Burma (or Myanmar) should be number one on your list of places to visit in 2014. This fascinating country is about to undergo a tourism boom. Find out why it’s so wonderful in this post… and then book yourself a ticket right away!
1. Change is Coming
This fascinating country is changing so rapidly after opening up to tourism in the last few years. Popularity and interest in travelling to Burma is rising though with tourism numbers growing rapidly – from under 300,00 in 2009 to 2,000,000 in 2013. So if you don’t visit this year, you’ll be battling growing numbers in the years to come. If you want to learn a little on the background of Burma (with some beautiful photos to accompany) have a look at Welcome to Burma on Travel Indochina’s blog.
2. Lack of Western Influence
Walking around Yangon you get a real sense of time passing without progress – crumbling colonial buildings, people on bicycles, little or no advertising. All of this make visiting Burma a joy, but hurry as it won’t last like this forever! Get in now and experience the warm & friendly people firsthand before they become jaded by years of tourists, the monuments of Bagan before they are over-run with tour buses and the rustic modes of transport before modernisation takes hold.
Without a doubt, the people of Burma are the warmest and friendliest I’ve encountered on my travels. While little English is spoken by most, the smiles I received said more than a thousand words. I had many wonderful experiences from renting a boat, complete with family, for a short river trip to taking tea with a monk escaping a thunderstorm. Precious moments with people are what makes travel special.
If it’s gold you covet, come to Burma! You’ll never see a country so adorned with glittering golden temples. Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is a prime example but there are many more around the country. Women sell gold leaf at temples which are rubbed on certain Buddha statues for luck or health.
Bagan will blow your mind. From the 9th to the 13th Century, over 10,000 temples and pagoda were constructed on the flat plains of Bagan with 2200 surviving today. The structures range from large red stone towers you can climb, smaller stone ones you can explore from the inside and of course golden stupas. If you’re really flush with cash, hot air ballooning over Bagan should be on your bucket list.
The sun in Burma feels different to other places I’ve been. It seems bigger, bolder and warmer. Sunset and sunrise are the best times to explore, especially in Bagan.
If you’re a photographer or want to become a better photographer, go to Burma. I went in late April or early May (back in 2009), and while it was 40+ degrees every day, I’ve never come away from a country with such fantastic photos. I’m not a photographer by any means. I only use a point and shoot camera but these photos are definitely my best travel photos by far. There was just something about the light in the incredibly hot season that worked.
The food in Burma is different to the rest of South East Asia. It has elements of Thai, Chinese and Indian palates but is very much it’s own cuisine. It’s hard to find Burmese restaurants in other parts of the world so expect some interesting tastes! Mohinga is the national dish and it’s delicious – a soup flavoured with lemongrass, banana tree stem and ginger served with fish and rice noodles topped with crispy chickpea bits. You’ll get it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other culinary highlights curries cooked in claypots, biryani-style rice dishes and big, fluffy coconut street pancakes. Yum!
Increase in tourism numbers have made prices skyrocket in Burma over the past few years. A room that was $10 a night three years ago is now pushing $30. Part of the reason is a lack of tourist accommodation, with demand outweighing supply. It can be quite difficult getting around so you need to fork out for the odd flight unless you like spending hours upon hours on bumpy trains or buses. You’ll still get a lot of Burmese kyat for your dollar though so Burma remains good value compared to Western countries.
10. Point of Difference
Everyone goes to Thailand. A lot of people make it to Vietnam and Cambodia. Even Laos is well and truly part of the “banana pancake” backpacker trail that 20-somethings tread across South East Asia. Burma, on the other hand, isn’t as overrun. Because many of it’s land borders are closed for onward travel, and you have to fly in and out if you want to see any of the country beyond a border town, Burma has remained somewhat removed from the loop that most travellers take around South East Asia. Go now, before everyone else is holidaying there.