The hottest talk in town now has to be Myanmar. After years of isolation due to restrictions imposed by its former oppressive military junta, Myanmar has kicked off democratic reforms and is now welcoming visitors to spur foreign investments.
Indeed, a desire to have a first-hand experience of the exciting changes happening in the country motivated me and my friends to visit Myanmar this year.
At the end of our trip, we were totally blown away by the warm hospitality and buzzing vitality that the people of Myanmar have to offer.
The capital city Yangon is 1.5 hours away from Singapore by flight. Myanmar is a largely Buddhist society but is ethnically diverse with 135 distinct ethnic groups and many spoken languages.
The best of Myanmar – Recommended Itinerary
A tried-and-tested way of experiencing an up-and-coming Myanmar is to visit its ‘Big Four’ destinations.
• Yangon gives the impression of a dynamic and entrepreneurial city which is ready to leave behind its past and embrace modernity. Spend a whole day wandering around downtown, ending at Bogyoke market which has the best selection of handicrafts and souvenirs. The next day, get up early to pay a visit to the awe-inspiring Shwedagon Pagoda in the heart of Yangon. Gleaming in gold and decorated with diamonds, it is a spectacular work of Burmese temple architecture and is the holiest Buddhist shrine in Myanmar.
• Take an overnight bus or train to Mandalay, second-largest city in Myanmar to tour the Royal Palace, a walled city built in 1861 to have an idea of the grandeur of the Burmese kingdom.
• At you next stop in Bagan, hire a horse-cart or cycle around 42 sq km of 800-year-old temples built by the ancient Bagan kings. The majesty of these mysterious temples will change the way you think about temples again.
• Wrap up your tour of Myanmar in Inle Lake, located in the eastern Shan state. This is my favourite destination where I had a great time exploring this beautiful lake on a hired boat and interacting with the friendly locals here.
Tips and Tricks
Some tips for those of you who are planning to visit Myanmar soon before it becomes developed and touristy.
• Strangely, Burmese cuisine wasn’t too suitable to our Singaporean palates. Just stick to ordering the familiar Chinese-style stir-fried dishes with a local flavour and you should be fine.
• Amenities in Myanmar is even more lacking than in Sri Lanka, so travellers have to make do with rudimentary toilet facilities, especially in the transit stops if you’re taking the bus.
• Due to years of neglect, transport infrastructure is sorely lacking and is not fully capable of coping with the recent tourism boom. Taking the overnight train can be a really long and unreliable journey while there are stories of people throwing up their meals on the uncomfortable long-distance bus journeys.
Off the Beaten Path
Like Sri Lanka (which I featured previously – http://www.washingchopsticks.me/2012/10/off-beaten-track-sri-lanka.html), Myanmar is a gem of a travel destination in Asia for you to discover.
While travelling to such off-the-beaten-track places can be daunting for the first-time visitor, the satisfaction of having survived and thrived can be extremely rewarding, and perhaps best expressed in a quote by John Barth: ‘You don’t reach Serendib by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings.’