In 2005, my friend Cliff and I went to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. This is a closed society under despotic rule that has strict regulations and limits regarding travel by foreigners. You might then wonder, how would two Americans like us end up in this Asian country?
Cliff was and is an experienced world traveler who, at this point, had been to over 100 countries around the world. He convinced me to explore Myanmar because it had two very important UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Shwedagon Paya and Bagan.
Three experiences occurred during this trip that created a lasting impression on me. In Yongon, our first stop was the Shwedagon, the oldest pagoda in Myanmar and the world. This site has been in existence for around 2600 years. While touring this location, we saw what appeared to be an aging man with an SLR camera scurrying around the shrine taking pictures by himself. Cliff grabbed my arm and pointed to him saying, "See that guy? That's me in 20 years!"
We flew to Bagan, an ancient city situated in the Mandalay Region in the center of the country. Built between the 9th to 13th centuries, this kingdom still has over 2,200 temples and pagodas currently in existence. We made it to the rooftop of one of these temples near sunset in order to take in the awesome view. There we came across a photographer, camera mounted on a tripod, snapping photos on his SLR approximately every 15 seconds as the sun was setting. It turns out this man was from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He was there to shoot one of the great, unadulterated sites in the world under perfect lighting conditions. I was sold! I wanted to become a travel photographer.
We then flew to Inle Lake located in the Shan State of Myanmar. We went by boat in the small village of Kyauk Taing. While in transit, we saw two fishermen paddling in their Asian vessel. Cliff said to me, "You see these two guys? You won't find this kind of site in tourist places. Do you like this? Is this the kind of traveling you would like to do?"
It was a revelation to me how much I enjoyed traveling in the third world. I also realized that to make my trips memorable, I wanted to become proficient as a photographer. After we flew home, I went to the camera store, bought my first DSLR camera, and signed up for my first digital photography course.