Myanmar is fast becoming the new tourist hotspot in Southeast Asia. Have you been there yet?
If you think Thailand is a bit ho-hum and Vietnam a bit old hat, then why not opt for a holiday in Myanmar? Some people might still call it Burma, but by whatever name it’s known, it’s still the real deal as far as authentic travel in southeast Asia is concerned. Here are some tips on how to get the best out of it.
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1. Go for more than a fleeting visit
Myanmar is not one of those places that you fly into for a long weekend. Even a week is far too short. To start to scratch the surface give yourself at least 10 days to two weeks to see the main sites, which include the Bagan Temples, Inle Lake, the 49-storey-tall standing Buddha at Monywa, the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, and the former royal capital of Mandalay. You also need time just to sit still and appreciate life in this enchanting place. Watch the birds. See the people at work. Experience life in a different, unhurried context.
2. Eat unique food
Bacon and eggs? Cornflakes? Forget about it. How about a breakfast of Mohinga – rice noodles in a complex catfish-based soup and sprinkled with crispy split-peas and slices of soft duck egg. Yum. And what about Burmese curry and nan bread for lunch, or a deep-fried pancake of tofu stuffed with cabbage and chillies, or a salad made from pickled tea leaves? Bring it on.
3. Just walk (or bus it) baby
The best way to get around in Yangon or Mandalay is by foot, just like the locals, and if you’re going further catch a bus – this gives you the chance to literally rub shoulders with them. That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Getting outside your comfort zone and really getting an insight into the place? It might be an assault on your nose from time to time, and the cities don’t always look beautiful, but you can’t accuse them of being boring.
4. Get lost among the temples
There are probably tens of thousands of temples in Myanmar, and Bagan has more than 2,000 of them. Horse-drawn carts are the main form of transport in this temple capital, but you can also hire a bike to get you around. As for Yangon, you can’t miss the Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s covered in 27 metric tons of gold and is believed to be the oldest pagoda in the world.
5. Head lake side
If you care to count, there are more than twenty species of snails and nine species of fish in the beautiful Inle Lake that can’t be found anywhere else. That said, it’s becoming a tourist mecca because of its fascinating edge of villages and interesting traditions, most notably the fisherman who traditionally paddle using one leg. It’s a lovely, peaceful expanse of blue water, floating markets and a popular dish of fermented rice kneaded with fish and served with twice-fried tofu.
6. Enjoy a scary train ride
The daily trip by train from Mandalay to Hsipaw and then on to Lashio is one of the best railway journeys in the world. It’s not comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but this masterpiece of British engineering includes the Gokteik Viaduct which spans a hair-raising 300-metre deep gorge. Hold onto your hat, it can be terrifying!
7. Take the road to Mandalay
Mandalay is vast and overwhelming, but a real hive of activity. View the city from the top of Mandalay Hill after a day wandering through the palaces, pagodas and sampling the incredible array of street food from stalls that are scattered throughout the city. A highlight is the ‘world’s largest book’, located in the Kuthodaw pagoda. Each of its 730 pages is more than a metre wide. a metre-and-a-half tall, and 13 centimetres thick. It”s not light reading either.
8. Get out into the countryside
You can spend all your time in the cities, but the real heart of Myanmar is out in the sticks. Things are opening up and you can travel around to remote places these days and mix with ethnic minorities while walking past rice paddies and past fascinating archeological sites. Ethnic groups you can encounter include the Akkha, Loi, Ann, Lisu, Mon, Shan, Karen, Myanmar and others.
So, book Tours to Myanmar and discover a land that will change before you know it.