Yes, that’s a catch-doubly-deuce, but true nonetheless. You should travel to Myanmar sooner rather than later. In fact, you may already be too late…
When I decided to travel to Myanmar in March 2014, I had an inkling it was going to be something special. The country formerly known as Burma opened its gates to tourists in 2012 after spending 50 years in a bubble. The opportunity to step inside and explore the country was too tempting to pass up. I’m so glad I took it.
Why should you travel to Myanmar?
Three years on, the web is flooded with information about the wonders of this country now as its mystery is slowly unveiled. You don’t need me to tell you what the greatest highlights are there, nor do you need a list of the best accommodation. The gold rush mentality the country adopted led to a construction frenzy in recent years, resulting in many huge, empty hotels. You might just get one all to yourself!
Now, what people really need is the motivation to go and travel to Myanmar.
They need to go before the mass influx of tourists ruins it and robs it of everything that makes it so incredibly unique and wonderful.
Counter-intuitive advice of course but let’s face it; it is inevitable. Tourism is already changing the country for the worse. Go now and you can be one of the lucky ones to get a feel for the magic of Myanmar before it is completely eradicated.
You won’t find more genuine people anywhere else.
Myanmar’s eastern neighbor is known as the Land of Smiles. While the Thai people are some of the friendliest in the world, the dark underbelly in the Kingdom is undeniable. The notorious Full Moon Party has been dangerous for years. More recently, the famous scuba haven Koh Tao has carved itself a new nickname, ‘Murder Island’, which has nothing to do with large flocks of crows.
Theft, scams and police corruption trouble tourists in many South East Asian nations including Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Myanmar is the odd one out.
Burmese people are genuinely just curious about foreigners. I found their good nature comparable only to the honesty of Koreans. When my old-time bicycle had a problem, passers-by flocked to assist me within seconds. I lost my wallet once (of course!) and simply retraced my steps to find it in the care of the internet cafe owner. In 2014, Myanmar was a safe place with little chance of being scammed.
There are signs that things are changing however as a fellow blogger ran into some trouble with kids in Bagan. It seems the dark side of tourism is growing in Myanmar.
You can enjoy the most incredible temples all to yourself.
Oh, so many temples! And buddhas by the hundred! Where Angkor Wat is flooded with bodies, constantly ruining your selfies, here in Myanmar you can leisurely stroll around sprawling, sacred grounds and stupas with barely a few silent strangers for company.
Sadly, the Burmese Government are struggling to adapt to the boom in tourism. The crown jewel has already being heavily impacted by mass development in Bagan. An earthquake in 2016 was a major blow to many temples. Perhaps Mother Nature thought it was a bad idea to put a golf course and bunch of hotels in the middle of an ancient archaeological site.
You can disconnect from the world.
Personally speaking, I’ve never felt quite so far from the tourist trail than in Myanmar. In 10 days there in March 2014, I traveled from Mandalay in the north to Yangon in the south and honestly, I don’t think I saw more than a dozen Western tourists. Maybe they were all hiding from me. Seriously though, it was eerie, but in a good way.
You can wander around streets without signposts or GPS, pick random food without menus and drink coca-cola from bags. That’s right, you can travel to Myanmar and get a pretty good bag of coke.
All the while, you’re perplexed to almost everything that is happening throughout your day. There was no decent Burmese language app in 2014. Not that it would have mattered anyhow as finding a sim-card even a few years ago was almost impossible. Nowadays however, WiFi is becoming common as the economy of Myanmar continues to explode.
Apparently, they have a KFC now. Hurry up before McDonalds and Starbucks get there too!
You will have adventures unlike any other.
I drove a real motorbike for the first time there. The old man at the roadside shack blew the dust of the 1970s crotch rocket and gave me the basics with some mumbled charades about how to change gears with my toes before he slapped a child’s helmet onto my head and waving me off with a toothless grin.
I trundled along the dusty roads and turned the corner into six lines of chaotic, beeping traffic. At that precise moment, both my mirrors swung loose on their rusty limbs, collapsing to face the ground, leaving me blind to the cacophony of engines closing in from behind. The reasonably frequent tasks of switching lanes and taking corners were quite the mission that day.
You will witness one of the most beautiful sunrises in the world.
Sunrises are on the bucket list of many travellers, often at crowded temples where you shuffle for position through sleepy crowds in the dark, trying to find the best setting on your camera.
In Mandalay, you can just gently float across the still waters and leisurely take snaps of the world’s oldest and longest teak-wood bridge as a glorious red sun rises in the background.
A few young monks and distant silhouettes walking along the bridge only add to the effect and you can soak up the scene with a coffee as your boatman paddles you into all the best positions to get those perfect Instagram images.
You can meet the fascinating villagers of Inle Lake.
You could get a bus to Inle Lake. But then you would be a fool. You’re not a fool, right?
If you have adventure and cultural immersion in mind, then you don’t want to travel to Myanmar and miss out on a trek to Inle Lake.
Start off in the village of Kalaw and take two or three days trekking through farmlands and open woods. Stay with villagers, eating local food, sleep in wooden huts and visit the river markets. Eventually you will board a long riverboat and snake through the river villages, exchanging curious glances with young children and elderly women who are going about their daily lives in wooden huts propped above the water and long grass.
At the end, you will be greeted by the magnificence of Inle Lake and its iconic boatmen, standing proudly on the end of their vessels as they use a single leg to man the oar. It’s an unforgettable experience. However, it’s wise to take photos just in case your memory sucks.
You will never go hungry.
Myanmar is located smack bang in the middle of China, India and Thailand. You might imagine that would make for one of the greatest culinary cauldrons on the planet. Sadly, it is not the case as a lot of their fare is surprisingly bland and with little variety.
That being said, I enjoyed the food and although it wasn’t mind-blowing, it never failed to fill me. Your table will be filled with little side-dishes and try as you may to empty them all, your efforts will be futile. They will be replenished quickly, over and over until you can take no more!
You can drink great beer!
Myanmar is not cheap. Certainly not compared to some of its neighbors. However, as tourism continues to change the landscape, one silver lining will be the prevalence of competitive prices. No doubt, backpacker hostels and happy hours will soon follow.
For now, the beer is a relative bargain. Like India, drinking culture is not a major aspect of life in Myanmar and this is not a country that is likely to have any wild jungle parties anytime soon. But if you want to enjoy a few brews at the end of a hike or dusty day on the motorbike around the temples, then Myanmar Beer is worth every cent!
Are you ready to travel to Myanmar now? How long do you think it has left before tourism crushes its soul?
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