Since Myanmar opened and after President Obama’s visit last year we have had a big boom of tourists visiting.
If you’re reading the guidebooks, the main place to visit is Yangon with its famous Shwedagon pagoda, Sule Pagoda and its old British colonial buildings, you have the Mt Kyaikiyo with The Golden Rock, Bago a former capital, Mandalay with Mahamuni Paya as the most important sight, a good hub to use for visiting Sagaing hill with all its pagodas and Monasteries, Ava, Amarapura and Mingun. From Mandalay you can do a day tour to Pyin Oo Lwin or longer tours with trekking in Kyaukme or Hsipaw.
You have to visit Bagan. With more than 4000 temples, it is an amazing place to visit and you can spend days travelling around by bike, horse cart or car seeing some beautiful temples. Some have many tourist but it is not difficult to find temples where you will be all alone.
Another beautiful place to visit is the highland around Inle Lake. It is a beautiful area where you can do trekking and see the local life of different minority groups. Near Kalaw you can visit an elephant conservation project and you can trek to around Inle lake for2 or 3 days or longer. On Inle lake you can see the market which is open five days a week with the fishermen rowing using their legs. There are magnificent floating gardens and you can see how people are living in houses on stilts on the lake. In Myanmar there is so much to see it is so difficult to mention it all. There are more temples, more stupas, more monks and more nuns than you ever seen anywhere else.
For me the highlight of Myanmar is its people. As soon as you get a short distance from a tourist spot there is no one trying to sell you anything or trying to get something out of you. Everyone is happy to see you, if you like taking pictures like I do it is amazing. Everyone loves to give you a smile. Wondering around in the back streets here in Yangon, taking the circular train, a local commuter train with 37 stops, crossing the Yangon river and visiting Dalla village on the other side is all great. The same in all the other destinations here in Myanmar. Meet the people, say “ming guh la ba (hello)” and give a smile. You will have a great time whether you speak the language or not.
If you come to Myanmar for the fancy hotels, nice cars, western restaurants, impressive infrastructure, fast internet and wifi you have chosen the wrong country. For sure, Myanmar will change, it is changing. It has changed a lot since I first arrived three years ago, but it will still be a different place to visit for some time if you compare to other countries in the region.
Guidebooks all recommend that you come in the winter between November and March, for me, there is no best time to come. Between November and February, the country is packed with tourists who want to have the best experience in a country which does not have enough hotels, good guides or the infrastructure to take care of them. If you are not here for a beach holiday (Ngapali Beach) come in the rainy season, in the low season and avoid the crowds, enjoy the country, with cheaper hotels and better guides available to spend the time with you. It is a bit hotter but after the rains, it is more beautiful, it is greener and fresher and you will enjoy your visit much more.
With a smile and showing respect to the local people there is no problem travelling around Myanmar. You will have a great time everywhere you decide to go.
Come with an open mind and do not expect things to be all up to date and you will have the best time ever.
Tucan Travel work with JP to give travellers the best experience of Burma. For more information on these tours, click here.