Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is one of the emerging tourist destinations in Asia.
Yangon is a city that is racing headfirst into the 21st century at a rate the local infrastructure can’t keep up with. While it’s not yet full of Starbucks and McDonalds, there are signs of western luxuries starting to appear such as imported cars, high-end shops and everyone has Samsung smart phones. There are a lot of 4 or 5 star hotels but as yet not many 3 star and they are not cheap. It is not your usual cheap Asian destination.
While there are some interesting sights to see such as the Shwedagon Pagoda and Kandawgyi Lake, Yangon is not the best city in which to experience Myanmar. There is a local rail and bus network but it is not really set up for tourists yet. The British colonial influence is still evident in the local buildings, many of which appear to be derelict but are still in daily use.
Bagan is where the magic of Myanmar starts to emerge. Located on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy River and has the highest number of temples, stupas and pagoda’s in Myanmar with over 2,200 out every window, randomly placed in fields. Every farmer built one on their square of land as a place to worship with most dating back hundreds of years. In the 1990’s the village of Old Bagan was forcibly moved to a new location and is now called New Bagan. Hiring a bike was an awesome way to see the countryside with the main roads being nearly deserted by all but a few motorcyles.
A horse and cart ride to one of the temples at sunset is something that shouldn’t be missed. While we are unable to do it, a Hot Air Balloon ride over Bagan at sunrise would be spectacular!
As yet Myanmar is not really set up for independent travel. Public transport is not widespread and English is not used either written at sightseeing locations or freely spoken yet. There is too much culture and history that you would miss out on if you just wandered around.
If you are able to get even further off the beaten track and out to some of the islands on the river, you will get to see the way of life for many local farmers and village people.
This 79 year old farmer is cutting grass for his animals using traditional ways, mainly a machete rigged up using a rope and a piece of bamboo.
We were lucky enough to visit a local school and hear them practice their English. We also donated towards new exercise books for the whole school.
Mandalay is the second largest city and a former capital of Myanmar. It is regarded as the cultural capital of Myanmar and is renown for it’s traditional arts and crafts such as traditional silk weavers, silversmiths and goldsmiths making the gold leaf that is offered to Buddha at the local temples, pagodas and stupas.
Since roughly 2010 there has been a 700% increase in the number of cars in Yangon, however Mandalay is still relatively deserted with the preferred mode of transport being motorbikes.
The island of Inwa on the river island of Amarapura River is a must do. A horse and cart ride through the local streets to visit temples and monasteries is a great way to see the local way of life.
A visit to Amarapura isn’t complete without walking across the world’s longest teak bridge and wandering through the local market.
Inle Lake is a simply magical part of Myanmar where life and old traditions exist on the lake. If you are lucky you will see the fisherman fishing the traditional way using basket nets that are dropped to the bottom of the lake, rowing their boats using one leg and one oar.
To get the most of your stay on Inle Lake, you will need to hire a boat and driver to take you around the lake and surrounding villages.
Heho and Inle Lake are the produce growing area’s of Myanmar with rows of narrow islands being used as floating gardens for a large range of vegetables.
The village of Indien is home to one of the most unique temple/ruin areas we saw. Known as Indiana Jones, there are over 700 temples in various states of ruin however they are being slowly nominated for sponsorship for repair by various organisations.
Flying around Myanmar is not like any other country I’ve flown in. If all the passengers are checked in, then the plane leaves! On-time performance is excellent! There are 9 different airlines flying within Myanmar with 7 of them being private airlines. The flights begin in Yangon, fly to Bagan then onto Mandalay and finally to Heho before turning around and flying the same route back to Yangon.
Myanmar is an amazingly unique country to visit and I would definitely recommend visiting sooner rather than later to experience it in it’s as yet almost untouched beauty.