Myanmar, Simply Marvelous!
Myanmar (formerly called Burma), has long been one of those mysterious countries that we knew exist but remained quite out of the radar when it comes to tourism.
Obviously, it didn’t help that the country was in the hands of a military junta from 1962 to 2011. Now that Myanmar got rid of its dictators, it is on its way to becoming the next big destination in Sout East Asia.
I had the opportunity to visit Myanmar recently and what I saw and experienced totally blew my mind. Of all the 30+ countries I have explored in my life, Myanmar is a highlight.
I wanted here to share with you my impressions of this wonderful country, by giving you 5 reasons to put Myanmar on the top of your bucket list.
Location: South East Asia.
Flights: International airports in Yangon (RGN), and Mandalay (MDL).
Capital city: Nay Pyi Taw. But the main cities are Yangon and Mandalay.
Currency: Kyat. Be careful! Kyats cannot be exchanged outside of Myanmar.
Suggested length of stay: At least 12 days.
Best season: November to February (cooler season).
#1 It’s Still a New Destination
Since the end of the military dictatorship in 2011, tourism is litterally taking over the country. After the election of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015, the trend is likely to persist. For the traveler, it means a lot because the sooner you go, the more you will be able to catch glimpses of the real, traditional Myanmar.
Year after year, things are evolving quickly in the country. The accommodation and tour options are still undersized compared to the potential that the country offers. As they develop their tourism industry, the Burmese will realize what it all means in terms of revenue and opportunities, and authenticity will possibly suffer like it has in so many countries.
#2 The People
When preparing my trip to Myanmar, I didn’t really know what to expect. Will the Burmese be shy because I am a foreigner, and avoid me? Will they totally ignore me? Will they be aggressive? Will they find all ways to scam me?
On my first walks in Yangon, I didn’t even dare to use my DSLR camera. I felt it was not only risky but also a little outrageous to expose such an expensive item in the middle of a poverty-striken country. It didn’t sound like agreat idea. I wanted to blend in and not attract attention.
After a while, I started to feel that in the end, it might be okay to take my camera out (the urge to take pictures was just too strong). I made a first quick attempt. Then a second. Then the magic happened. I ended up using my DSLR normally in the streets of Yangon. To my surprise, this actually gave me opportunities to itneract with the Burmese.
I found really friendly, polite, and respectful people, who actually never made me feel I was in danger, and I never felt I was risking to be attacked. They never seem to have any wrong idea in the back of their mind, like “I wish I could just push this guy away and run away with his stuff!”.
On top of that, I found the Burmese pretty curious! The sight of a white guy using some big equipment in the street (I got at ease enough to use my tripod and all) was too unusual to ignore. Many people just ignored me, but regularly, some of them would come to me, ask me what I am doing, ask me if I am a professional photographer, and if I like Myanmar. Opportunities for some nice chit-chat with the locals.
After living for so long in a country that was isolated from the rest of the world, I think that the money-chasing mentality hasn’t penetrated Burmese brains yet, and they still totally live in the respect of their traditions. Not sure how long this will last, but in any case that’s really pleasant for the traveler!
#3 An Exceptional Archaeological, Historical and Cultural Heritage
When it comes to things to see, Myanmar is not short of wonders. Notably, it has one of the major and most exceptional archaeological sites in the whole of South East Asia: Bagan. Its importance is in my opinion perfectly comparable to Angkor in Cambodia.
The site of Bagan covers a large area of countryside, and you have about 2000 temples and stupas to choose from for your visit! It is more than enough to fill 2, 3 or 4 days in your itinerary.
Bagan is really incredible. No matter in what direction you look, you will inevitably come across a temple, a group of temples, or at least a stupa. They are All. Over. The Place. It’s a delight to explore it with a rented bicycle or scooter.
But the list doesn’t stop to Bagan. In the heart of Yangon already, you can’t miss the majestic Shwedagon Pagoda, covered with several tons of pure gold. As you stroll around the giant stupa and across the various shrines, you are transported into another world.
East of Yangon, the fascinating Golden Rock of Kyaihktiyo is another one-of-a-kind pagoda. The boulder, totally covered with gold leaves, is balanced on the edge of the cliff. It is located at the top of a mountain and the scenery from there is stunning.
In central Myanmar, Mandalay (the country’s second largest city) is once again full of lavish monuments and rich historical heritage. It is not surprising, knowing that Mandalay is a former capital city (in the 19th century). Must-do: visit the Mandalay Palace and climb the Mandalay Hill!
Of course, these are just the top of the iceberg in the list of interesting places that Myanmar has to offer, but they are the highlights. If you don’t have much time for an in-depth discovery of Myanmar, you will probably limit your visits to these, but it’s already a lot!
#4 A Blue Jewel
Another hotspot for visitors in Myanmar is the magnificent Lake Inle – a real natural wonder! The lake is probably one of the most appealing sceneries of the country and a major must-see. The deep blue waters, surrounded by green mountains, are hard to forget.
If the lake is primarily a natural area, in Myanmar culture is never far and one of the attractions of the lake is its villages built on stilts, and its amazing floating gardens. You can witness a completely new lifestyle. Living above the water is indeed quite special.
The fishermen of Lake Inle are also very sought after. First of all, their silhouette against such a wonderful background is a picture that every visitor is secretly wishing to go back home with. Secondly, their fishing technique is quite unique – they use a very recognizable conic net, and they paddle standing on the boat, with one leg.
In any case, if you had to choose only 3 things to see in Myanmar, I would say Yangon, Bagan, and Lake Inle.
#5 A Whole New Cuisine To Discover
The Burmese cuisine reflects the many influences of the cultures that live in the country. The main influences in the plate are Indian and Chinese. As you can expect, rice and veggies are an important part of Burmese meals like in most of Asia, and the most commonly eaten meat is chicken.
Due to Indian influences, you will find a lot of curry dishes, but the food is generally less spicy than it is in other countries.
For someone like me coming from the western world, it’s all very exotic – and I love it!
Unfortunately, I haven’t taken any good picture of the food I discovered in Myanmar, but I found this great article that can give you an idea of what it all looks like.
There is for sure much more than this to say about Myanmar, its people, it’s culture and its wonders. But I hope that this page gave you a nice overview of the country and convinced you that Myanmar should really be at the top of you ‘next trips’ list.
12 days is maybe a little rushed but doable to get an insight of Myanmar’s main attractions. But if you can give it 2 or 3 weeks, I can assure you that you will have a wonderful time. You could even make it to the incredible Burmese beaches such as Ngapali, that I haven’t mentioned before.
Trust me, go ahead and book your tickets, you’ll thank me later!