Once an integral part of the mighty Indian sub-continent and the lush green tropical land that is full of temples, lovely people, traditional cultures, colonial history, religious fervor and jade mountains, Burma (Myanmar) is one of the hottest destinations in the world right now. And with the international overland border between India and Myanmar being re-opened, an overland trip to Burma is also generating a lot of interest, especially with motorcycling and car enthusiasts.
As someone who spent 30 days slowly exploring this amazing country that is just re-appearing from its long lost past, I can clearly say that there is more to this it than what meets the eye. But, before you head out to Myanmar to experience the joys of travel, do not forget to protect your journey by purchasing a travel insurance plan. From medical reimbursement to providing a protection cover for all your valuables, a travel insurance will ensure that you enjoy a worry free holiday.
Whether, you are on a short holiday or a long backpacking vacation, you will find innumerable avenues to mesmerize yourself with the charms of this country. Below are 10 of the best experiences that one should ideally make a part of their Myanmar holiday itinerary.
1) Watch the Sun rising over the Bagan Landscape
Bagan is the land of pagodas and temples. Located by the iconic Iyyerawaddy River, these 11th and 12th century marvels have stood the test of time and give us an insight into Bagan’s spectacular past. With more than 2,200 temples spread across the plains of the Iyyerawaddy, one can safely draw parallels with the Pyramids of Egypt as some of the temple structures are humongous. While early morning hot air balloon rides are a great way to see the Bagan landscape at Sunrise, I prefer climbing to the top of Thatbyinnyu temple to catch a special sunrise view. For sunsets, I would recommend going to the top of Shwesandaw temple and Shwegugyi temple.
2) Catch the Traditional Fishermen in action at Inle Lake
Imagine floating villages. Think a unique fishing technique. Think tribal cultures of many kinds. Think traditional craft work and small scale industry. Hydroponic farming and floating vegetable gardens are just the icing on the cake. The shallow Inle Lake located in the heart of the country is all this and much more. A boat trip on this lake takes you across floating villages and their tribal denizens. You will get to see the making of cheroots (local cigarette). You will get to see how the longyi is made from either bamboo or threads from the lotus stem. And you will keep coming across fishermen who seem busy with their conical shaped fishing nets. If you get lucky, you can even taste a tomato from a floating vegetable garden. Inle Lake is a special experience and hence it is not surprising that it is one of the most popular destinations in Burma.
3) Listen to the early morning chants of the Buddhist Monks at Shwedagon Pagoda
From British colonial architecture and history to bustling markets and a stunning riverside, there is so much to see and do in Yangon. But, if you wish to experience the true pulse of the city, you need to reach Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar’s most religious site before sunrise, find yourself a nice spot and simply keep your eyes and ears open. What will unfold next is a long line of monks begging for alms (a traditional practice) and then offering prayers at the temple. The sound of the prayers are so strong that it stirs a feeling of peace deep inside of you.
4) Celebrate Thingyan, the Water Festival and New Year
Every year around the mid of April (in 2017, it is between April 13 and 17), Myanmar celebrates its traditional new year ‘Thingyan’ with a lot of fanfare. Similar to Thailand’s Songran, during the festival, people throw water on each other and then there are specific water gassing stations where vehicles with all their passengers are doused with copious amounts of water. The entire country celebrates during this time and foreign visitors are welcomed to the home of locals for desserts, beer and whiskey. Having taken part in this festival, I can personally vouch for its heightened fun factor.
5) Wear a Longyi and apply some Thanaka
When in Burma, behave like the Burmese do. Which means wear a longyi, the local sarong like clothing worn on the bottom and apply some thanaka, a paste made from a local root that keeps you cool. Not only are these two fun, but they are perfect companions to beat the heat and humidity of Myanmar and to generate warm smiles and oodles of hospitality from the super friendly locals.
6) Travel by train from Yangon to Bago
Burma is known for its ancient Japanese train coaches and rickety-rackety tracks that are legacy of the British. These trains are the backbone of the masses as prices are extremely low. Which means that this is the perfect opportunity to see the true Burma from vegetable sellers to school kids, from tribals to fishermen and from monks to the traditional Burmese who love their smiles, thanaka, longyi and the betel nut. While trains cover many more parts of the country, I am recommending a train journey from Yangon to Bago as it takes only two hours and it allows you to explore another beautiful temple town of Burma in Bago.
7) See Traditional Pottery Magic Unfurl at Twante
Located deep in the Iyyerawaddy delta is a small village called Twante. It takes a boat ride, a tuk tuk ride and a walk to reach this place that is known for its pottery art and crafts. Made from the clay rich mud of the Iyyerwaddy delta, the potters of Twante eke out some of the best pottery creations of this region. Such is their quality that kings of far away kingdoms used to be gifted with magical creations from here. Even today, this ancient tradition is alive and kicking in this village and any visitor can come, see and learn this pottery art. And if you like something, you could even potentially buy something as a souvenir for your friends and family back home.
8) Shop at Bogyoke Aung San Market, Yangon
What holiday is complete without some local shopping? Yangon’s bustling Bogyoke Aung San market is the perfect place to buy everything from jade and precious stones to crafts made from Burma teak. And then there are colorful umbrellas, handicrafts, tribal creations, clothes (especially the longyi), bamboo work and many other souvenir items. The market is so big that can get lost in the maze of shops here for hours. A perfect place for shopping, right?
9) Discover Unique Tribal Cultures
Burma is a country that is full of unique tribal cultures. From the long necked karens to the artisans of voodoo, the mountains of Burma, especially near Inle Lake are famous for their tribes. These people follow their ancient traditions even till date. This could be traditional clothing, traditional work, their own unique scripts and languages to their own sets of whims and fancies. All in all, they make for a very attractive package.
10) Search for Jade Mountains beyond Myitkyina
The world over has heard stories of jade mountains, mountains of gold and precious stones in Burma. These are not just stories, but such places do exist in Myanmar. If you have a bit of Indiana Jones in you, head up north to the city of Myitkyina and then make your way north east from there till you find scores of people searching rivers for precious stones and even professional digging companies looking for the precious stuff. Who knows, you can get lucky and strike gold or jade or any precious gem!!
By now, I am sure you have realized the sheer diversity of this tropical country and I do hope that you get to experience some of its best on your next holiday to Burma.
Do remember that an international travel insurance policy is essential to take care of all overseas contingencies and a medical insurance comes in very handy while you recover from any bacterial, viral or any other illnesses (like malaria or dengue) that you might have contracted during your holiday to this tropical paradise. I hope you plan well and have a holiday of a lifetime in Myanmar.