This article comes from one of our readers, Natalie, who also writes the Myanmar Travel Blog. Today she’ll be sharing some of her best tips and insights for anyone travelling to Myanmar!
Photo by Christopher Michel
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a country in South East Asia that isn’t yet firmly established on the tourist trail like its neighbours: Thailand, India and Laos. Having only opened up to tourists in the last 5 years there is still a lot to learn and discover about this mysterious country.
Let’s start with some facts, the country uses the kyat as its currency and speaks mainly Burmese, a language that sounds and looks completely different from its Asian neighbours! English is not as widely spoken as in the more popular South East Asian countries, although most local people you encounter will be very eager to practice. Speaking of locals, they are wonderfully friendly and warm, but as always, be aware of scams and use common sense. Never get mouthy with an officer at a check point (you may pass a few if you choose to travel by road).
The capital is Naypyidaw, the only city in Myanmar that doesn’t ever have black-outs! But there is nothing much to see here apart from large empty roads and government buildings. It’s much more interesting to visit Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, or the bustling hub of Mandalay.
Photo by Theis Kofoed Hjorth
Western fashion has (luckily) not reached this part of the world yet, so don’t be surprised to find men wearing skirts called longyi. Women wear a yellow paste on their faces which is painted in patterns; this is called thanaka and it protects their skin from the sun.
Tea-houses are a popular leftover from colonial times, where people go to meet, chat, have breakfast, eat a variety of cakes or sweets, and drink tea (of course!) Be aware that when you visit a tea-house, a plate of cakes will be brought over to you regardless of whether you ask for it or not, and you will need to pay for it if you eat any. We found this out the hard way after my travel buddy demolished 2 plates worth and then couldn’t figure out why we were being overcharged by so much for a cup of tea!
Photo by Elizabeth Haslam
There is a well trodden tourist route in Myanmar. This is likely because there are still many places out of bounds for foreigners, especially in the north, so unless you are working for National Geographic or specialist charities you will likely be herded down the same path. However, that is not to say this isn’t an incredible path to follow since it’s filled with incredible sights along the way.
Starting in Yangon, the Schwedagon Pagoda is a good place to begin your journey and it gives a nice insight as to what the country offers. The pagoda stands 110 meters tall and it is a beautiful sight to behold. It is frequented by lovely locals who will encourage you to join in their rituals.
Photo by Carsten ten Brink
A comfortable, but slightly long (around 10 hours) bus ride away from Yangon, and a highlight for many, is the small city of Bagan. Stooped in rich history, it is a unique site in the world with hundreds and thousands of temples and pagodas that stretch as far as the eye can see.
Bagan affords some of the best sunrises and sunsets in all of South East Asia and easily gives the other popular Buddhist tourist sites nearby, such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Borobudur in Indonesia, a run for their money. A day or three on an e-bike riding around the pagoda fields and visiting temples is an experience not to be missed – you may feel templed out if you’ve spent some time in the region, but seriously, don’t miss this!
Photo by Christopher Michel
Another location not to be missed in Myanmar is Inle Lake. Relax on a boat on this huge lake with deep blue waters surrounded by mountains and enjoy seeing local life pass you by. Watch the fishermen rowing with one-leg, their hands being used for adjusting the basket they use to catch fish, a way of fishing that is unique to this lake. It is a wonderful feeling to be so detached from the western world and surrounded by the sounds of nature.
With beautiful palm lined empty beaches in the west such as NgweSaung, mountains to trek in the north and interesting historical towns and cities dotted around the country, there is something for everyone in Myanmar. New places to explore are slowly becoming more accessible and it won’t be long before this newly opened country is a firm favorite for travellers.
For being so new, there isn’t much information around the Internet about travelling in Myanmar. However that’s why I started the Myanmar Travel Blog, which is filled with stories and information based on personal experience, and which offers an honest account of what it is really like to travel there.