8 reasons why you should go to Burma right now

The talk of the travel town in the last year is how Burma has become a victim of its own success. How (apologies for the GCSE-level economic analysis to follow) demand has outstripped supply for guides and quality accommodation and how the country might be over before it has even begun as a luxury travel destination. Well, we can report from the front line and say that this is – fortunately for all concerned – not the case. Sure, the surge in Burma’s popularity has caused teething problems, but the logistics are improving and the country’s legendary soul and charm are very much still in evidence.

Burma-header

In fact, we’d go so far as to say this window (and who knows how many years it will last) might just be the perfect sweet spot time to visit. Here’s why:

No McDonalds, no Starbucks

Yes, we confess, Yangon has a KFC, but the Golden Arches are – to date, and mercifully – entirely absent, and in a country with some great food, long may that last.

Luxury hotels (and liners) have landed

The supply/demand conundrum of recent years was worst when it came to luxury hotels, with the best (and often only) boutique hotels booked months in advance. The lack of capacity is one of the reasons for the huge popularity of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin River cruises. These luxury liners remain a seriously spoiling way to see the country, and the latest arrival – the Sanctuary Ananda – has upped the ante considerably, but back on dry land things are improving too. The biggest opening this year will be the elegant Sanctum Inle Resort, slated for a full opening in October, and with 96 rooms on lovely Inle Lake and (according to sources) ridiculously comfy beds. Existing hotels in Inle are also upping their game, such as Inle Resort, which is renovating and adding 180 rooms. In beautiful Bagan, Bagan Lodge – a mere two years old anyway – is adding suites to open this December.

RTM

ATMs!

While the fast food giants have so far been kept at bay, one pleasant modern convenience has arrived – the ATM. Even a couple of years ago, travellers to Burma would have had to bring their body weight in US dollars to feed their new found lacquerwork habit, but now there are – gasp – cashpoint machines in Yangon. They even work occasionally.

Magical markets

Some of the main sites (Bagan, Inle Lake) are starting to feel pretty touristy  – albeit not in an Angkor Wat way – but it’s still eminently easy to get off the beaten track in Burma, and one of the best ways to do this is to visit a local market. A good guide (on which more later) can bring the whole experience even more to life and Burma is particularly famous for fabulous lacquerwork. The added bonus? In a country where the military junta has fingers in many pies, paying cash straight into the hands of a market stall owner is a wonderful way of benefitting the right people. The other added bonus? We can confidently say you will never, ever be hassled to buy something in a market.

Burma-market

(Even) better Guides

We’re not for a second saying that the guides weren’t already great, but now they have a few years’ experience of dealing with Western tourists under their belt, the best got even better. It’s absolutely true what they say about Burmese charm (you may never open a door on your entire trip), and a knowledgeable guide who can add the cultural context will always enhance the trip. A good guide should be able to explain Buddhist beliefs, change an itinerary on the hoof if required, order the local speciality in a teashop and talk with passion about the region because most will likely be local. What the guidebooks don’t always mention is the famously wicked Burmese sense of humour, which you’ll soon experience from an English speaking guide!

burma-buddhist

The classic sights

They’re still there. At the risk of hyperbole, the stupa and temple covered plains of Bagan; the stilt villages of Inle Lake and sunset at U Bein Bridge near Mandalay are three of the most iconic sites in South East Asia, if not the world.

Burma-sunset

Activities

There are also now a number of memorable ways to explore these memorable places. Think exploring Inle Lake by kayak or, for the ultimate in photographic safaris, taking a dawn balloon ride over the temples of Bagan with one of the world’s most highly regarded hot air balloon companies.

Bagan-sunrise

The beach

Even culture vultures get ‘temple/museum legs’ eventually and in Ngapali Beach, Burma has a quintessential white-sandy-beach-with-palm-trees set up that often elicits the line ‘It’s like Koh Samui back in the 70s’. For anyone old or lucky enough to remember then, that’s a good thing, but like its Thai comparison it’s unlikely Ngapali will remain untouched forever.

Ngapali-beach-burma

Tom Barber is Co-Founder of Original Travel.

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Comments (3)

  1. I visited the country during June 2015 and had a great time. It was warm (in every sense of the word) and wonderfully photogenic.

  2. Fabien Langeau says:

    Even though it is a nice sum-up of what is really opening right now in Myanmar (or should we say Burma), this topics lacks some elements.

    For example, in the ATMs section, you should mention that you don’t find them only in Yangon, but also in many other big cities in the country (Mandalay) and in other touristic places, which is even more convenient and amazing !

    I would add also that snorkelling can also be a very nice option in this country as well !

    And for the classic sights, I think you forgot at least two gems of this delightful country : the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon and Mount Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock) !

  3. One more thing to add: the small river cruises are a wonderful way to see the villages. We did the Orcaella by Belmond, and it was fabulous.

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