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 Authored by Ruben Arribas

Myanmar is a country which has been off limits for many years; isolated from the rest of the world due to decades of a brutally oppressive regime.  Though following the lifting of Western sanctions, Burma – also known as Myanmar – has become a magnet for tourists. And it’s not hard to see why.

Myanmar is a country full of mythical landscapes and wondrous sights: from golden-gilded Buddhas in Yangon, to a thousand temples scattered across the countryside in Bagan, it is a beautiful and culturally rich country.

But the big draw is the chance to see a country where the 21st-century world has barely touched. This is the least visited country in South East Asia, which has managed to preserve the look of old Asia. It’s a place where Buddhism is still a way of life. Myanmar trip. Traveling in Myanmar advice.

The people are more than friendly; they’re thrilled to have tourists after being closed off to the West for so long, and eager to introduce foreigners to their country and their culture. And it’s safe; you won’t constantly need to feel for your purse or hold your jewelry tightly. Visit Myanmar 2016.

The following are 10 things you shouldn’t miss on a trip to Myanmar.

10 Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Myanmar

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Visiting Bagan

Bagan is the most beautiful place in Myanmar. A temple town with more than 2,000 Buddhist temples, the ‘Bagan Archaeological Zone’, occupies an impressive 26-sq-mile area, 118 miles south of Mandalay and 429 miles north of Yangon. What’s the difference between Myanmar and Burma? 

If you’re not an early morning person, you need to make an exception here. Sunrise is the most spectacular time of the day. Choose your favorite temple and climb barefoot to the top where you can enjoy the truly magical view. Or foot the expense for a hot air balloon. Traveling to Myanmar tips.

The best way to get around Bagan for temple sightseeing is with a bicycle. They’re all connected by a vast network of bumpy dirt roads and trails. Make an effort to interact with locals while you are cycling around; Burmese people are friendly, welcoming, and curious about foreigners, and many will invite you in for tea. Best things to do in Bagan. Myanmar travel information.

At the end of the day, you should aim to catch the sunset. Do the same, find a temple, and have your camera ready. What to see and do in Bagan.

Drinking Tea With Locals

Set aside some time to explore the exotic teas and teahouses of Myanmar, and while there, try to sit down next to a local and strike up a conversation.

You will find tea-shops everywhere in Myanmar. Much more abundant than coffee, drinking tea is a big part of Burmese culture. “Drinking is tea is a national pastime, and teashops are a regular part of everyday Burmese life.”

Burmese people are very friendly and they will try to make you feel comfortable. Even if they don’t speak English, they will try to communicate with you and are likely to invite you to join them. Meet Myanmar locals.

Visiting Pagodas

Pagodas are the place where Buddhists go to pray.

80% of the population in Myanmar follows Buddhism, and you can as such find Pagodas everywhere. The most sacred pagoda is Shwedagon Pagoda (one of the best things to do in Yangon). You must be barefoot to enter.

Visiting a pagoda is a great opportunity to meet and interact with local monks, and to learn about Buddhism and their culture. It’s very likely that they will invite you for food or tea. They will be happy to practice their English with you. Best pagodas in Myanmar. Best churches in Myanmar.

Chewing Betelnut

Betel nut is almost an addiction in Myanmar. It’s essentially the local legal narcotic; areca nuts and tobacco, wrapped in a lime-coated betel leaf.

They grab a green leaf, they cover it in white paste (calcium hydroxide), place tobacco and different spices in the middle for extra flavor, and then roll the leaf with the raw nut. It affects you like a stimulant, and is usually eaten by bus drivers and taxi drivers to stay awake when working. You need to chew the betel nut and it tastes bitter. What to eat in Myanmar. Chew betelnut in Burma.

The legendary British colonial chronicler of Burma, Sir James George Scott wrote, ‘No one can speak Burmese well till he chews betel’. But be aware that it is very bad for your health. Having one is ok, but you should be aware that frequent chewing will rot your teeth and dye them red.

Giving Alms to Monks for Charity

Witnessing the alms giving ceremony and ritual in Myanmar is a wonderful way to start your day. First thing in the morning, you will see monks and nuns begging for alms throughout the streets and villages.

They walk throughout the streets in a line holding a big bowl, where the local community is waiting for them in front of their houses to donate food or money. Many people stand in front of their house with a cooker and pan of food reverently scoop for each monk and nun. Meet monks in Myanmar.

Voluntarily giving to monks and runs is a huge part of the traditional culture here. Even the poor will happily donate alms. Meet nuns in Myanmar.

 Visiting the Beach

The most popular beaches in Myanmar are Chaungtha and Ngwesaung, both in  the South West. These are crowded on the weekends because they are very close to Yangon, however during the week they are nice and quiet.

Consider renting a motorbike to explore around the coast.

Getting Thanaka on Your Body

“There are many unique sights that capture a traveler’s eye when they arrive in Myanmar. One that sparks the curiosity of many people new to the country is the yellow patterns painted on people’s faces.” Myanmar holidays.

Thanaka is a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark. Burmese people apply this to their face and sometimes in their arms and legs. It’s used as a cosmetic beauty and also as protection from the sunburn. It is also used to help remove acne and to get smooth skin. Myanmar points of interest.

Playing Chinlone (Cane Ball)

Chinlone is the most famous sport in Myanmar. It is a non competitive game with no opposing team and no focus on winning or losing. The most important thing is the manner in which you play the game.

It’s essentially a very sophisticated version of “keep the ball in the air”; six players pass a woven rattan ball around in a circle using their heads, knees and feet. Play stops once the ball has touched the ground before starting again as a new round. What do people do everyday in Myanmar?

They play barefoot, and have developed over 200 different methods of contacting the ball since the game was first invented. Some of the most difficult moves are performed “blind” with the ball behind your back. Burmese people go crazy with this game. You can see many people playing chinlone in the streets. Myanmar street scenes. Does Myanmar have a national sport?

Visiting Kyaiktiyo

Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (the Golden Rock) is a Buddhist pilgrimage. A giant gilded rock on the top of Mt Kyaiktiyo, pilgrims journey here from all over the country, chanting, lighting candles, and mediating all throughout the night.

While the majority of pilgrims are foreigners, you will meet many locals completing the walk. They will be glad to meet you and say Mingalaba (it means God Bless You). After the pilgrimage, men (only) can visit The Pagoda and touch the boulder to affix gold leaf squares on the rock’s surface.

The boulder itself is stunning, especially when bathed in the purple, sometimes misty, light of dawn and dusk. Avoid rainy season (June to October). Restaurants and food stalls in the region are limited, and the mountain is covered in a downright chilly and nearly permanent coat of mist, fog and rain.

Eating Myanmar Food

For those looking to take a bite of Burma, the cuisine here is reasonably diverse. Burmese cuisine centers around rice, with a variety of meat, fish and vegetable dishes served alongside, and has been heavily influenced by Chinese, Indian and Thai Cuisine. What do they eat in Myanmar?

Indian influences are present in samosas and byriani, and Chinese influences in noodle soups. You will also find the Thailand influence in their fruits. Burmese food is a little bit spicy, and curries are also popular here.

“Mohinga is one of the country’s national dishes. It’s a fragrant, hot and sour fish soup served over noodles and is most commonly eaten for breakfast. Other Burmese specialties include barbecued ox tongues, crispy spring onion fritters and pickled tea leaf salad.” Best Burmese cuisine to eat in Myanmar.

Burmese food is very affordable, and the local people will be happy to introduce you to local food. Visit street markets in Myanmar where you will find all kinds of food. Is street food safe in Myanmar? What do they eat in Burma?

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Ruben Arribas is a Spanish traveler who has been to 70+ countries around the world. If you value real cheap travel guides and offbeat destinations, he is your go-to guy.

Read his tips and stories in Gamin Traveler and join the community on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credits: Featured image by Drouyn Cambridge. Pinterest image Bagan sunset by Alexander Mueller. Pinterest image Myanmar boy by Staffan Scherz. Shwedagon Pagoda by Michael Gebicki. Novice monk praying by Dietmar Temps. Giving of alms at Giving of Alms at Mahagandhayon Monastery by BRJ INC. Giving of alms nuns by Staffan Scherz. Boy monk in Myanmar by Staffan Scherz. Thanka on infant girl by Gamin Traveler. Thanka on teenage girl by Sofia & Tobias. Burmese boy with Thanka on his face by KX Studio. The Golden rock at night by Arian Zwegers. Children sitting on the Golden Rock by momo. The area of contact between the rock and the platform, Kyaiktiyo pagoda by Romain Pontida.

    13 Comments

    • Thanks for the opportunity Megan, it looks amazing :)

      I agree with Jacomijn, Bagan is the best place to visit in Myanmar. And visiting Myanmar is totally worthy!

  1. Amazing writing on Myanmar with beautiful photos! Loved it. While visiting Bagan, people should show respect to the temples while climbing, and they are religious sites. Using a hot air balloon will be better, as that will contribute to the local economy.

    Bordering with Myanmar is Bangladesh, which is a beautiful country no one knows about. Interested readers should check out about the country.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Raw! Great point on showing respect for temples, definitely something people should consider when they travel anywhere. Hot air balloon is definitely something I recommend too – one of the most memorable experiences from your trip!

      And thanks for the tip on Bangladesh – haven’t been there myself yet, though would love to get there soon!

    • 2016 is your year :D! Hope you have the chance to visit soon :)

    • Thanks Katie, I hope you can visit soon :)

  2. I seriously have the best memories from my travels from BAGAN! Loved being there and interacting with locals <3.

    • So glad to hear that Agness!! Myanmar is an amazing destination :)

  3. Myanmar has become a lot more popular with travelers in recent years and it’s clear why. The country is rich in culture and it’s great to know that it has popular beaches.

    • Absolutely – my advice to everyone is to travel now before it loses it’s authenticity and starts becoming more westernized.

    • Doesn’t it! I hope you have the chance to visit soon :)

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