07/23/2012 08:13 am ET

A New Era Of Openness In Myanmar

I've waited for nearly three decades for this moment in history. A new era of openness and optimism is dawning in Myanmar (Burma), akin to what Europe experienced at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. My company has run trips to Burma since the 1980s, and I have been visiting regularly since that time, but I have never seen anything like this.

The country is transforming before our eyes, from democratic institutions taking root to foreign travelers being allowed access to areas that were formerly off limits. It's just an astonishing time to be there.

In a spirit of celebration and exploration, my company, Asia Transpacific Journeys, is launching a brand new departure that will go to Burma's furthest reaches. It's called On Burma's Frontiers, and it goes where no tour operator has gone before -- to extremely remote destinations in the west, including visits tribal villages and a luxurious cruise on a remote section of the Irrawaddy River.

Travelers will also join an amazing celebration with roots that pre-date Buddhism. Locals fashion elaborate paper balloons -- some the size of a house -- into the shape of elephants, fish, dragons, ducks, oxen and lanterns. Many are elaborately painted. At night they are lit to wondrous effect with hundreds of votive candles. As the balloons float away, long fuses set off a payload of fireworks carried in the balloon, a spectacular sight. This festival is still quite off the radar. In 2009, we were the only foreigners present.

It seems my three-decade long wait has paid off. But even more gratifying is seeing the joy take hold in country. I have long-time Burmese friends who have waited for this moment all their lives. It's really a golden moment, a time to rejoice -- and explore.