Myanmar, or Burma as it was formerly known has to be one of the all time highlights of our travels so far. A truly authentic culture, welcoming people, unspoilt traditions, mysterious history and amazing landscapes. But often people we meet seem hesitant to visit, but here is our guide to Myanmar travel and what to expect in this most wonderful land!
The most friendly and welcoming people you have ever met!
People across Asia are notoriously freindly, warm and welcoming, but the same can be said for many parts of the world, that the people are generally much more friendly than people first imagine. Albania as an example is one of the friendliest nations we have ever visited, so kind and inquisitive and crucially with no ulterior motive. Throughout Asia the smiles beam wide and you are welcomed as a friend, but often you still feel the need to exercise some caution due to the frequent scams that take advantage of this freindly nature. But this is what makes Myanmar travel so much more enjoyable!
But in Myanmar, as with Albania, there is an complete honesty and openness to their friendliness and approachability. Many Myanmar people have never seen a westerner or spoken to them, there is still a real joy in their eyes as they ask you your name or where you are from with real honest interest. After 56 countries across 5 continents I feel ever so slightly qualified to say that the Myanmar people are amongst the nicest and most wonderful in the world!
Men wearing skirts!
Ok, they’re not skirts, they are “Longyi’s” which are a kind of sarong only they are like a sewn together tube rather than an open piece of cloth. Even in the cities here they are often seen with both men and women wearing them however in a different style, men tie the centre together to create two folds down the middle and women do a large square fold across the top to make one pleat at the side. There is a real elegance to them and their use stems from the clear Indian influence you experience within the unique culture of Myanmar. They are so versatile too, often worn long for day to day activities and by the women, they can be hoisted up into a make shift pair of shorts for playing sports or when working in the fields. They also serve to protect ones dignity when bathing in public, such as rivers or in buckets as it common here. I’ve witnessed this myself and it really is an art form, to lift the Longyi up high and wash yourself below it then pull another clean longyi over the top of you to replace the other one and then washing the old one! Really a comfortable and versatile piece of clothing that is often required to entire temples. Your Myanmar travel experience would be incomplete without trying one one!
Blood red splashes everywhere!
You would be forgiven for thinking there had been some sort of accident on any given street in Myanmar with the blood red splashes that appear every few metres! However one you get to know the tell take smell of Bettle and see the bright red grin of someone chewing it you will never forget it! Here like many places in the subcontinent the practice of chewing “Bettle nut” is popular and in many places it seems like almost everyone partakes in “chewing”! Similar to chewing tobacco and often combined with small amounts it is addictive and causes many cases of oral cancer around the country, not to mention other tooth decay issues.
However the release of energy it gives you, reported to be the equivalent of 7 cups of coffee, make it common place on the streets of Myanmar! We even gave it a try whilst trekking the 70km from Kalaw to Inle!! I can’t say its the nicest of tastes but I didn’t mind it and it sure did quicken up the pace of our group!! Another Myanmar travel experience you have to try!
A truly authentic culture and experience
Myanmar has been closed off to tourists for many year and is much less developed than the neighbouring countries. If you think Thailand is overdone, Cambodia overflowing and Vietnam overshadowed then Myanmar is the place to truly experience authentic South East Asia. Its cultures like this that make the Myanmar travel experience so much richer.
People here are not just after your money and every street corner isn’t a “craft market” with the same “hand made” crap you’ve seen in 5 countries already. But its dusty roads and bamboo villages are real, unspoilt and offer an easy to access insight into a culture unique to Myanmar. Visiting this country was one of the most rewarding experiences of our time in Asia and mostly due to the honesty and authenticity of the place!
Enchanting ancient wonders like nowhere else in the world
You might think you’ve seen your fill of temples in South East Asia, but nothing quite compares to those of Myanmar. The sheer scale of ancient Bagan, the intricacy of the unique design of each burning orange temple and the mysterious atmosphere this dusty landscape evokes is like nowhere else in the world! Myanmar offers a look into a different time, a world so often lost in modern society that still exists today in this enchanting country. The Myanmar travel experience is all about seeing that history up close and personal!
Then when you think it can’t get any more surreal, you take a rollercoaster pilgrimage journey up the winding tracks of a mountain to see a shimmering golden rock teeter on the edge of a cliff. Its like a mirage of spiritual proportions, hanging there as people throw themselves to the floor in front of it. Myanmar really does offer the most intense of experiences.
A religious intensity rarely seen in this part of Asia and monks…everywhere!
Often around the world religion is now just a token gesture of culture, you are tied to the church through culture and history but in your heart you don’t believe. Temples may be plentiful in towns and cities throughout Asia but they can be overrun by tourists and left alone by locals with busy lives and no time to pray. It’s the way of the modern world and debates could go on about the positives and negatives of religion. However in Myanmar, where time has appeared to stop still in so many facets of society, religion is still very much a passionate part of everyday life. Everything revolves around it, monks in their crimson cloths walk almost every street making their parents proud and dedicating their lives to enlightenment.
A simple way of life that hasn’t changed for generations
In Myanmar life has stayed very much the same for many people here where it has developed rapidly for those over in many parts of South East Asia. In the many villages that surround the bustling but small cities there are tribes whose culture goes back hundreds of years and whose traditions are still very much in use today. Visiting villagers and tribes is all part of the authentic Myanmar travel experience!
Many people live in simple dwellings, bamboo houses constructed on two levels where the animals sleep below and the food stores are kept and the upstairs is one large bedroom with mats on the floor where the family eat and sleep. Electricity comes usually from car batteries, there is no running water and transport is a buffalo and cart, work is farming and communities bring up children together. Life might seem primitive to us, but here everyone is happy and taken care off.
Locals with a unique style of makeup!
At first glance you might think many of the folk getting about have mud plastered across their face, maybe they forgot to wash it off after working in the fields? But no, its the unique and all natural make up/ sunscreen often worn in Myanmar. Most commonly seen on women and children it can also be seen on men working in the sun or at special events. It can vary from just a square on each cheek to complex lines and designs covering the entire face and running down the arms! Known as “Thanaka” it is made from grinding a piece of Thanaka wood against a ceramic plate with water which produces a cream like material that is then applied using brushes and sticks.
Fun, intense and mind boggling festivities!
Everywhere you go in Myanmar there seems to be some sort of event or festivity going on, from local weddings that parade through the streets in all kinds of costumes and music to the nationwide “Thingyan” water festival to celebrate New Year. The people of Myanmar take celebrations to a new level and never do things by halves! We were lucky enough to be in Yangon for the water festival and experienced some of the most fun and crazy few days of our entire lives.
The touristy Songkran of Thailand is nothing compared to this intense celebration in which locals go around in small open top trucks through the streets where there are water stations set up alongside huge speakers! Several hundred hose pipes, gallons of buckets of water and little kids chasing us with bottles of water even on the most remote backstreet meant we couldn’t escape getting completely soaked! The party consumes the city for 3 days and you really can’t help but join in, willingly or not you’re going to get wet if you leave the safety of your hostel or hotel and the locals are even happier to see a western face enjoying their festival!
Affordable luxury accommodation!
Many people are put off Myanmar due to the cost of accommodation. The market here is a very strange one and compared to the rest of the region true budget options are hard to find. This is in part due to the sheer lack of hostels in many parts of the country where they are still very much playing catch up to the rest of the region and competition for a few beds drives up prices. However on the other end of the spectrum you will find 5* hotels for the price of many hostels in places like Paris, London or Berlin. For what you would pay for an overcrowded and rundown dorm room in the west you can have a kingsized bed in luxurious surroundings in Myanmar! It’s worth travelling as a pair and splashing out just a few extra £$ for somewhere amazing!
Nothing to be afraid or worried of!
I hear so often from people that they miss out Myanmar through fear: Visa problems, border crossings, civil war, corrupt governments, lack of budget accommodation etc etc. But the truth is that non of these are even issues you should be worried about. Yes, the government does restrict travel to some parts of the country and yes these are in on going civil war but that is only to protect visitors.
The political situation in Myanmar is complex and has been for many many years, however now more than ever the country is doing better than it ever has been in living memory.
Getting a visa is a simple online process and we decided to fly in on a very cheap AirAsia flight from Bangkok, others told us they had no trouble crossing the border by land (do check up to date info as this is always changing). Transport around the country is easy and buses are cheap and frequent up and down the country. We had no troubles whatsoever in Myanmar and found it a rewarding experience that leaves it as a firm favourite of ours!
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