I had actually planned to travel Myanmar right at the beginning of my trip. Uncertainties about the needed budget and the accomodation situation (it was high season back then) eventually kept me from going. But I could never really get it out of my mind. The things I had read and the stories I heard from fellow travelers who had been there just made me more and more curious. At one point I thought that I had to go and from then on it all went pretty quickly. I booked my tickets, arranged my visa in Kuala Lumpur and got a big stash of clean and crisp dollar bills. I was excited and was expecting a country very different from all the other places I have visited and with hopefully less tourism. At that point I didn’t know that my expectation would be more than exceeded.
I arrived in Myanmar during the end of the low and rainy season, a fact that was at first troubling me a bit. What if it would constantly rain, what if roads would be flooded or even washed away? But it turned to be the best decision ever and it changed my view of traveling Asia during that time of the year. The weather was mostly sunny, apart from short downpours, not too hot and it was evident that there were less tourists than usual. Sorting out accommodation was never a problem and prices were actually ok. Another thing I had been worrying about before.
Myanmar itself is a country of contrasts which already became evident during my first stop in the capital of Yangon. It was raw, rugged and sometimes dirty but yet so authentic, beautiful and interesting. Men walking around in their traditional skirts, the Longyi, women wearing traditional makeup, the Thanaka, monks and nuns as integral and ever present part of society and the most intricate temples and stupas I have ever seen. I can say that I was amazed from the first day on and that feeling never released me until my departure.
Burma, as Myanmar was referred to until 1998, offered a wide range of interesting sites to explore. From the ancient temples of Bagan, the many monasteries and traditional workshops of Mandalay to scenic Inle Lake with its many traditional markets. The country is just a feast for the eye and a heaven for every photographer. At the same time everything is much more authentic, less designed for tourists and more traditional than in any other South East Asian country right now. It makes exploring the beauty of this place so much more worthwhile and exciting.
However, what struck me most was the friendliness and helpfulness of the Burmese people. They can be so courteous that, given my experiences in other Asian countries, I sometimes wondered what they really wanted. But no hidden agendas, no fleecing. People were just friendly and curious about foreigners and always tried to help. Another striking feature was their remarkable generosity. On a trip through the Shan Highlands me and my travel buddy Aris were hosted and offered food several times by the villagers who themselves had so little. It’s hard to explain but all of this altered my own attitude as I was traveling and I was very content and well balanced during the entire trip. I just felt at ease and very happy to be there at this dynamic time.
A few practical things on traveling Myanmar: Traveling was actually a lot easier than I expected. You actually don’t need a big stash of dollar notes anymore. Functioning ATMs are everywhere already with more being set up as I write this. A lot of places have improved their accommodation situation with new guesthouses and hotels having just recently opened. The overland transportation by bus is good with new and comfortable buses plowing the main routes across the country day and night. So I guess, traveling is not the adventure as it used to be until just recently. Also tourism in Myanmar has skyrocketed during the last few years. With almost every tourist doing the same sort of loop (Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake), it can become crowded, especially during peak season. Don’t expect deserted sites or lonesome sunsets. That being said, it is very easy to venture off the beaten path and get in touch with the locals. This is something I can recommend everyone to do at least once. It is so worth it and you will probably have an unforgettable experience. Despite its touristic hotspots, the country’s tourism is still less developed than in for example Thailand or Vietnam. Even in places like Inle Lake or Bagan you can have those magical and unique experiences that make you rave over your vacation when back home.
For me Myanmar was a truly magical place. Magical because of its intriguing mix of friendly people, an omnipresent spirituality and an unmatched degree of authenticity. Almost wherever I went, I had amazing and rewarding encounters with the local people and for me this really makes traveling a foreign country the unique experience it is.
Where I have been:
3 days Yangon
3 days Bagan
4 days, Mandalay
4 days Hsipaw
2 days Remote village somewhere close to Hsipaw
1 day Mandalay
2 day Inle Lake
2 days Yangon
Taxi, Scooter, Small Ferry, Excursion boat, Bicycle, Public Bus, Minivans, Trains, Horse Cart, Night Bus, E-Bike
The friendly people, The country’s authenticity, The spirituality
Pricey accommodation in the main cities, ridiculous arrival times of night buses
Types of accommodation:
Hotel, Guesthouse, Monastery, Village Homestay, Nightbus
Hiking into a remote village in the Shan Highlands, spending the night in the monastery
Can’t think of a real lowlight here
Photos shot and kept on file:
About a month in Vietnam crossing the country from the far North to the South
Below I put a selection of my favorite Myanmar pictures. I hope you enjoyed my reports and the accompanying photographs. Feel free to message me or share your thoughts about your experiences traveling Myanmar or traveling in general. Thanks all for stopping by and the positive feedback. That really keeps me motivated.