I visited Myanmar (formerly Burma) in January 2015 and I would urge anybody who wants to go there to do so sooner rather than later. The tourists are storming the country in the past 2-3 years and, if we are to believe the sources, 5 million of them are expected to visit the country in 2015.
As I planned to spend only 10 days in Myanmar (I would recommend minimum 2 weeks), I focussed on the “big 4”: Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay. I travelled exclusively by air since the condition of the roads in many areas can be very challenging. I wasn’t too keen on air travel either especially when all is done using local Burmese airlines and everything looks like it used to do ages ago in the rest of the world. Passengers receive stickers as they check-in, which is a means of identifying the airline you are using. The boarding is announced by a person holding up a signboard with the number of the flight and shouting it at the same time! It might sound chaotic, but all works out well in the end (at least it did for me!). I used 3 local airlines: Air KBZ, Golden Myanmar Airlines (the first Burmese airline) and Yadanarpon Airlines.
Myanmar was the poorest country I visited in my Southeast Asian trip and my first encounter with the country was Yangon, (formerly Rangoon) – the capital city. The first thing that hits you is the striking difference between the rich and the poor. This sharp contrast is mostly visible in the religious sites. Take the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon: the opulent golden dome can be seen from most places in the city day or night, towering above the dusty roads where some of the poorest people live.
I found Myanmar very dusty. However, I guess it was more of a personal issue as many fellow travellers did not seem to notice or mind.
The people are very curious (and probably still getting used to tourists) and also very willing to talk. The level of English sometimes surprised me…in a positive way. University students and novice monks were the most open and willing to talk to foreigners as this was a free way to improve their English skills (win-win situation for both parties I would say 😉 ).
The Burmese are very conservatively dressed and, as a sign of respect for the culture, every tourist should do the same(e.g. no short pants/skirts). But as usual not every traveller respects this, thus creating a negative image of foreigners. Personally I find this quite frustrating when most of us are actually trying to observe and follow local customs.
It is very usual for men to wear longy (also very typical in India and in a few other Asian countries) which is a type of long skirt consisting of a piece of material wrapped around the bottom half of the body which can be “lifted” and made into a short “skirt” (called shorty maybe? 😉 ) when it gets too hot.
Women are wearing thanaka on their face, a powder made of ground bark and which is meant as a sunblock. Nowadays however the various ways and shapes of wearing it make it more of a fashion statement.
Now about food! Glorious food! Contrary to my (unfounded) expectations, I simply loved the Burmese cuisine. Of course this depends on everybody’s taste palate so I can only speak for myself here but…the Burmese salads are simply delicious. Myanmar introduced me to avocado salad and avocado “juice” of which I never got tired throughout my trip.
I will stop here for now. I wanted this post to be just an introduction about this special country. More details about each location (and more pictures) can be found in the individual posts on the blog .
Some practical travel tips:
- ATMs are plenty (and working!) so the era of having to carry envelopes of “crisp dollar bills” is finally over.
- Entry visa can be obtained online in max 2 days!
- WiFi is available at most hotels and cafes (more so than in Japan shockingly!)…but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it will work or if it does, it can be very patchy. However I’m sure this will improve in no time given the pace of change in the country!
Choose your pin 🙂