Burma (Myanmar) is an enigmatic land of golden pagodas, natural wonders and smiling faces, but one we've felt unable to promote in the past. The positive announcement, however, of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to end her party's 15-year boycott of tourism has opened once again the widely debated issue of whether or not to travel here.
Far less controversial is the question over Burmese hospitality. A deep-rooted belief in Buddhism and an - albeit enforced - isolation from Western excesses have helped to preserve a kindliness of spirit in the local Burmese that is truly affecting. With no Burmese word for tourist, visitors are greeted quite sincerely as ‘guests', and if there's only one thing you take with you from your time in Burma, it will likely be memories of its gentle, friendly people - considerate, inquisitive, humorous and helpful.
You would, of course, have been travelling blind if that really was all you took from the country, for as Kipling once wrote, Burma is ‘unlike any place you know about'. There are towering temples and sacred stupas, untracked jungles and lofty mountains, grandiose ruins of empires past and mile upon mile of emerald rice paddies and empty beaches. From colonial Rangoon to royal Mandalay, the Irrawaddy River to the plains of Pagan, this beautiful yet beleaguered country is one of Asia's finest treasures.
There's no denying that Burma's recent history has been tragically overshadowed by the actions of its military junta, yet many who decide to visit believe the drip-drip effect of tourism will be the factor most likely to bring about change. Among these voices has been opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has declared that the boycott of tourism to Burma should be lifted, provided tourists deal with non-government hotels and companies.
We believe it's not our place to make moral judgments on where individuals choose to travel - on the contrary, our advice would be to make your decisions based on your own informed consideration of the issues at stake.
Currently, none of the hotels we feature have any junta affiliations, but as the situation in Burma is constantly changing, we recommend you speak to one of our Asia specialists for up-to-date advice. They'll be happy to discuss your travel options with you and to direct you to resources where the issues are debated, helping you to make an informed decision.
Click on a place name below to find out more. Alternatively, to start planning where to go in Burma, talk to one of our destination specialists on 020 7590 0613.
The Practical information displayed here is taken from The Traveller's Handbook, published by WEXAS (2009). While all possible care was taken to ensure accuracy at the time of publication, we are aware that situations change, so for the latest information and up-to-date visa requirements, talk to one of our destination specialists on 020 7590 0613.
The cool and dry winter is from November to February, the hot summer is from March to May and the wet, humid monsoon from May to October. A dry-zone between Mandalay and Pyay gets less rain than the rest of the country.
Myanmar celebrates a number of Buddhist festivals, many of which coincide with the full moon. Other annual events include the Pindaya Cave Festival in March, the Thingyan (water) Festival for Myanmar New Year in April, where people pour water over each other, and Thadingyut, the Festival of Light, in October. The Elephant Dance Festival, also in October, is a thunderous event in Kyaukse where life-size elephants made of bamboo and paper are followed by traditional musicians. Theatre, known as pwe, and traditional dance sometimes form a ritual part of religious festivals and can also be witnessed at weddings, sporting events and even funerals.
Dishes include lethok son (vegetarian rice salad), oh-no khauk swe (rice noodles, chicken and coconut milk), mohinga (fish soup with noodles). Street food includes chapattis. Tea is popular (often added spices may make your tongue turn red).
It is not advisable to discuss politics with locals as this may get them into trouble. The question of whether it is ethically right to travel to Myanmar is an ongoing debate. The leader of the opposition party, Aung San Suu Kyi, has urged tourists to boycott Myanmar. Many argue that to visit is to support the country financially and justify the junta in the eyes of the international community. Others, including Lonely Planet whose guide suggests how to minimise the financial benefit to the government, argue that tourism can help curb the isolation and abuse of Burmese people.
Yangon (RGN) 19 km from the city and Mandalay (MDL) 25 km from the city.
Air travel is the most efficient transport for time-saving. Rail services are subject to delays caused by climatic, technical and bureaucratic difficulties. Bus services are uncomfortable. Government-run taxis are blue and white.
The itinerary ideas listed below are designed to give you a flavour of the things to do in Burma. We can adjust any element and tailor-make your trip though, to suit your individual needs and available time. To start planning your trip, talk to one of our destination specialists on 020 7590 0613.
The places to stay listed below only represent a handful of the accommodation options available in Burma. We can also recommend and arrange accommodation to suit your personal tastes and budget. To start planning where to stay in Burma, talk to one of our destination specialists on 020 7590 0613.
The types of holiday listed below are just a flavour of the experiences available in Burma. We can also suggest and plan alternative types of holiday to take into account your individual interests. To start planning what to do whilst away, talk to one of our destination specialists on 020 7590 0613.
Alex Brossler - Asia Specialist
To make an enquiry or to start planning your trip talk to our team of specialists on 020 7590 0613