Excerpt for Opening up Hidden Burma: Journeys With - And Without - Author Dr Bob Percival by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Advance praise for ‘Opening up Hidden Burma’

"I first met Bob soon after he arrived in Yangon for the first time in December 2012.

It was immediately clear that he was an exceptional person with an insatiable appetite for life.

His interest in Myanmar’s politics, culture and history filled the many hours we spent arguing and discussing developments. His thirst for the quaint and unorthodox was his hallmark. He was an incessant explorer.

This book represents the approach and places he discovered during his sojourn here. It is a fitting memorial to the man and his endeavors.

Each page explores his memories, filled with insights and vignettes of real interest to anyone who wants a signpost to the hidden Burma." 

LARRY JAGAN – former BBC World Service news editor for the region and specialist with over two decades on Myanmar

“This captivating book offers a series of windows into the life of writer and scholar Dr Bob Percival and his creative, intellectual and personal relationship with Myanmar.

The authors provide a range of intimate, diverse and compelling narratives that open up our understanding of this amazing country through Bob's life and thought.

At once richly poetic as well as insightful, the book honours both Bob and Burma.”

BADEN OFFORD – Haruhisa Handa Chair of Human Rights and Professor of Cultural Studies and Human Rights, Curtin University, Australia.

“‘Opening up Hidden Burma' is a touching elegy to Dr Bob Percival, a friend I admire and miss.

In kaleidoscopic wanderings across streets, cities and mountains in Burma, the authors exquisitely weave poems and stories with personal memories and heartfelt letters, to reflect both on the man they knew and the country he loved.

Above all else, this book poignantly reminds us all that even in the silent corners of the world, there are lives worth remembering.”

LUCAS STEWART – former British Council literature advisor in Myanmar, author of 'The People Elsewhere: Unbound Journeys', and co-editor of the first anthology of Myanmar short stories published in the West 'Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds’.

Opening up Hidden Burma

Journeys with – and without – author Dr Bob Percival

Keith Lyons (ed) and various authors

Published by Tenko Press, 2018

Opening Up Hidden Burma:

Journeys with – and without – author Dr Bob Percival

First edition Smashwords, March, 2018

Copyright © Various authors

Keith Lyons, San Lin Tun, Bob Percival, Dr Rowen Matthews, Virginia Henderson, Jonathan Copeland, Khaing Khaing Mon (Twinkle), David Van Driessche, Peter Micic, Tatwin Owen Edmunds, RJ Vogt, Moe Thet War, Warren Buttery, Cristina Maria Chiorean, Hong Sar, Laura Hirsch, Greg Pieters, Marine Karbowski, Steve Baldwin, Alex Thorby and Virginia Hyam, Jim Goodman, Reinhard Hohler, Kaung Minn Khant, Gina Eagle, Josh Percival.

The entire contents of this book is copyrighted, with copyright to individual works remaining with the individual author. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the individual author. All rights reserved.

Published in New Zealand by Tenko Press, 64 Middlepark Road, Christchurch, New Zealand 8042

International ordering information:

ISBN 978-0-473-42767-2 (Kindle) 978-0-473-42766-5 (epub) 978-0-473-42769-6 (iBook) 

No parts of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the both the editor and individual copyright owners. The only exception brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

Cover Photograph: Bob Percival outside the Secretariat building, Yangon (Keith Lyons)

Library of Congress Catalogue: G149-180 Travel. Voyages and travels 1. Travel.  2. Biography.  3. Myanmar.  4. Yangon

Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC): 915 Geography of & travel in Asia; 920 Biography; 814 Essay

BIC Subject Categories: WTL - Travel Writing; 1FMB – Burma


To Bob’s dearest Gina and Josh,

and the bigger family and community of friends around the world

who have favourite photographs of Bob

on their desks and iPhones

and who lovingly remember Bob Percival 

Message from Bob’s children

John Percival and Gina Eagle

Our dad Bob, loved by many, passed away on the 26th of April 2017. He lived a thousand lives in one lifetime, leaving a positive trace on a great many people.

He was a story teller with many mediums. A wandering traveller of the world and the human experience. He was generous of himself trying to brighten the world for us. His passing will be felt in the lack of that sparkle and warmth of his spirit. 

We will endure though. For him. Because of him. With him in our thoughts and hearts. Always.

Josh & Gina

From the memorial for Bob in Yangon

My father was a special man with a gentle and kind spirit who shared himself openly and honestly. I was awed and touched by the quantity of people and level of grief displayed by those in Myanmar and around the world. It is a testament to Bob’s warmth and sharing that so many felt touched and enriched by their contact with him.

The family are deeply grieving our loss of such a loved one. I am warmed though, by the thought that Bob added so much life to this world before he left.

He was many things to many people. Remember him the way that feels strongest and most genuine to you.

Share your memories and feelings with those around you so he will forever be a light in our hearts.




Message from Bob’s children

From Memorial in Yangon


Thank you for the memories Keith Lyons

To the Man who lived in 29th Street San Lin Tun

29th Street Bob Percival

Rare gifts Dr Rowen Matthews

Eulogy for Bob Percival Virginia Henderson

Mr Bob’s Memories for Free’ Photographs from Bob’s re-gifting

Letter to Bob Ann

Walking the streets of Yangon with Bob Jonathan Copeland

The Hino Shining Bob Percival

Yangon Street Design – Fluorescent Lights Bob Percival

The side of Yangon I never knew existed Khaing Khaing Mon (Twinkle)

Abandoned Amusement Park Yangon David Van Driessche

Yangon Street Scenes David Van Driessche

Twante pottery David Van Driessche

Meeting Bob Again in Yangon Peter Micic

Seeking She Tatwin Owen Edmunds

Yangon: no place on earth quite like it Keith Lyons

Yangon’s Horoscope & Weight Machines Bob Percival

An insider’s guide to Yangon Bob Percival

Bob Percival talks the walk RJ Vogt 

Searching For Theroux On The Mandalay Express Bob Percival

The art of preserving Rangoon’s 1960s and 1970s art Moe Thet War

Breaking down barriers Warren Buttery

Yangon – The Fascination Of An Old Downtown Cristina Maria Chiorean

Yangon, 17th Street Bob Percival 

Morning walking with brother Bob Hong Sar

George Orwell – Walking The Streets with Eric Blair Bob Percival

Down the Chosen Path San Lin Tu

The Dockyard Tatwin Owen Edmunds

The delta, old school style Laura Hirsch

Welcome to the Delta Bob Percival

PR for Pathein Keith Lyons

A Road Less Travelled? Greg Pieters 

Vietnam, France, nowhere, everywhere Marine Karbowski

Finding a happy place the Shan plateau – losing Bob Keith Lyons

Flowers for the Bob Steve Baldwin, Alex Thorby and Virginia Hyam

Tripping with Bob at the Taunggyi Balloon Festival Keith Lyons

Return to Kengtung: land of hilltribes, churches and floating discos Jim Goodman

Putao: treasure house of ethnic diversity and gateway to the last frontier Reinhard Hohler

Full Circle Virginia Hyam

Finding Bob while reading a book at 30,000 feet about reading George Orwell in a Myanmar teashop Keith Lyons

A Request


Kaung Minn Khant

It is an honour for me as a local Myanmar citizen and Yangon resident involved in tourism, hospitality and enterprise to write the foreword for this new book. 

A foreword for a book is a little like opening a new bottle of beer. There is a lot of expectation. You don’t know what it will be like. My role is to introduce you to the book and its contents. And to warn you that you might be affected by reading it. 

This book is about the new Myanmar, and the old Burma; it is about travel to far away exotic and intriguing places, and finding small hidden treasures right under your feet; it is about the millions of people who dwell in this nation, and about one foreigner who lived here and loved this place. 

But first, a little about me and my humble work, and how it relates to the big changes in Myanmar and greater connectivity around the globe. One of the first international partnerships I struck dates back to 2012, the same year as the landmark elections in Myanmar. More on that special cross-cultural relationship shortly. 

As Myanmar opened up this decade, I was involved in starting up the Asia Central Link Travel company (A.C.L) in 2011. In these fast-changing times, when you can’t put all your eggs in one basket, so as well as running an innovative travel company, I’ve also opened a small bar in Yangon’s Chinatown, and I am involved in some import-export businesses. 

Our travel company was selected to be involved in a European Union programme to improve our reach to visitors from Europe, run by the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI). In 2013 we were awarded Myanmar's ‘Best Inbound Tour Operator of the Year’ at the Mekong Tourism Alliance Awards. We’ve since gone onto receive other accolades including the International Quality Summit Award at the Business Initiative Directions Awards in the USA, and also forge partnerships with similar operators in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. 

So where does that one foreigner I mentioned earlier fit into this? Back in 2012, I first met Australian Bob Percival and New Zealander Keith Lyons outside the Yangon Central Railway Station, soon after Bob had moved to Myanmar. He had relocated from the Tibetan borderlands of southwest China, where he had been guiding for Keith's 'Lijiang Guides’, and he was just starting to work for his new outfit ’Slow Burma Travel’, which had A.C.L. as its local partner. 

A while later, over an ice-cold beer served at the 20th floor Thiripyitsaya Sky Bistro overlooking Yangon, I was struck at just how much Bob knew about Yangon, its history, its stories, its characters, its small streets, and its quirks. He had both deep insight, and a fresh outsider’s perspective. 

Before long, we were working together with Bob. Not only did he develop unique downtown walking tours, but he also pioneered trips across the river to Dala and Twante, and exploratory trips into the delta by boat.

Even though I have lived in Yangon most my life, I would have to admit that Bob had been to some places I have never ventured into. He knew more about Yangon and its hidden secrets than many local residents. 

As well as his tours, Bob also wrote about Yangon and the delta, capturing worlds that are both trapped in time, and also in danger of disappearing. 

When Bob, having finally finished his Ph.D, left Yangon in early 2017 after four years in the former capital, to return to his native Australia, I was among the many people sorry to see him leave. And when I learnt of his sudden death a few month’s later, I was shocked and saddened that Dr Bob had left this world so quickly. 

It is only since Bob passed away that we can fully appreciate his contribution as one of the few foreigners to live and work in Myanmar since democratic and economic reform.

Bob lived in the heart of downtown Yangon, was truly immersed in local life, and he got to the heart of the real Burma. We no longer have the wonderful and endearing Bob around, but in his words and pictures, we have preserved something of the essence of Myanmar and the real life of Yangon. 

What are the lessons we can learn from author Bob Percival - and the other contributors to this book? It is about the importance of noticing the small things, the detail. It is about the importance of people and personal connection. And it is about the importance of appreciating the grittiness and joys of travel - and of life. 

This book, made up of travel stories and tributes, photographs and poems, essays and eulogies, is not just about the place and its people, nor is it just about Bob Percival. It is about life and being alive. And in Bob’s case, how an extraordinary life is like a refreshing cold Myanmar beer on a hot afternoon, the smooth rich malty aftertaste lingers long after the last mouthful. 

I invite you to fill your glass and let’s toast this wonderful life.

Kaung Minn Khant (Kelvin)

Asia Central Link Travels & Tours Co, Ltd (A.C.L.)


Keith Lyons

The idea for this book came in the middle of 2017, a few months after shocking news of the sudden death of Bob Percival rocked many of our worlds. “I know it is a big loss for you and for me,” wrote author and mutual friend San Lin Tun, "because whenever he was in Yangon almost every morning and evening we spent time together, having tea and going together to art events.”

It somehow seemed appropriate that we should remember the former Yangon resident, guide, historian and quirky Australian Bob with a book in his honour. And it seemed fitting to have contributions from many of the people who knew Bob, some who knew him closely, some professionally, some fleetingly. Not only did it seem apt to have a variety of contributors, but also to have not just travel stories and essays, but photographs and poems, as well as reminisces and tributes. 

‘Opening up Hidden Burma’ brings together over two dozen different voices sharing unique perspectives about the time-trapped yet newly-emerging Myanmar, all connected in some way with the man simply known to many as ‘Mr Bob’.

This book is not just about a place and a person. It is much more than that. This collection of recollections, reflections, poetry and images aims to give a new appreciation of the ordinary and the everyday.

Central is the theme of how travel transforms, whether on a wild adventure in an exotic formerly-forbidden land or on a early morning walk in a local neighbourhood.

From personal interactions in the seldom-visited small streets of downtown Yangon, to encounters with political prisoners, primitive hill-tribes and challenging country roads, 'Opening up Hidden Burma' transports readers to distant places and to another era, ultimately arriving at places of the heart. Through it all, in the tributes, reminiscences and love letters, we met Bob Percival.

The content has been curated to reveal linkages between each contribution, interspersed with some of Bob’s pieces from his book ‘Walking the Streets of Yangon’.  Bob certainly discovered the real Myanmar by walking.

“Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked,” wrote Rebecca Solnit in her 'Wanderlust: A History of Walking. “A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities”.

Expect to find connections and echoes, as the subject matter spirals out from Yangon to the delta and the periphery of Myanmar, and writers go in search of the authentic, opium, peace or the sublime. 

Bob was one of the people involved in ‘opening up’ Myanmar by exploring it, documenting it, and noticing the things which make it different. Bob showed through his actions that if you love something, you also want to protect and preserve it.

My hope is that you’ll get to know more about the sometimes mysterious and often beguiling Myanmar, and that in this book, you will meet again a humble man who is greatly admired and much missed. 


There is a proverb from Myanmar that is relevant to the compilation of this book, ‘Pha Yar Pyee Nhyan Phyat’ translates as ‘when the pagoda is completed, the scaffolds are removed’ meaning that sometimes we forget all those involved in the production of something monumental. Creating this travel tribute in honour of Bob Percival would not be possible without the efforts of many, in Myanmar and around the globe, who have offered their honest words, cherished photographs and loving memories of Bob. More than two dozen people contributed to this book, a fitting tribute to a wonderful man, and a lasting reminder of the late, great Dr Bob. 

In particular I’d like to thank San Lin Tun in Yangon for arranging the printing, publication and distribution of the book, and for helping organise the book launch in Yangon in mid-January 2018.

I’m grateful for all the support this book has received, from when the idea was first proposed in mid-2017 through to its publication six months later, and offers to help fund its distribution to libraries in Myanmar and Australia. Finally, while all care has been taken in preparation of this book, I beg forgiveness for any errors, omissions, or typographical inconsistencies.

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(Pages 1-21 show above.)