A real sense of adventure, a virtual time capsule and ancient archeological sites are some of the elements that make Myanmar a place like no other. But with a rapidly rising popularity, the feeling of being in a country untouched by tourism will not last long.
Until fairly recently, Myanmar had been isolated and off bounds to travellers for half a century by the rule of an oppressive military junta. But thanks to political reform and a new civilian government, the country started opening up to the west and welcoming visitors in 2012.
Unrest and instability still exists in some areas, but this has not stopped intrepid travellers. Myanmar’s popularity as a tourist destination has skyrocketed and the country has become a bit of a travellers hot spot.
With an unprecedented surge in tourism in the last few years, and with Lonely Planet inclusion of Myanmar in their Top Ten Countries to visit in 2017, it’s inevitable that visitor numbers will keep soaring. This means Myanmar will not remain unspoiled for much longer.
With the country opening up to the world and the sudden arrival of technology, some travellers have already noticed significant changes in the last couple of years. So here are just a few of the many reasons why you need to put Myanmar at the top of your bucket list, before its unique way of life gets diluted by the influence of the outside world.
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Adventure off the beaten path
With hardly any sign of western culture, wherever you go, it really feels like you have got off the beaten path. And you have, really. From multi-day treks through the hill tribe villages of the Shan State, to hot air balloon rides over the temples and pagodas across the Bagan plains – with few other travellers around, it often feels like you are taking part in the discovery of the wonders of this little explored country. To prepare for a visit to this fascinating country, here are a few things you must know before visiting.
One of the world’s greatest archaeological sites
The centrepiece of Myanmar’s tourist industry, Bagan easily rivals sites like Angkor Wat or the Pyramids of Giza. Just without the crowds. There are, however, concerns about the impact that the increasing influx of visitors is having on the ruins. They can currently be roamed around freely, so at the end of 2016 there was talk of restricting visitor numbers and access to the some of the temples.
Here’s a 3 day itinerary of Bagan to make the most of time there.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN MYANMAR
Smiles and friendly faces everywhere
Wherever you go in the country, you are always greeted with a genuine smile. Locals are some of the friendliest people you will ever encounter. Not only are they keen to please, but they are also eager and proud to show you their country and their culture.
Myanmar’s unique cuisine
Not only is Myanmar’s cuisine healthy and delicious, but it is really hard to find outside of the country. With influences from Thailand, India and China, you will find dishes such as Mohinga, a kind of fish stew eaten for breakfast; Shan Noodles, with minced chicken or pork; and Lahpet, fermented tea leaf salad. And I can pretty much guarantee that you will not be able to have enough of them.
No McDonalds or Starbucks in sight (yet)
Unfortunately, the time will come when you will see the usual multinational brands. KFC was the first western fast food restaurant to open in Yangon in 2015, to much excitement from the locals. As Myanmar becomes part of the tourist trail, other multinational chains will join in too.
It will not break the bank (no tourist price)
Unlike in most South East Asian countries, the idea of a ‘tourist price’ is relatively rare in Myanmar. Refreshingly, the vast majority of the times, the price of travel, food, etc is the same for a local as it is for a visitor. Hotel accommodation, however, has become more expensive due to demand. There are a lot more tourists than hotels can accommodate. But high quality budget-friendly hostels are opening up in the main destinations around the country and can cost as little as £8 per night.
These are just a few of the reasons why I think you should visit Myanmar sooner rather than later. I could just keep going on and on, but I think you probably get the gist. Just go and see for yourself and you can thank me later!
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Teresa is an award-winning travel blogger based in London. She’s on a mission to explore the world through responsible cultural and adventure travel, and through deeper, more meaningful local experiences. She’s a lover of adventure, the outdoors and everything food related, and she’s always looking for ways to make a positive impact through sustainable travel.