Myanmar, or also known as Burma, was practically off limits to Western travelers, until fairly recently. But, after 50 years of military rule and subsequent democratic reform, one of Asia’s undervalued jewels has finally opened its gorgeous shores to nirvana-seekers and travel junkies who missed Thailand’s unblemished and pristine beauty more than 20 years ago.
Today, travelers from all corners of the world are flocking in Myanmar in spades, curious to delve into the country’s spotless beaches, primeval jungles and majestic temples, which have remained gloriously concealed and untouched for a very long time. Whether you consider yourself a weekend warrior, a tourist or hardcore backpacker, you will definitely find your bliss in Myanmar.
Still not convinced? Here are a few reasons why the gaudy “Golden Land” should be on your travel bucket list!
1. Charming people
The locals in Myanmar are, in general, incredibly friendly and welcoming to all travelers. As a matter of fact, most of them are willing to go out of their way, just to show you around their beautiful country. To practice English is essential to them, so you will be often approached with a “hi”, “hello” or “what’s your name”, and an authentic smile. As long as you’re modest and respectful, you’ll meet plenty of awesome people in Myanmar who are willing and ready to share their culture and lives with you.
2. It is home to one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites
Bagan – an ancient city nestled beautifully in Myanmar’s lush Mandalay region – flaunts a sprawling temple site that can rival the splendor of Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu. Here, you’ll get to feast your eyes on over 3,000 elaborate temples that date as far as back to the 10th century. With breathtaking glided spires that spread out the across the horizon, Bagan’s landscape certainly looks quite like a scene from a dream.
3. Fabulous hot-air balloon rides
Anyone who has been to Bagan will tell you that the best way to see the ancient temples in Mandalay is by ascending the landscape in a hot-air balloon. Brett Melzer and his wife started this one-of-a-kind tour in 1999 with a single balloon, and have ever since sharing the aerial grandeur of rural Burma with visitors.
4. Incredible hiking opportunities
Hiking is a relatively new form of leisure in Myanmar, but tour companies are already taking things up a notch, so they can cater toward the adventurous traveler. Most backpackers go for a 2-day trek around Inle Lake’s stilt villages, but for an even more remote adventure, venture deep into the Shan highlands, or head down south of Hp-Pan.
Here, you can soak in some awe-inspiring views as well as summit limestone peaks (many of which are beautiful topped by little monasteries). What’s more, you’ll hike through mist-draped forests, meet colorful freshwater crabs, and share a cup of tea with a bunch of blissful novice monks. Some of these monks may not speak English, but you’ll surely love spending every second with them.
5. It’s affordable
Looking for a super affordable international adventure? Then, make sure to include Myanmar to your travel plans! Better yet, put it on top of your travel bucket list. Although prices for lodging are a bit inflated due to the sudden rise of travelers and shortage of hotel rooms, you can still comfortably live around $15 a day in Myanmar.
Traditional meals in this country will cost you somewhere between 80 cents to three dollars. A 20-minute taxi cab ride around a city may cost you around two dollars. A relaxing 1-hour massage will run about four dollars. The long 12-hour bus ride to Bagan from Yangon will cost around eight dollars.
6. Mouthwatering and cheap cuisine
Food in Myanmar is cheap, tasty and plentiful. What makes its cuisine so special and unique is the fact that it is not eaten outside the borders of Myanmar. Admit it – how many times you have seen a Burmese eatery or restaurant in another city or country?
Dishes in Burma are derived from Chinese, Indian and Thai ingredients, which should not come as a surprise considering the geographic location of the country.
The most common and sumptuous dishes in Myanmar are Onnokauswe (noodles simmered in coconut milk), Shan Noodles (traditional Burmese noodles stir-fried with chicken in peanuts, vegetables and bean sauce), and Mohinga (rice noodles with an orange fish sauce).
As an added bonus, the country has bountiful fruit crops, thanks to its tropical climate. From a market stand, you can enjoy a fresh fruit for as low as 10 cents or a blended fruit smoothie for 50 cents. And, did we mention it has an amazing, cheap and refreshing local beer – the Myanmar Beer?
7. Stunning beaches and islands
A lot of international backpackers still don’t know that Myanmar boasts some of the world’s most beautiful islands and beaches. Until recently, these white-sand, palm-fringed playgrounds were off-limits, but things are changing fast in this country. Each week, more and more restrictions, when it comes to the country’s beaches, are being lifted.
Now is the best time to visit Myanmar, and hunt for your dream tropical island. Just think of perfect sandy beaches, coconut cocktails and coral-rich blue waters. There are more than 800 empty islands in Burma’s Mergui archipelago, meaning that today is a great time to head on a boat or kayak, and discover paradise in the ocean.
8. There’s plenty of room for exploration
Myanmar is truly a massive country, and there are hundreds of hidden jewels that only locals know about. To me, it’s supremely easy to get off the beaten track, and have caves, mountains, ruins and temples all to yourself. Trust me, you’ll feel like you have stepped back a century into the past, like a true voyager, as you backpack your way across Myanmar.
9. Shwedagon Pagoda
The towering 110-meter-high stupa at Shwedagon Pagoda is literally covered with tons of golden plates, while its top is stuffed with 4,531 diamonds (the largest of this diamond collection is 72 carat). This 2,500-year old pagoda is located in the crumbling, pleasant former capital of Yangon, and is one of the most striking sights in all of Asia. Don’t forget to drop by the golden-walled corner that features an enshrined strand of Buddha’s hair.
10. See it, before everyone does
Myanmar is fast becoming the place to go and the ultimate backpacking destination in Asia. Nowadays, more and more backpacking connoisseurs are tagging the country on the famous classic Thailand-Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia route, and rightfully so.