A beautiful and culturally rich country cursed for decades with a brutally oppressive regime, Myanmar (Burma) has in recent years been making headlines for its tentative steps towards democracy. Following the softening and then removal of a fifteen-year tourism boycott led by the National League for Democracy – Myanmar’s leading political opposition party – tourist numbers have swollen but the infrastructure has not yet grown to accommodate them all. Although this means that finding a cheap bed is harder than before, it does make this a fascinating time to discover Myanmar’s glittering golden stupas, bountiful rice fields, enigmatic ruined temples and picturesque mountain paths. Most memorable of all, though, are the encounters with people eager to introduce foreigners to their country and their culture. What remains to be seen is whether today’s modest political reforms translate into lasting change.
Continue reading to find out more about...
Where to go in Myanmar (Burma)
Although there are now affordable flights from Bangkok to Mandalay, most people still start their visit in Yangon (Rangoon). This former capital makes a great introduction to the country, with evocative colonial-era buildings, some of the country’s best restaurants and the unmissable Shwedagon Paya – the holiest Buddhist site in the country. Relatively few tourists head southeast from Yangon, other than to the precariously balanced Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo, but Mawlamyine and Hpa-an are great places to hang out, whether you’re exploring caves full of Buddhist art, sleeping at a mountain-top monastery or visiting home-based workshops.
West of Yangon are a handful of beaches, with Ngapali the most highly regarded, but Chaung Tha and Ngwe Saung much more affordable. Most travellers instead hasten north to Mandalay, the hub for ‘Upper Burma’ and the base for visiting the remains of several former capital cities, or to Bagan further west for its stunning temple-strewn plains. East of Mandalay is Kalaw, the starting point for some great walks. A trek from Kalaw is one way to reach the magnificent Inle Lake, with its stilt villages and famous leg-rowing fishermen. If time allows, a trip on the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River around Katha and Bhamo offers a great chance to meet locals, as do the hiking routes around Hsipaw in Shan State, which pass through ethnic minority villages.
Top image: Mount Popa © Boyloso/Shutterstock