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 result, 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 take a holiday in Burma.
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 tailor-made holiday 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.
Whether to go
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.