Reasons you should go on a trip to Myanmar
March 4, 2019
by Mariana Castro
When I first thought about my trip to Southeast Asia, countries like Thailand and Indonesia were the ones that came to my mind. They are totally worth the visit, don’t get me wrong, but for being very touristic already, we need to agree they won’t change much in the next couple of years. The same can’t be said about Myanmar, also known as the old Burma.
Myanmar is bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. To be honest, since I didn’t know much about this country, it wasn’t a priority for me to go there. I’m really glad I talked to a couple of travellers that made me change my mind, and I hope I can help you with some reasons you should include Myanmar on your next trip to Asia as well.
There is no point on lying here: it wasn’t after buying my tickets to Myanmar that I started researching about it. I got a call from my grandmother saying I shouldn’t go there because the country was going through a huge humanitarian crisis and it was very dangerous for everybody – that grandma style of worrying about you. I immediately reached out to those travellers that talked me into it, as they explained to me tourists can’t even tell there’s something going on, since the conflicts are not on the main touristic cities – and they were right, so travellers safety is not an issue.
The first part of what my grandmother said is true though: a very complex subject involving Rohingya people, the military and the government takes place in Rakhine, the northern province of Myanmar. I really recommend researching about it on the internet before going. For me, better than getting to know touristic spots – something you will see Myanmar has plenty of – is to know the way people in the country you are visiting live.
Opening the doors for tourism
The main reason I wanted to visit Myanmar was it’s very new tourism activities. Not so long ago Myanmar was ruled by a military dictatorship and its tourism was completely controlled by the government. In the 70’s, you would only have seven days to visit the country, with regulated tours to specific places. It wasn’t until 2012 that the country was officially open for tourism, allowing its visitors to experience a place still very untouched by external influences.
Differently from other asian countries, visiting Myanmar’s capital you can experience locals praying in the temples, instead of tourists taking pictures. Not many people speak english over there, so it can be a little more challenging to get around. But to see the burmese people living their daily lives and experience a country with very little western traits makes it totally worth it.
Also known as Ragoon, Myanmar’s capital was my first stop in the country. As soon as I arrived at the airport I could tell it would be a totally different experience than the country I came from, Thailand. The taxi driver was wearing their traditional long skirt and his lips and teeth were fully red while he was hiding under the bottom lip some substance he would eventually spit out. Later, I found out he was chewing on betel nut mixed with tabacco, something you can easily notice they all do – first because of their red smiles, second because of the red spots on the streets.
Walking around Myanmar’s biggest city, you will see a lot of old buildings and neon lights. The place has a little over five million people and they will be the sweetest people you will ever meet. Don’t worry too much about the language barrier, burmeses will do everything they can to help you get around and have a good experience. As an example, any woman there is going to love putting some thanaka in your face – a creamy paste they apply for beautification and to protect the skin from the sun.
Fun things to do once in Yangon:
- See the sunset at Shwedagon Pagoda and stay around until it’s all lighten up
- Have a picnic at Kandawgyi Park and refresh yourself by its beautiful lake
- Have lunch at Karaweik Palace and enjoy traditional music and dance
- Experience the locals praying at Sule Pagoda and walk around its area
- Shop or get a late night snack and beer in Chinatown
Once I decided to go to Myanmar, this was the place I was excited about the most. A quick google research will tell you why (hint: it’s simply beautiful). The city used to have more than ten thousand temples, but after a big fire only three thousand temples remained – which is still quite a bit if you ask me.
The temples are located among the trees and getting up in the ones tourists are allowed to – since the preservation of its structures over time started being something they need to care about – you get the most stunning landscape you will see in Myanmar! That is basically all you will do in Bagan – but, believe me, you won’t get tired of it any time soon.
The best way to enjoy the place is renting an e-bike (it was my first time riding it and I can assure you it’s much easier than it sounds). It will get you to the main temples, and later on you can just get lost among many other ones – and easily end up enjoying a temple just for yourself. Specially between october and march, you don’t want to miss watching the sunrise from a temple. The reward for waking up so early will be the most stunning view I particularly have ever seen: balloons going up between the temples and a beautiful sky.
This was the last place I visited during my trip to Myanmar. I decided not to go to Mandalay, its second main city, since I had just seen quite a few temples in Bagan and could use some chill time, instead of a big city’s crowd (travellers say it is totally worth it though so check it out!). I also didn’t have a lot of days left in the country, so instead of doing the track from Kalaw to Inle Lake – something very recommended for its beautiful landscapes along the way and amazing activities with the locals – I went straight to this small city located around a huge lake.
The main attraction over there are the fishermen, who use a totally different technique to fish. It looks like a ballet dance, but nowadays they do it more for the tourists than for actually fishing. To make sure you are going to see it, try to go on a boat trip during the sunrise. You will also go through the floating gardens and enjoy the mountains view surrounding the small villages.
How to enjoy Inle Lake:
- Boat trip during sunrise to see the fishermen
- Bicycle around the lake to enjoy many beautiful landscapes
- Visit Maing Thauk, a village set half on dry land and half over the water
- Try different wines while watching the sunset at Red Mountain Estate Winery and Vineyards
- Guided tours to see the process of making silk, clay pots and traditional rolled cigarettes