Myanmar was #2 on our list of Top Indie Travel Destinations for 2013!

There are disagreements about what to call this country. Is it Burma or Myanmar? Something else? The political situation in Myanmar, or Burma, is unstable, but the country has been able to do something that few places can, undergo a somewhat violent change in power without making the destination unsafe for travelers. Back to the name, in 1989 the English translation of the country was switched from 'Burma' to 'Myanmar' and depending on who you talk to both names are used interchangeably.

Why you should add Burma to your trip

  • Take a flying leap off the beaten path and get your explorer senses tingling in a place where you can explore for days yet only see tourists in your hostel. Go soon, because Burma’s opening up and it won’t be so isolated for long.
  • Stepping into Burma is like stepping back in time. Its cities have barely changed since the 60s and its tribes live as they have done for centuries. Nowhere else in Asia will you see such untouched lifestyles, relics, religions and landscapes.
  • Live in the lap of luxury or out of a backpack. Sculpt any trip to Burma around your budget. If you’re feeling flush, fly from city to city, stay in mind numbingly glamorous hotels, and eat western food. Or travel overland, book into hostels, and eat local to stretch your dollars.
  • Get lost in the Temples of Bagan. Once called The City that Tramples on Enemies, Bagan is an ancient temple city unmatched anywhere else in the world, with thousands of temples stretching to the horizon across a parched, dry landscape.
  • You can’t get bored in Burma. If you ever get enough of its vibrant cities, its pristine nature, its ancient culture, you can escape to some of the best beaches in the world.

Indie Travel Tips

  • People are friendly and the general standard of English is high, so don’t be afraid to talk to the locals. Who knows what adventures you might unlock.
  • While the vast majority of shops and tour guides are honest, there are still the occasional bad eggs. Make sure you ask around to ensure you’re getting a reasonable price, and bargain hard.
  • Buses and planes are constantly canceled or rescheduled without notice, so if you’re pushed for time, arrange your trip with a local travel agent so they can help you if things go pear shaped.
  • Keep a Longhi (Burmese sarong) or long shorts on hand since you’ll need to cover your knees whenever you visit a temple or Buddhist site. If you’re female, you’ll need to cover your shoulders, too.
  • Cruise the Irrawaddy, from Mandalay to Bagan or back the other way on a luxury cruise or a ferry. Either way, you’ll be rocked to sleep by the bobbing of the boat as you watch temples drift by on the shores and overtake fishermen in dugout canoes .
  • If you’ve spent a lot of time exploring Yangon, don’t spend too much time in Mandalay. It seems to lack the absorbing atmosphere of Yangon. When visiting Burma you can’t avoid sending money to the Junta, but you can lower your contribution to their coffers. Avoid high end hotels, travel overland, eat at local places and use rickshaws/auto rickshaws. The general rule is, if it’s high end they get a cut of it.
  • Incomes are still painfully low for most Burmese. Spread your tourist dollars around when you can by using a different driver every day and eating in different local restaurants.

Overview

For decades Burma has been subjected to trade embargoes and tourism boycotts, so few have visited one of the most incredible countries in Asia. It’s now making huge strides to open up its economy and has even been visited by US President Barack Obama. Since then, more travel companies have started organizing tours, more airlines have started flying there, and more people are going.

What to see

Traveling to Myanmar gives you sense of the south east Asian culture and lifestyle. Although Myanmar has more coastline than much of the rest of the countries surrounding it, tourists go to Myanmar in order to experience the local culture and cuisine rather than lounge on the beaches. The temples of Bagan, the cities, and the people are the biggest tourist attraction. For more in depth information on what to do and see in Burma, check out the following articles:

Transportation

The best way to get to Myanmar is to fly into Bangkok then catch a flight to Yangon.  You can now fly from Singapore on Singapore Airlines, Malaysia on Malaysia Airlines, China on China Eastern, Doha on Qatar, and even Hong Kong on Dragonair. Most of these are new flights! You can also travel overland into Myanmar from Thailand.  There are land crossings from China and India, though both can be difficult and are always changing.  It's best to check on the current situation before committing. Buses are probably the quickest, cheapest, and easiest way to get around Myanmar, but you can also get around by train and/or boat.  As always, check with local operators as things are always changing here.

Accommodations

The tourist centers of Mandalay, Yagon and Bagan have a wide selection of hotels. There are many hostels and budget hotels throughout the country as well. For luxury accommodation, there are five star resorts and deluxe hotels up and down the coastline, as well as on Inlay Lake.
ANDY KNIGHT lives with his wife in the concrete jungle of Hong Kong. He’s a professional copywriter and an adrenaline junkie who loves nothing more than discovering new places, whether round the corner or across the world.
Photo credits: Corto Maltese [All content and prices updated January 2013]