7 reasons to add Burma to your travel bucket list
Burma, also known as Myanmar, is rapidly rising through the ranks of desirable travel destinations with more and more people keen to experience everything this characterful country has to offer. From historical sites to monasteries, beaches, and bright city lights, Burma really does have it all - and now is the time to go. If you're considering an adventure in Burma, check out the latest deals from Explore!, which has a wide range of holidays for those after something a little more enriching. Read on to find out why you should add Burma to your travel bucket list in 2018.
1. For captivating Yangon
Yangon, known as Rangoon in times gone by, is Burma's buzzing heart: the former capital city is a vibrant hive of activity and culture with everything from art galleries and shopping malls to the unrivalled Shwedagon Pagoda, Chaukhtatgyi Temple with one of the country's largest reclining Buddhas, and Kandawgyi Park to add to your itinerary.
Don't miss the chance to visit, if not stay, in downtown Yangon, where you will find hectic narrow streets with colourful if slightly crumbling European-style architecture. Hunt out 999 Shan Noodle House for a cheap but tasty feed while the Rangoon Tea House offers something a little more sophisticated with an historic twist and exceptional menu. If you're planning to do some shopping, stop by Pomelo with its fine selection of local crafts, textiles, and more.
2. To lose yourself in the ancient city of Bagan
Oh Bagan, beautiful Bagan - arguably Burma's most famous attraction, this ancient city is simply incredible. Dating back to the ninth century, Bagan is an eclectic collection of temples, pagodas, and stupas, each with its own architectural style representative of a different period in Bagan's history.
More than 2,000 structures lie peppered across the Bagan Archaeological Area, and the best way to dive in amongst it all is by hiring an electric bike or, ebike. While a bicycle looks romantic and good fun, the reality is it's very hard work in the soft sand and, what can be searing, heat. An ebike is a much faster and less laborious way of getting around, letting you reach as many of the temples as you like. Once you're good and dusty from riding around the interior, head south of New Bagan to the striking Lawkananda Pagoda, which is popular with locals and offers pretty special views over the Ayeyarwady River below.
3. For the cheeky monkeys & hilltop views
To the southwest of Mount Popa, a volcanic mountain that sits proudly at over 1,500 m above sea level, you'll find Taung Kalat, a nib of a so-called 'volcanic plug'. Perched on top of Taung Kalat is a shimmering Buddhist monastery, which is both a site of pilgrimage for Buddhists, and a popular stopping point for those travelling in Burma.
Set foot on the staircase and you'll be on your way up more than 700 steps to the monastery; a route which is busy and that requires some attention to detail if you want to avoid having anything pinched by a passing macaque. These cheeky locals guard the lower section of the stairs and happily receive the corn seeds and other treats people feed them - or they help themselves to. Do take some small denomination notes as the cleaners, on hand to clear up after the messy monkeys, expect tips at every twist and turn, not to mention the offerings politely requested at the top. Once you reach the pinnacle, enjoy the spectacular vista across the countryside out to the Ayeyarwady River and even Bagan on a good day.
4. To walk on the world's longest teak bridge
The first slats of this scenic bridge were put in place in 1850, and today it still spans the Taung Tha Man Lake, around six miles south of Mandalay. Yes, it's on the tourist trail, and yes, it does get busy, especially at sunrise and sunset - but for good reason. A photographer's dream, U Bein Bridge offers the most Instagrammable of scenes across rice paddies and duck farms, with coloured wooden boats bobbing below the teak pillars. Although some of the 1,086 pillars have been - somewhat thoughtlessly - replaced with concrete, the bridge is certainly worth your time and perseverance through the initial crowds.
5. It's home to incredible beaches
While the delights of Bagan, Mandalay, and Yangon are well know, Burma's beautiful beaches remain somewhat of a secret. Burma's coast stretches from the north of the Bay of Bengal, on down the eastern side of the Andaman Sea, and although certain areas are out of bounds for ongoing political reasons, there are huge stretches of this white, sandy coast just begging to be enjoyed.
Expect wide open swathes of sand with a coconut seller just as likely to pass you by as a speeding motorbike or laidback horse. Local fishermen still patrol the water's edge catching what they can by hand held nets, and the water itself is warm and safe for swimming with ospreys often spied overhead. Many of the country's high end beach resorts can be found in Ngapali, while Ngwe Saung has a little more to offer the budget traveller, with places such as the stunning Emerald Sea Resort serving up affordable luxury by the sea.
6. Not to mention the friendliest people
The people in Burma are reason enough to visit this enchanting country. Incredibly warm and welcoming, you're unlikely to meet anyone who isn't happy to see you and perhaps keen to help show you the sights or help you out if you look a little lost. Be open to chatting and you will discover some of the friendliest people on the planet. Everyone knows that you can't really get under the skin of a country unless you get to talk with and understand a bit about local, everyday life, something you're sure to encounter from the moment you arrive.
7. And a kick ass water festival
Burma's Thingyan Festival is a joyous time of reflection and celebration, as locals send off the previous year in style with religious ceremonies and a big old water throwing party aimed at washing away the sins and bad luck of the past 12 months. Thingyan runs from roughly the 13th to the 16th of April each year, and if you happen to be there during this time you are guaranteed a few days to remember.
For a country which forbids large public gatherings, Thingyan is also a time when the military government lets its hair down with state sponsored water canons, public performances and more. If you're in Yangon, head to the Sule Pagoda where you will find a full on street party complete with a water hosing stage, music, and more. Just be aware that a) you will get very wet, so leave your valuables at home, go with an open mind and prepare to join in the fun; and b) as it is a holiday, almost everything is closed during this time. You're unlikely to escape a slight soaking even if you're travelling in more remote areas, as passers by are susceptible to being hosed down during this revered and lively time.
Is Burma on your travel bucket list? If so, check out the latest online offers from adventure tour specialist Explore!, which has a number of exciting tours in and around Burma. You can also keep an eye on the weather in Burma, and see when we think is the best time to go for fabulous conditions for getting to know this incredible country.
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