward tells how travelers can help spruce up schools and monasteries with a coat of fresh paint by supplying the paint and the labor. Sudah Yehudah Kovesh Shaheb's chance encounter with beach vendors leads to a visit to their homes and a trip with then to Yangon. Jan Polatschek tells how to teach English at monasteries while passing through town. Kyaw Zay Latt explains how to help in orphanages, with a list of places to visit with addresses, and Janice Neider provides a list of items to give children instead of money or candy,

Resources for the Road offers a variety of annotated reading lists, suggestions for language learning materials, a wonderful essay on the bookshops of Yangon by James Spencer, and a comprehensive list of informational websites. And throughout the entire book, Steve Goodman's photographs reveal the faces of the Myanmar people and the beauty that is found in their country.

To go or not to go? That is a choice we all are free to make on our own. To know or not to know? For years we have had little-to-no choice in this matter. Now we can choose, and with that choice, now we can know the culture, customs, cuisine, as well as the luminous and gracious people, of this isolated country.