Early morning hill-tribe markets, bustling away without a tourist-trinket in sight; decaying Colonial streets lining pristine white sands; ancient towering pagodas amongst working pastures and fields; Himalayan lodges and little-trekked trails. It’s fair to say that a holiday in Burma – locally known as Myanmar – is like no other, invoking an instinct, right in the chest, a poignant fascination & a fluttering suspense as its intelligent, friendly people struggle for democracy, sustained by their tenacious, devout Buddhist spirituality.
In fact, Buddhism is so intimately folded into Burmese culture that they’re nigh on synonymous. There are signs of it everywhere. The remarkable Shwedagon pagoda dominates Yangon’s urban skyline, while festivals regularly see streets & houses festooned with lights – or drenched in water, depending on what’s being celebrated. Thousands of gilded stupa spires gleam through the mist at sunrise in the sacred city of Bagan.
It is essential for any traveller to be aware of the negative side of Myanmar holidays – the clumsy concrete renovations, botched by military rulers impatient for international approval & package-tourism revenue, have scuppered Bagan’s chance for UNESCO recognition. The same regime that is still evading genuine elections, & spends very little of its income on the people.
Yet, with tailor-made travel to Burma now being encouraged by its pro-democracy groups, Selective Asia is able to use non-government accommodation & services wherever possible, giving you the chance to visit the real Burma, the one we fell in love with. Beleaguered, desperately determined, yet astonishingly beautiful, with a rich & ancient heritage, exceptional natural panoramas & a undeveloped tropical shoreline.
- Capital: Yangon (Rangoon)
- Currency: Kyat
- Burma (Myanmar) combines well with Thailand, Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam
Burma – A country of mind-blogging diversity and colour
Burma, or Myanmar, is a country of incredible diversity, with a tailor-made holiday typically combining a unique blend of cultural wonders, relaxing on undeveloped beaches, trekking little visited Himalayan foothills and exploring wonderful cities, where every turn reveals yet another mesmeric highlight (or four). To say that your visit to Burma will be a holiday like no other would be an understatement to say the very least.
Where to travel in Burma?
Most visitors travels in Burma will begin in Yangon, also known as Rangoon, the capital of the country until 1995 when the administrative capital was moved to Naypyidaw. (It is also possible to arrive in Burma from Thailand, crossing from Thailand at the Thachileik – Masai border. This route would take you through through the Shan hills and via Kentung).
Whilst there are a number of different ways to order the following itinerary, most first time visitors are likely to make a bee-line for the incredible temples of Bagan en route to Mandalay which deserves at least 2 full days of your time. From here a side-trip to the fascinating Hill Stations of Maymyo and Hsipaw are recommended, especially if you have time for the dramatic train ride over the Gokteik Viaduct. From here they are likely to turn south, either driving or flying to Inle Lake before flying west to the pristine beaches of Ngapali or Ngwe Saung near the charming town of Pathein.
Those with more time have a number of options. You may opt for more extensive travels in central regions, perhaps trekking in Kalaw or visiting the iconic Golden Rock at Kyaikitiyo. Further west, facing onto the Bay of Bengal, there are also places of immense interest such as Sittwe and Mrauk-U. The truly adventurous may also consider the long journey to the National Parks of Putao in the country’s far north, bordering China, or Muse on the eastern border.
Travel in Burma
Right or Wrong?
We urge clients to decide for themselves, having read the facts about Burma’s situation & the most recent recommendations made by the Burmese National League for Democracy (NLD) & its leader, Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
Anyone interested in travelling in Burma will be aware of its unfavourable political situation. Many people worry about doing trade with the country under its current government, or funding the military regime in any way. Perhaps the biggest question you have to answer when arranging a holiday in Myanmar is whether you should even go there at all.
Until mid-2010 our answer was “no”. Although it’s long been one of the planet’s most tempting travel destinations, Burma is also one of the most politically corrupt & unjust nations in history.
Although mass tourism is still not encouraged – the 2010 elections were far from democratic – Aung San Suu Kyi is now suggesting that small groups & independent travellers should visit Burma to see what is going on for themselves. As she said in a 2002 interview with the BBC:
“Burma is not going to disappear; it’s going to stay here. We hope that as things change, Burma will become the kind of country that will be even more of a pleasure to visit than it is now.”
And it’s most definitely become a remarkable place to visit. As independent individual travellers, Selective Asia team-members have travelled to Burma on a number of occasions since 2002. Our founder has long aspired to offer clients the chance to experience what is undeniably one of the world’s great travel destinations.
So we’re very excited to finally be able to say “yes” – the time has arrived. We are dealing with non-government hotels, airlines and companies everywhere we can, although we do accept that this is not always possible, nor are we in a position to entirely prevent the Burmese government from earning revenue from tourism.
There is still a very long way to go, however we are perhaps at last starting to see a few initial cracks in what has been, and remains, a totally unaceptable level of human rights abuse for many millions of people. While it remains essential for travellers to stay as aware of the reasons to not visit Burma as they are of the benefits, it is nice, at long last, to be in the position to help people go there if they want to!
- Having co-operated with the British to escape Japanese occupation during the Second World War, Burma struggled to extract itself from British control.
- After a series of power struggles, paramilitaries assassinated key civilian political leaders in 1947. The military Chief of Staff finally seized full control in 1962 and severed all ties with the West.
- Also known as ‘the Generals’, the military has dominated the Burmese government and administrative affairs ever since. They appropriate a large % of the country’s income and invest very little of it into social development and wellbeing.
- In 2011, the military council was dissolved following a shaky election in 2010 and subsequent inauguration of Burma’s civilian government.
- Speaking to foreign visitors in negative terms about the political situation can still get Burmese people into serious trouble, although they frequently do so nonetheless.
Aung San Suu Kyi
- Daughter of former Burmese leader and people’s hero Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947 and is known as the architect of Burma’s independence from Britain.
- General Secretary of the National League for Democracy. The NLD is Burma’s main opposition party and won 81% of parliamentary seats in the 1990 general election, which had over 70% voter turnout, but the Generals refused to acknowledge the result and continued to rule themselves.
- Placed under house arrest shortly before the 19990 election. Remained under arrest, with a few brief periods of freedom, from July 1989 until her release in November 2010.
- Winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding, the Rafto prize, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the International Simón Bolívar Prize, amongst a long list of international prizes for her contribution to human rights, freedom and democracy.
- Pleaded for an international boycott of Burma throughout the military rule. Her wishes were largely respected. This included a boycott of Burmese travel and tourism. The NLD finally lifted its opposition to small scale tourism in late 2010.
Burma: Key Festivals & Religious Ceremonies
- 2nd – 19th January: Ananda Temple Festival (Ananda Temple, Bagan).
- 4th – 18th February: Kyaik Khauk Pagoda Festival (Thanlyin, Syriam) & Maha Myat Muni Pogada (Mandalay).
- 14th – 19th March: Shwedagon Pagoda Festival (Yangon) & Kat Ku Pagoda Festival (Kat Ku Pagoda, near Taunggyi) & Shwezayan Pagoda Festival (Maymyo).
- 7th -18th April: Myanmar New Year, Thingyan (Water) Festival. Many shops will be closed for up to a week either side.
- 11th April – 10th May: Shwemawdaw Pagoda Festival (Bago).
- 5th October – 22nd October: Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival (Inle Lake).
- 17th October: In Dein Pagoda Festival (In Dein Pagoda, Inle Lake).
- 3rd – 10th November: Shwezigon Pagoda Festival (Bagan).
- 8th November: Po Win Taung Pagoda Festival (Monwya, Mandalay Region)
- 9th – 10th November: Kyaiktiyo Pagoda Festival (Kyaiktiyo, the Golden Rock)
- 10th – 18th November: Thanboddhay Pagoda Festival (Near Monwya, Mandalay Region).