Better known by its former name, Burma, this once thriving British colony of teak forests is now a pariah state which has been under strict military junta control for four decades. That doesn’t hide the fact that it has an incredible cultural legacy which attracts a small flow of tourists.
The people are welcoming, if somewhat subdued, and it’s safe to travel here provided you stick to the government prescribed routes, don’t talk politics to the locals and spend your overpriced foreign exchange certificates. Despite the depressing human rights situation and sheer poverty from isolation, the desperate locals will appreciate your visit.
Yangon is no longer the nation’s capital, with the generals having moved politics to a more secretive location, yet it houses some of its greatest wonders - namely the She Pagoda. This sacred religious site is steeped in legend and a favorite with pilgrims. More Buddhist treasures can be admired at Bagan, with its sea of pagodas, and Mandalay, home to dozens of temples and a reconstructed royal palace.
Myanmar is a country with contradictions both strange and sad. It’s blessed with huge amounts of natural resources and stunning beauty, but its population toils in poverty; its rich history and fabulous temples are a natural draw for millions of tourist dollars, yet it sees only a trickle of that potential.
If you do decide to go, and are prepared to deal with the risks and restrictions, Myanmar can be a breathtakingly beautiful country, with friendly people and endless splendor. One only hopes that the situation will improve, and the country will eventually be able to take advantage of all it has to offer.
Note: Many think that visiting Myanmar only provides a revenue stream that the government uses to continue repressing its citizens, while others say that visiting is an important way to support the locals by spending money at non-government businesses. It’s complicated, and serious research should precede any visit.
Why You Should Go
Multiethnic make up of the country, Yangon’s Shwedagon Paya pagoda, Mandalay’s historic attractions, the traditional lifestyle in Shan State, Bagan’s hundreds of chedis, Bago’s pagodas, handicrafts in Pathein.
The human rights record of the junta, widespread poverty, areas off-limits to tourists, poor infrastructure, hot season temperatures, beggars and petty thieves, inadequate medical facilities, poor food hygiene and tropical diseases.
Getting There & Away
Going to Myanmar is quite a challenging task for those who are only used to luxury. The most realistic means of reaching Yangon is from Bangkok, but flights also arrived from East India and Bangladesh, China, Malaysia and Singapre. You can also fly to Myanmar from Chiang Mai in Thailand. Yangon Airways provides domestic flights to key attractions around the country. Driving overland from India or Thailand is unrealistic due to restrictions and safety. A rail service will get you North to Mandalay with modest comfort and reliability. Trishaws, taxis and pick-up trucks can be flagged down anywhere in the country to take you places, they are run down but cheap..
Things to Do
- Yangon (Rangoon)
The capital city of myanmar on the yangon river boasts many tourist spots such as the famous gold-plated shwedagon paya (pagoda), the reclining buddha in chaukhtatgyi paya and the exquisite kandawgyi and inya lakes.
This very burmese, second-largest city in the country features mandalay hill, mahamuni paya with the ancient rakhine buddha image, and shwenandaw kyaung, the remains of the once magnificent palace from where the country was once ruled. four abandoned cities nearby will please photography buffs.
- Shan State
The infamous golden triangle, floating markets and many gardens can be found in shan state as well as those long necked women you always see on the discovery channel.
An ancient city, destroyed by kublai khan in 1287, packed with a number of pagodas and temples located on the charming banks of the ayeyarwady river.
- Bago (Pega)
Another ancient city worth visiting, bago features interesting sights such as the shwemawdaw pagoda which dominates the town, the hintha gone pagoda and the reclining shwethalyaung buddha.
- Pathein (Bassein)
Known for its handicrafts and the shwemokhtaw pagoda, pathein is worth a visit if you want to break away from the bustling city.
- Scuba diving
Newest diving spots in myanmar are at the unspoilt, untouched mergui archipelago (myeik) in the southernmost part of the country. there are more than 800 islands surrounded with crystal clear waters with rich marine life including manta rays and sharks.
The shan state around inlay lake offers many trails. many hikers go to hill tribe villages around kalaw and pindaya to explore the nature. a journey into the jungles on the island of lampi kyun and mt kyaikto is also worthwhile.
Looking for some place quiet where you won’t be disturbed? there are many centers for the study and practice of theravada buddhism in myanmar. the most famous one is the mahasi meditation centre in yangon.
- Mountain biking
Myanmar offers several challenging mountain biking routes. but you have to bring your own bike and spare parts as support is limited.
- Wildlife safaris
An array of national parks and wildlife spots are scattered in the country. the notable ones include alaungdaw kathapa national park, hlawga national park and popa mountain park.
Around the magnificent ruins of bagan and pago, scattered across the irrawaddy plains - an unforgettable historic impression.