Myanmar Travel Blog & Guide
In this Myanmar travel blog post (or guide!), you’ll find information about the various Myanmar attractions and tourist destinations. Let me first give you a brief background about tourism in Myanmar. The Myanmar travel and tourism industry has been in a standstill until recently. Previously, Myanmar was under military rule since 1988. Slave labour was used to build tourist facilities and it was difficult for local people to talk to tourists. As a tourist, you could get Burmese locals in trouble for speaking to you. Myanmar travel guides were also withdrawn from publication.
Up until 2011, Aung San Suu Kyi asked for Myanmar tourism to be boycotted. She said,
I still think that people should not come to Burma because the bulk of the money from tourism goes straight into the pockets of the generals. And not only that, it’s a form of moral support for them because it makes the military authorities think that the international community is not opposed to the human rights violations which they are committing all the time. They seem to look on the influx of tourists as proof that their actions are accepted by the world.
When the Myanmar tourism boycott was lifted, I bought a flight to Burma. It ended up being the most amazing Indochina experience. Myanmar travel in 2012 was nothing like Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia or other destinations on the banana pancake trail in Southeast Asia. Burma is what old Indochina is really like, lost in time and isolated from the rest of Southeast Asia. Myanmar travel guide books and Myanmar travel blog posts on the internet had outdated information. Internet was slow and rooms in guesthouses were dusty as there weren’t tourists staying in them. Buses are very old and worn, that’s part of the Myanmar travel experience! I bought all the money I was going to spend in Myanmar in cash, all immaculate US bills. Absolutely no folds or blemishes or they won’t be accepted in the country. ATMs for foreign bank cards were hard to come by at that time so cash would more convenient.
I’m sure things have changed a lot since my visit though, now there’s ATMs all over the country. Contrast this with my visit in 2008 to Vietnam. Years later I visited the same places with Rhys and not a lot changed, it was just as touristy, internet was free and as readily available as it did on my visit 5 years ago. It wouldn’t be the same for Myanmar, the country has liberalised its economy and Singaporean companies have been rushing to invest in Myanmar. Luxurious apartments, swanky restaurants and bars are being built in the country. Myanmar tourism industry is picking up quickly. Things are changing fast, I feel lucky to have experienced the last paradise in Indochina before it modernises and hope to visit in the future with Rhys to marvel at the progress. Hopefully this Myanmar travel blog post will inspire you to visit thie beautiful country soon, before it’s lost to modernisation.
Myanmar Destinations & Attractions
This Myanmar destination is also known by the city’s old name, Rangoon. It’s Myanmar’s main international hub for air travel so this city is likely to be your point of entry into Myanmar. It’s the most populous as well as the most ethnically diverse city in the cuntry. Yangon used to be a small fishing village like Singapore. Yangon was a flourishing city in its heyday, far more prosperous than Singapore at that point in time. The city has an old world charm, with its many colonial buildings. However it’s also a slightly grimy city with potholes lining the pavement.
Visit the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Sule Pagoda in Yangon. Shwedagon Pagoda is the main attraction in Yangon, the gold pagoda shimmers in the sun and is so beautiful. It’s the most important religious site in Myanmar and a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site for many followers. Sule Pagoda is major landmark in Yangon with religious, historical and political importance. It was the place for the many rallies and protests that happened in Myanmar.
Bagan would definately be one of the highlights of your Myanmar travel plans. The majestic temple complex of Bagan, a vast plain dotted with thousands of ancient Buddhist pagodas. It’s absolutely stunning! The temples of Bagan were built between the 10th and 14th centuries and is what remains of a mighty kingdom.
A must do at this Myanmar destination is to climb a pagoda and watch the sunset, it offers a spectacular view of the archaeological site. However, as of 1 March 2016 tourists will no longer be able to climb most of the pagodas in Bagan. According to the Myanmar’s Ministry of Culture, the reason for the ban is that tourists climbing the pagodas behave in ways that’s culturally disgraceful (e.g. wearing inappropriate clothing, dancing inappropriately, etc). It was also suggested that the crowds of tourists that climb the pagodas were weakening the structures. Fortunately, the ban would not include 5 temples, namely Pyathatgyi, Shwesandaw, South Guni, North Guni and Thitsar Wadi. I bet these temples would get very crowded, it’s a shame. You should definitely travel to Myanmar before it gets even more crowded or more restrictions are implemented.
Inle Lake is a peaceful freshwater lake in the Shan part of Myanmar. This beautiful Myanmar destination is inhabited by several Burmese tribes. One of which is the Intha people, an ethnic group living in the Inle Lake for generations. A must-do at Inle is a boat tour around the lake. It’s almost impossible to not go on a tour as that’s pretty much the only way to see Inle lake from a boat. It’s a package full or half-day tour in a group of up to 6 tourists that takes you around the waterways. You can purchase the tour from tour agents or your guesthouse for around SGD 25. It’s well worth it, you get to spend a relaxing day around the lake. See houses built on stilts, vegetable farms and workshops. The workshops are actually set up for tourists, they sell handicrafts and hand-made tobacco. Boat drivers earn good commissions for your purchases at the many workshops that they take you to.
Keep a lookout for Inle lake’s famous fisherman. Fish is caught using conical-shaped nets while they row their slender boats with their legs. It’s a balancing act and it’s incredible how they manage to do it so gracefully and calmly. Another attraction at the lakes is the Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery. It’s also known as the monastery with jumping cats as the monks taught the many cats living in the monastery to leap through small hoops. It’s old but absolutely beautiful, it’s constructed with teak and completely surrounded by lake water.
Mandalay city is the former royal capital of northern Myanmar. Visit this Myanmar destination for culture, it’s known as the cultural capital of Burma. The city is humid, busy and filled with concrete buildings. At first glance, Mandalay city doesn’t look appealing at all. However, dig deeper and you’ll discover beautiful pagodas and temples. You can even find mosques and Indian temples in this culturally diverse city.
Visit the Shwenandaw Monastery and marvel at its intricate teak wood carvings. It was originally part of the royal palace built by King Mindon and survived the bombing during World War II. Another must do is Mandalay Hill, you can climb the hill on foot, it’s a long and tiring climb. Alternatively take a shared pick-up, they leave every 20 minutes and drive you to the pagoda with a panoramic view of Mandalay city and its surrounding plains. If you’re in the mood for some entertainment and comedy, visit the Moustache Brothers. They’re a comedy trio performing for tourists. Find them every night at 8.30pm on the 39th street between 80th and 81st (Mandalay city is based on a grid system).
Travel to Myanmar now, before it is lost to tourism!
Visit before mass tourism turns into the next Cambodia or Thailand. It is truly the last gem of Southeast Asia and I’m sad about that. Here’s a famous quote from Letters from the East by Rudyard Kipling,
This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about.
True enough, I can’t think of anywhere on earth that’s like Myanmar. Myanmar travel is slow and the country is beautifully lost in a time warp. However, that’s soon about to change. For the latest information about Myanmar travel, have a look at Lonely Planet’s guide, or the Rough Guide’s Myanmar. Wikitravel Myanmar is fantastic as well.