30 April 2012 by Tim Tan
For so long closed to travellers, Burma (Myanmar) is slowly opening after years of isolation. Intriguing and enchanting, it remains one of Asia's undeveloped, unexplored corners.
Burma, with its old world charm, transports you back 30 or 40 years upon arrival. It is a fascinating country, with temples, pagodas, people, culture and history just waiting to be discovered. Compared to other parts of Asia, Burma has a uniqueness and charm that ensures you come away with a warm and heartfelt feeling. The country is probably the last undeveloped corner of Asia, and I would definitely recommend seeing this fascinating destination before too long.
The Irrawaddy River
The mighty Irrawaddy River is the lifeblood of the country and a 'must-see' in order to appreciate daily life along the river as it was - and as it still is. The Orient Express river boat, the Road to Mandalay, is unique and a first-class option for this unforgettable experience; everyone on our trip vowed to return, which says it all.
Yangon, Bago, Bagan
Our trip began in Yangon, home to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, a towering gilded pagoda and stupa that dominates the city skyline and contains relics of the past four Buddhas enshrined within.
From here, we visited Bago, where we had the chance to visit a monastery and witness the monks' traditional way of life; we watched food for 500 monks being prepared and were even fortunate enough to help serve them.
We travelled on to Bagan, arguably the most stunning, awe-inspiring site in all of South East Asia, and explored its many attractions. There's also the opportunity to sail over Bagan in a hot air balloon, giving you a unique view of the ruins of more than 2,000 temples and pagodas, which still stand on the plain as a testament to Burma's heritage.
Mandalay, Minguin, Saigang
Following this, we journeyed to the former royal capital of Mandalay, held to be the centre of Burmese culture and Buddist learning, as well as the home of the country's holiest Buddha image. Excursions by boat took us to Minguin, the site of the pretty Hsinbyume pagoda and the world's largest intact bell, and to the Saigang Hills, which are widely regarded as the religious centre of Burma and home to more than 3,000 monks, 100 meditation centres and several stunning pagodas.
A final visit to Lake Inle, Burma's second largest lake, was the ideal way to round off a memorable trip; scenic high hills provide the perfect backdrop to the lake's calm waters, which are dotted with fishermen working from canoes and fringed by more than 200 traditional villages that are home to a number of ethnic minority tribes.
I wish that I had stayed longer around Lake Inle and would have liked to explore the northern part of the country by river cruise but I can look forward to these experiences on my next visit!
Tips when travelling in Burma
When preparing for a trip to Burma, do so with an open mind and it'll be a very memorable experience. It's rather like visiting China or Vietnam 30 years ago although Burma now offers a civilized form of travel with good food and comfort. Be aware that it's still a very traditional country and that you can't wear shoes or socks when entering temples and pagodas; take sandals when visiting as they're easier to slip on and off. It's important to note that very few establishments outside of bigger hotels and the luxurious Road to Mandalay river boat accept credit cards; clean and new USD notes are a must, as old notes are rejected.
Local and regional airports take you back to the 1950s and 60s, with free seating on flights and boarding orchestrated by signboard and loudhailer. Final checks are made by looking at stickers on the passengers. However, check-in, luggage handling and both boarding and disembarking were surprisingly quick and efficient.
‘Best of Burma' - an excellent introductory tour of the country.
‘The Road to Mandalay' - a great way to discover central Burma and the country's traditional heart.
These are just a selection of the possible itineraries available for your tailor-made trip to Burma; talk to a destination specialist to start planning your own journey.
Find out more
If you're inspired or would like to know more about travelling to Burma, you can talk to Tim on 020 7838 5946 about what's possible and start creating your own tailor-made itinerary.