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.
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
You can hover over this (or any image) to quickly pin it!
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 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?
Related: 3 Life Lessons Learned in Myanmar
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.
INSPIRED? PIN THIS TO YOUR TRAVEL PINTEREST BOARDS ↓