Same Same… But Different. You’ve done Thailand…now try Myanmar.
So you’ve walked the well-trodden backpacker trail through Thailand. Whether it is drinking from a plastic bucket, whilst covered in UV paint or riding elephants through the jungle it has kind of all been overdone.
You are looking for a new Asian adventure but where’s next? Somewhere a little more grown up, but still delivers all the same nostalgic feelings from those days (and nights) spent on the beach. Well, Myanmar (Burma) is the answer!
With decades of civil unrest now looking to be firmly in Myanmar’s past and its borders opening once again to tourists it is easier than ever, plus totally hassle free, to obtain a tourist visa (35USD & an online form). That coupled with cheap flights heading to Myanmar’s old capital, Yangon, from all over Asia and Europe, it is fast becoming the next ‘Bucket List’ destination in South East Asia.
Myanmar has it all. Colour, personality, culture, great food, monks, great weather, friendly locals and Instagram worthy sites all packaged beautifully with that familiar, amazing, yet totally unique SE Asian flare. Myanmar also has an added bonus; It is yet to be diluted, exploited and corrupted by Starbucks, those pesky Golden Arches and their cooperate friends. Oh yeah and did I mention it is cheeeeap!
Once you reach Yangon, grab some local currency (Kyat) and head straight downtown to the huge Bogyoke Market to buy yourself a traditional longyi (sarong style wrap) you will need to wear one of these (or trousers) to enter any of the temples, pagodas or monasteries in Myanmar. Short, shorts a no no and most tourist adorn one of these, guys and girls alike. These double as a wrap when it gets chilly in the evening and they’re absolutely beautiful. I bought a whole bunch and have convinced myself I can get away with wearing them to work.
Bogyoke will allow you to start to get a flavour of the sort of place Myanmar is. Loud, colourful, friendly and vibrant. The perfect place also to pick up a few cool quirky souvenirs. Most of these are hand made by the market traders. Anything from beautiful painted parasols to carved and polished jade jewellery are on offer. Don’t be afraid to barter with the vendors to bag yourself a bargain. Plus it’s all part of the fun. Once you are all shopped out wander up the hill to Yangon’s main attraction. The Shwedagon Pagoda. This huge Buddhist pagoda is covered as far as the eye can see in gold leaf as well as rubies and diamonds. As the sun moves through the sky the colours change with the reflecting light. It is good to head their early morning or early evening so you get the full contrast of colour.
After you have filled your phone with arty golden pics wonder back downtown to try some of the lush food. You can’t go wrong with the samosas and spring rolls the locals are frying up on the side of the road. They cost a couple of pennies and are so good. If you aren’t feeling that brave just yet then any of the local restaurants serve up some awesome Burmese fare. Their curries, salad and soup are bursting with fresh flavours but are far milder on the Scoville scale than those available in other Asian counties. There are also plenty of veggie options. You need to try the crunchy and fragrant tea leaf salad. Also the traditional tomato salad is served covered in amazing toasted sesame seed awesomeness.
In terms of budgeting, to give you a rough idea; In a local restaurant, a couple curries, salads and a few big bottles of Myanmar Lager is going to set you back no more than a tenner in total, including tip. I know right?
Pretty much everywhere has English menus available and most locals speak some English, a handy colonial throw back and a source of comfort, especially for the slightly more apprehensive traveler. There are lots of social enterprise restaurants and projects around Yangon and across Myanmar offering training to local street kids and supporting development and employment for local businesses. So not only are you getting a tasty authentic meal but also banking some good karma. There are lists in your helpful global guide-book or online. This is my favourite place in Yangon: LinkAge Restaurant.
Depending on time and budget you have options to travel further afield from Yangon. I have it on good authority that sunsets are outrageously beautiful and some of the best in the world if you head south to the beaches of Ngapali. The north boasts the amazing cultural hubs and the main attractions of Myanmar.
I was on the hunt for culture so flew to Bagan for a couple days and then onto Inle Lake for a similar amount of time. Both destinations totally delivered. Ever wanted to climb up a 900 year old temple and watch the sunset? Yep that’s a thing in Bagan. Ever felt like sharing a couple of beers on a local’s fishing boat, whilst taking in some of the sights? yep. Once again easily doable for only a couple of quid!
If you are seriously splashing the cash you can even watch sunrise from your own private hot air balloon over the 1000 plus Pagodas, Payas and temples that make up Bagan’s ancient city. Oh so dreamy. I have done the rounds in Asia and I can honestly say Bagan is like nowhere I have been to on Earth. The archeological zone is a warren of dirt tracks with beautiful temples with the odd goat herder thrown into the mix. Oh and of course pagodas everywhere. There is no other development around making walking/biking or driving through Bagan a totally unique and timeless experience. The closest comparison is maybe Siem Reap in Cambodia but even there, the areas around the temples are pretty built up.
Inle Lake is surrounded by mountains and made up of townships surrounding a huge network of waterways, canals and floating villages. The locals boat from place to place in skinny gondola like boats, catching trading and selling food. As well as making materials and a whole host of other items, the same way today as generations and generations have done before them.
You can rent a boat and a driver for about £20 for the day. They will show you all the important spots on the lake including the huge markets, temples, floating farms and villages on stilts. This includes amazing traditional manufacture of fabrics, silver jewellery and the boats the region is famous for.
Just watching the locals, especially the fishermen, go about their daily business is fascinating. It is like stepping back in time as you witness first hand practices and traditions that have remained unchanged for centuries.
In summary, Myanmar is awesome. I would have loved to spend a little more time there but definitely saw enough to fall head over heels for this amazing country. I traveled with a couple other girls and whilst there, felt totally at ease and safe. All the locals are helpful and friendly, no one is looking to scam you and taxis and tuktuks are easy to find.
If you are looking for 5 star resorts, somewhere to party or somewhere to spend 2 weeks tanning then Myanmar isn’t the place for you. But if you like a little adventure and want to see a beautiful and ancient country then book your flights now!
If you get chance o visit, drop us and email and let us know your thought!