WHEN Anna Swain was 19 and on a Golden Triangle trek in northern Thailand, she came upon a bridge reaching over a river.
She was told by her guide that "over this bridge is Burma, but we are not allowed to go there".
For more than 25 years, Anna, an intrepid traveller, photographer and foodie from Byron Bay has been fascinated with Burma (now officially known as Myanmar).
"Perhaps it was not being allowed in, or maybe it was simply the mystery of an unknown land, but I have dreamt of traveling to this Buddhist country for a long, long time," Anna said.
Last year her dream came true, and along with her husband Andrew and their three sons, the family visited Burma - a new and relatively untouched land - and only opened to tourists in 2011 when the military junta was officially dissolved.
Although Burma is now called Myanmar, Anna decided to use the former name, "because that is how I remember it and that's how I celebrate the old school nature of the country in my book."
"I was so excited to be able to travel somewhere different, to show my children a place that was like Asia 30 years ago and to have the opportunity to see a country where the 21st-century world has barely intruded," Anna said.
"I quickly fell in love with Burma, the beautiful people, their authentic culture and the amazing landscapes.
"The Burmese are so friendly, gentle, calm and generous and despite their hardships and brutal past, they are so humble and very excited to open their doors to the world.
"And oh the light, it's amazing, a photographers dream, so hazy and mystical."
So enamoured was she with the country, that Anna and her trusty Canon camera captured 2,500 photos.
On her return home, many of Anna's friends and family were very interested in seeing the photos.
She received loads of compliments on her work and was told the photos were "very special" - too special to be just put away.
Managing to edit the photos down to a more manageable 450, Anna told her husband that she wanted to return to Burma, sans kids, to take more photos.
"I had the vague idea of writing a book," Anna said. "A book that would give readers a visual taste of this mystical land. So we went back and this time I took 7,500 photos in just seven days.
"It was an amazing and incredible journey and now 18 months later and with a lot of help and guidance from a lot of people, including local self- publishing consultancy Captain Honey, I have written my first book, Burma Tiffins, Nuns and Tumeric."
From bustling markets, floating villages, bright baskets and delicious food, to monks, rustic monasteries, painted faces, pagodas, ox and carts and from Yangon, to Ngapali Beach, Inle Lake and Bagan, Anna has captured the beauty and uniqueness of Burma in a truly stunning, 254-page gloss colour, hardback book which she has self-published.
"It's been an exhilarating, but humbling experience, especially when you encounter these beautiful people, who, at first appear to have very little, but who are just so happy," Anna said. "This is what I love about travel, it's what's good for the soul and a gentle reminder of the important things in life."
Anna said she was extremely excited to see her first book in print.
"It's totally surreal, I just can't believe that I have finally done it," she said. "I'm so proud, and now I can't wait to write another one."
And the location? Well that's a secret.
Burma Tiffins, Nuns and Turmeric is available from www.shutterbooks.com.au; Mary Ryan's Bookstore and Red Ginger, Byron Bay and Bangalow and Bangalow Music and Books.
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