Why Go to Myanmar?
Why go to Myanmar? Well, not long ago this intriguing Asian country was largely off limits to the Western tourist. But after historic democratic elections in 2010 sparked reforms, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is now opening up and travel has never been easier, nor more rewarding, than it is now. From unspoiled natural landscapes to ancient Buddhist architecture, friendly locals to mouth-watering food, you should asking yourself, why no go to Myanmar? Read on for 8 fantastic reasons why we think you should travel to this fascinating country this year.
1. IT’S IDEAL FOR RIVER CRUISING
Myanmar harbors astonishing natural beauty, from lush green hills and cultivated fields, to palm-lined shores and dramatic mountainous backdrops. Infrastructure is still a work in progress, making overland travel a little challenging at times. One of the best ways to experience the country is therefore to take a leisurely river cruise down the Irrawaddy River. These magnificent waterways cut through the heart of the country and transport you seamlessly past unspoilt rural landscapes and bustling urban areas. Watch the world unfold along the river banks, visit colourful village markets, meet with traditional river communities and experience life on the river as it has been for millennia. You won’t have to deal with the hassles of transport or accommodation and will gain a unique perspective on this country’s incredible landscapes, long history and authentic culture.
2. THE PEOPLE ARE INCREDIBLY FRIENDLY
Myanmar is commonly known as the land of the smiles and the people are renowned for their friendliness towards visitors, eager to exchange words, practice their English and show you around their home with pride. The people can be quite shy (with the exception of the children!) and etiquette is an important part of Burmese culture. But approach politely and with a smile, you’ll find the people open up to welcome you with incredible warmth. You’ll also find the best way to learn about the country is through chatting with the locals, who will only be too keen to share experiences with you over some tea! Navigating Myanmar can be a little tricky at times, especially if you are travelling independently outside the organised itinerary of a river cruise. But travel with an open mind and flexible attitude and you can’t help but be captivated by the local charm every time.
3. IT’S HOME TO STUNNING ARCHITECTURE
Myanmar is home to a wealth of architectural marvels. A strongly Buddhist country, the landscape is peppered with temples and other constructions offering a whole spectrum of visual delights. Be sure to pay a visit to the gold-plated and diamond-encrusted Shwedagon Pagoda, the largest and most sacred spiritual site in the country, and one of Asia’s most impressive monuments located in Yangon. Visit Bago to witness the world’s largest reclining Buddha statue, or marvel at the precariously perched Golden Rock at Mt. Kyaiktiyo. The biggest gem of all is undoubtedly the ancient city of Bagan. Home to more than 2,000 temples, pagodas and stupas spread out over vast plains just off the banks of the Irrawaddy River, this sight rivals the likes of Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat. Cruises down this river offer plenty of opportunity to explore further historical marvels and Myanmar destinations, including the wonderful teak-wood monastery in Sale and the gilded Mya Tha Lun Pagoda found in Magwe.
4. THE FOOD IS DELICIOUS
Myanmar is home to a diverse, rich and unique cuisine that’s rarely found outside the borders of the country – despite it being undeniably delicious! Visitors report sampling some of the best food in Asia in its eclectic street stalls, cafes and restaurants. On your travels you’ll encounter a vast mix of dishes and ingredients that draw inspiration from Thai, Indian and Chinese cooking. Most dishes are curries or soups based around fish products, as well as poultry and beef, all seasoned with a wonderful array of herbs, spices and sauces. A variety of healthy salads infused with tantalising Asian flavours are also available, along with bountiful tropical fresh fruits. Traditional dishes not to be missed include Mohinga - rice noodles in orange fish sauce complimented with lemongrass, ginger, banana tree stem and spring onions - commonly eaten at breakfast. Tea leaf salads and shan noodles (stir fried noodles with chicken in bean sauce) – and Onnokauswe (noodles in coconut milk) are other must-try Burmese staples.
5. IT’S AFFORDABLE
Despite the recent rapid increase in tourist interest, Myanmar is still one of the world’s most affordable destinations, making it ideal for budget-conscious travellers. If you choose to travel independently, staying in hostels and eating as the locals do, you can easily get by on $15 a day. The food is especially cheap and plentiful. With a traditional meal costing just a couple of dollars and the local beer coming in at just $1, you can dine and drink like a king on a pauper’s budget. Taking an organised river cruise will set you back more than a solo trip, but the country’s affordability in other areas, opens this option up to many more.
6. ADVENTURE AWAITS…
Myanmar is a massive country with endless opportunities for those keen to venture well off the beaten track. This is prime territory for exploration and intrepid travellers can revel in pioneering visits to incredible wilderness areas and remote communities - some of which may have gone years without being visited by a westerner. Myanmar travel offers fantastic opportunities for trekking, admiring in lush jungles, limestone peaks, huge caves and atmospheric ancient ruins. Hike around the picturesque stilt villages around Inle Lake, head to Hp-Pan in the south for spectacular views and old monasteries, or deep into the Shan highlands for real adventure.
7. …AS WELL AS BEAUTIFUL BEACHES TO RELAX ON
Most people are surprised to hear that Myanmar is also home to some of the world’s most spectacular and pristine beaches. A good portion of the coast is peppered with virtually untouched beaches, sheltered coves and myriad of small islands that just beg to be explored. Ngpali beach is an idyllic stretch of palm-fringed shoreline that’s the perfect place to unwind. Emerging beach resorts, such as Chaung Tha, popular with locals and backpackers, offer the chance to relax and have fun over drinks, music and beach games. Myanmar’s Mergui archipelago is a prime area for island hopping. It’s still relatively undiscovered and all too easy to find a dreamy desert island all for yourself.
8. EXPERIENCE IT ALL BEFORE THE CROWDS ARRIVE!
Myanmar is still very much an emerging destination, having opened up to Westerners only relatively recently. It’s also a country that’s changing fast. Commercialisation is still low, but more and more travellers are making the trip (around 5 million last year) - and rightly so given all the country has to offer. Myanmar will increasingly be faced with the challenge of developing its economy and infrastructure whilst trying to keep the charm and authenticity of its most popular destinations intact. We think it’s worth planning a trip before the country inevitably breaks out into the mainstream.