Including Burma, or Myanmar as it’s now known, on your Southeast Asian travel itinerary is a great way to see some of the sights that other travellers might’ve missed off on their world travels.
As the country only relatively recently relaxed its borders, many backpackers deemed the place off bounds when visiting this part of the world. Those that did make the trip often limited their exposure to just the biggest city Yangon, previously known as Rangoon.
This means that while you won’t have as an easy time travelling around the country as you would in places like Thailand and Malaysia, you will be rewarded for your efforts with some truly unspoilt sights and experiences.
This is especially true if you aim to see more than just Yangon and visit some of the other cities such as Mandalay and the wider countryside. Although it is worth noting that large parts of the country are restricted to foreign travellers.
Is Myanmar Difficult to Travel?
While the country is certainly easier to gain access to now, with visa applications much more likely to be granted, the years in relative isolation have made this country much less developed than its neighbours.
This means you won’t find the streets lined with 7-11s and ATMs as you do in any Thai town, big or small. While the locals are friendly enough, don’t expect the services in place that make westerners feel so at home in countries like Malaysia and Singapore.
This is definitely not a criticism. The whole reason most people set off on their travels was to experience different cultures, ways of life and customs and traditions. Marvelling at being able to order rice in McDonald’s or buying a Moon Cake in Starbucks isn’t quite the exposure to local culture many of us imagined when leaving home for a trip to the far flung corners of the world.
So while travelling around Burma or Myanmar isn’t as easy as in other more travelled countries, the relative difficulties are more than compensated for by the feeling of being somewhere undiscovered and unexploited, at least by Western tourists.
Must See Places in Myanmar
Mandalay is the second biggest city in the country and is considered the centre of Burmese culture. This makes it a great place to stop off on your excursion into the country. While the city can be found pretty much right in the centre of the country, it is also located on the banks of the Irrawaddy River.
Getting in to the city is easy enough thanks to the regular direct flights from Bangkok run by Air Asia and Bangkok Airways. You can also take the train from Yangon for those with more time on their hands and a desire to take in the scenery while making the journey.
Bagan is a popular destination for foreign travellers in Myanmar but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been spoilt yet. Like Mandalay it is located on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, but is about a seven hour bus ride away. The area has the largest concentration of Buddhist temples in the world making it ideal for those yet to succumb to template fatigue from their time in neighbouring countries. Even if you feel you are templed out, these monuments from the 11th and 12th centuries are still worth seeing in much the same way as the Angkor Wat edifices are.
Ngapali Beach should be on the itinerary of anyone with more than a passing interest in spending some downtime on the unspoilt beaches of Myanmar. Here you will find truly pristine white sands and postcard perfect blue water. While its becoming increasing popular with a certain type of visitor, Ngapali has still managed to keep its local ways of live alive. You can expect to see local fisherman going about their daily business and routines without too much disruption from the latest wave of tourists. An airport extension is in the works, to accommodate flights from Thailand and Singapore so expect all this to change in the coming years.
Inle Lake can be found in the middle of the country and covers a vast 44.9 square miles according to current estimates. Those staying here can opt for a place in the town or choose to stay on the lake. Lots of tours are in operation for those wishing to explore the area and the lake itself. Although reports almost unanimously warn travellers to be prepared for numerous trips to local shops, with strong encouragement to buy handcrafted tourist goods. The surrounding villages are ideal for being explored by bicycles, which can be rented from the many outlets around the area, although it does get quite hot.
Overall Myanmar is a great place to visit and for a chance to see ’old Asia’ it shouldn’t be overlooked. While it’s not as well setup for travellers as some of its neighbours, it does have many rewarding features on offer just waiting for you to discover.