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Authored by Chan Komagan

Update September 2017: I regret to announce that Burma is no longer my favorite country in South East Asia after seeing the Rohigya genocide that is happening in the country. I encourage everyone to sign up a petition to take the nobel prize from Suu Kyi.

Petition: https://www.change.org/p/take-back-aung-san-suu-kyi-s-nobel-peace-prize.

My first real exposure to Burma (Myanmar) was while watching Anthony Bourdain’s Emmy award-winning ‘Parts Unknown‘. The country was featured in the very first episode of this long running TV series, and I was immediately excited to go. My travel senses were quickly sparked, as was a curiosity about a country that had been isolated from the rest of the world for 60 years. I wanted a first hand experience like Anthony Bourdain. Myanmar trip.

Luckily I was in Kuala Lumpur at this time, and on visiting the Burmese consulate I received my tourist visa on the same day. Burma is still one of South East Asia’s biggest hidden gems. You can tell that from the number of people applying for a visa. Why should I travel to Myanmar?

Why Burma is My New Favorite Country in South East Asia

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History of Burma (Myanmar)

After gaining independence from Britain, Burma briefly experimented with democracy before falling under a long spell of military rule that lasted almost 50 years. Much of the country’s population is still in poverty. The nominal GDP of the country is 74 Billion USD which is about the size of Delaware’s economy.

The population here is close to 53 million (per 2014 census) with a population density of 76/sq km compared to a more populated country like India with 390/sq km. With the recent elections and the winning of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, there is a glimmering hope for real democracy to get a foothold in Burma. Is travel to Burma safe?

Though the upside of Burma having not seen democracy, and the lack of any industrialization of its economy, is that natural landscapes throughout the country are still untouched and well preserved. Burma travel guide.

the upside of Burma having not seen democracy, and the lack of any industrialization of its economy, is that natural landscapes throughout the country are still untouched and well preserved.

the upside of Burma having not seen democracy, and the lack of any industrialization of its economy, is that natural landscapes throughout the country are still untouched and well preserved.

The Most Authentic Country in South East Asia

I had the chance to travel Burma over two weeks, and the country quickly became my favorite destination in South East Asia. Burmese people are the friendliest people you will ever come across in your travels. They genuinely strive to help you (as supposed to my experience in Egypt thanks to their flailing tourism dependent economy), and always have a smile on their face.

The countryside of Burma is gorgeous with rice paddies, pagodas, nature and happy people. Some cities are dusty, though this is because the country’s infrastructure is still not developed. Difference between Burma and Myanmar?

I recommend that you visit Burma before it sees full democracy and the inevitable capitalism that will follow. Travel now before the country becomes an industrialized nation and a tourist mecca like Thailand.

For a better understanding of Burma and it’s disturbing times under British Colonial rule you must read George Orwell’s Burmese days. You will understand the worst kind of bigotry and corruption that Burma faced under the British rule. Should I call the country Burma or Myanmar?

Travel now before the country becomes an industrialized nation and a tourist mecca like Thailand.

Long necked women of Inle Lake

 Burmese people are the friendliest people you will ever come across in your travels.

How to Plan Travel to Burma

I flew from Kuala Lumpur to Yangon by plane. Looking back, I feel that I should have taken the land route from Thailand to Burma instead of flying directly to Yangon. Travel information about Myanmar. Myanmar travel information.

I would recommend crossing the Thailand/Burmese border via Mae Sot (on Thai border) and Myawaddy (on Burma border). You need to take a 5-hour bus from Chiang Mai to Mae Sot, and then cross the border. Then you will take another bus to Yangon. What to see and do in Burma/Myanmar.

Instead of going straight to Yangon I would go to Hpa-an (pronounced Paa-han) first to see the pagodas and golden rock. Then take a slow boat from Hpa-an to Mawlamyine. This boat ride is a fantastic introduction to Burma, as you will take in many interesting sites along the way, from fishermen, to little transport boats, pagodas and villages along the way. Once you are in Mawlamyine you must go to the biggest pagoda, Kyaikthanlan Pagoda in the town which is not too far from the town’s center. Myanmar travel itinerary.

Bagan and Inle Lake are a must see, but skip Mandalay if you are short on time.

Where to go in Burma

I was more spiritually connected in Bagan than anywhere else in South East Asia. Waking up early in the morning to see the sunrise was far more rewarding in Bagan than in Angkor Wat (I am sure others will disagree on this one).

You can rent an e-bike in Bagan and ride to various pagodas throughout the Old town. Bagan is a city with 4,000 pagodas (literally). You can visit a few of the main temples in the center of Old Bagan like the Ananda (most beautiful), Dhammayangi (biggest), Thatbyinyu (tallest) and Shwegugyi (for sunrise).

Inle Lake – Take a boat ride across the Inle Lake to visit different interesting sites (cheaper if you share the boat with others) like floating market, long necked women, lotus weaving loom, Cigar shop, temples and leg rowing performance. Riding a bike along the lake is a fun and adventurous way to explore. Myanmar travel advice. Burma travel itinerary.

Make sure to take the most interesting train ride of your life. The trains in Burma literally shake so much so you feel like you are riding a roller coaster. We took the train from Hpa-an to Yangon. It was a long 8 hour journey (get the Upper class seat) but it was worth the experience.

Hope you plan your travel to Burma soon and enjoy your visit as much as I did.

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Chan is an avid traveler and a tech enthusiast who has traveled to 5 continents and 40 countries in his lifetime. He quit his job last December to pursue his dream of traveling to the far corners of the world.

Based in New York, while traveling he does stock trading and blogging at Komagan.com. You can connect with Chan on Facebook and Twitter. You can read more of his guest posts on this blog on his author page.

Photo credits: Featured image by Drouyn Cambridge. Myanmar Monk by KX Studio. Bagan sunset by Alexander Mueller. All other photos by Chan Komagan.

    30 Comments

  1. Very interesting and informative…and the pictures were fabulous!

    • Thanks for checking out the article Becky.

  2. Hey Chan, thanks for the post!
    My wife and I are planning our last 6 months in Southeast Asia, and it´s time to visit Burma. We have done all the other countries and I feel we are saving the best for the last! Thanks for the tips, I´m anxious to see this interesting country with my own eyes!
    Cheers,
    Nat

    • Thanks Nat. If you have been to other countries in S.E.Asia you will absolutely love Burma even more. Glad to hear you are planning a trip there soon. Cheers mate.

  3. I think we need to go visit! How is handicap accessibility there – did you notice anything in particular?

    • Hi Jessie – Thanks for reading. Unfortunately Myanmar is not yet developed to have support for handicap accessibility. But most little towns (like Bagan and Inle lake) are laid back so there should not be an issue getting around. Bigger cities like Yangon and Mandalay have side walks for easy walking. But of course there are places within the cities where the streets are really busy. Hope that helps.

  4. This is a really interesting post and I would love to visit Myanmar. I agree with you that it is certainly perceived as one of the most authentic countries left in SE Asia.

    • Hope you have the chance to visit soon Amanda :)

  5. Burma really looks like a gem. Havent been to Asia yet, but i would definitely choose a destination like Burma rather than crowded places elsewhere.

    • Absolutely – I really hope that the influx of tourism which is bound to occur in the next few years doesn’t ruin the authenticity or dilute the Burmese culture.

  6. Yes Burma is indeed a gem as yet undiscovered . It still retains a lot of its pristine quality though the land and the people have been traumatized for quite some time because of various regimes. And you are right one needs to visit Burma before it gets wrapped in the trappings of commercialization.

    • Absolutely – I really hope that the influx of tourism which is bound to occur in the next few years doesn’t ruin the authenticity or dilute the Burmese culture.

  7. Wow, this looks like a great place. I have been to many countries in SE Asia, but have yet to visit Myanmar. I’ll add it to the list!

    • Hope you have the chance to travel soon!

  8. A friend of mine recently returned from
    Burma as well and raved about it – looks like I’m going to have to add this to my list! Stunning photos of the sunrise!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting everyone…keep it coming.

  9. I haven’t traveled in SE Asia at all yet. Sounds like Burma might be the place to start especially for the authenticity. Thanks for the tips and inspiration.

    • Absolutely..there are only two countries in South East Asia that are still less developed and more interesting to visit. Burma and Laos. I personally prefer them over Thailand. Thanks for reading the article.

  10. Well written Chan. Thanks for the tip of the land route from Thailand to Myanmar! Myanmar is the first foreign country I’ve ever been, though I was there only for a day in 1988 when I crossed the border from YunNan, China into Myanmar. Will definitely visit there again before it lost its shine.

    • Thanks Sam. I am glad you enjoyed reading the article. Yes I much prefer doing the land route than the airplane route. As I stated it is much more adventurous to cross the border by land. Please try to visit before all the modernization comes to Myanmar.

  11. I would love to visit Burma and Myanmar for a spiritual journey. I also saw Anthony Bourdain’s show and was inspired.

    • Hope you have the chance to travel soon Tawanna! Anthony Bourdain’s show is inspired :)

  12. Hmmm, sounds interesting. Now that the political unrest is more or less calmed, there are are many exotic sites it offers. Worth considering!

    • Absolutely Marlys – and the best time to travel is now before western influence takes hold :)

  13. We love Myanmar! It’s becoming more and more touristed though, but is still quite authentic and the people are lovely :)

    • Glad to hear that Dariece! I can see it becoming even more of a tourist magnet over time – can only hope that the influx of tourism which is bound to occur in the next few years doesn’t ruin the authenticity or dilute the Burmese culture.

  14. I cannot agree more. We went with our children in 2014 and had an amazing experience. I wrote a children traveling book for Myanmar. Absolutely fascinating and the kids really loved it. It’s on top of their list for travel in the region. I also really recommend Hpa An (with the amazing cave temple) and Mawlamyine. Can’t wait to go back :)

    • Thanks Isabelle for reading and commenting. I agree with you that Hpa An and Mawlaminey are must-see place in Myanmar. Most tourists overlook these two places. I really enjoyed the slow boat ride from Mawlamyine to Hpa-an and the wild train ride from Hpa-an to Rangoon.

      Glad you enjoyed your trip. Please share the title of the Children book you wrote. I am interested to check it out.

  15. I’m going to try to get to Myanmar later this year along with other countries in SE Asia.

    • You’ll love it! Can’t wait to follow the updates from your trip :)

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