A friend of mine, experienced traveller on a current mission to visit every single country on earth, has always told me that Myanmar has and to this day still is, his absolutely favorite country in the whole world. Believe me, coming from him that is such a statement.
He always said, literally, that Myanmar was the best country in the world and three years into his trip, he still maintains this affirmation.
My friend’s enthusiasm only added to the many comments I heart and read from many people from all paths of life; sometimes your knowledge about a country history or the lack of it can influence greatly in how you see and understand the place. This does not seem to be the case with Myanmar as it appears to be a country that everyone loves, for one reason or the other.
Of course there are many reasons that make this country a favorite one to visit . In one way or the other, there are a few facts from Myanmar that we are all familiar with as it can be Aung San Suu KY, a former Nobel Peace Prize winner, very popular for her fighting for freedom and justice, that finally holds a position in the Parliament and that was under house arrest for fifteen years, a country that is now widely open for tourism only for the last three years now, a country that has strongly been governed by a military regime for several years.
Without trying to become my friend, since I first visited SE Asia and fallen in love with it, I knew that I wanted to travel to all the countries that compose this fascinating part of Asia and while not all the countries appeal to me in the same way, Myanmar always did, partly influenced for what I read from other people and specially from this friend of mine that seemed unable to find in his crusade around the world a country that could steal his heart in the same way as Myanmar has. With all these reasons adding up, I just had to go and get my own conclusions.
And because we all know that perfection does not exist and instead imperfection makes the world the fascinating place that it is, these are all the good and bad things that I could observe in this very imperfect and yet truly beautiful country (this is a very personal opinion and of course you may agree or disagree, just don’t red arrow me for pointing out some negative things!)
Its people; they are absolutely delightful, honest, generous, welcoming and heart-warming. I could only think of Indonesians that could be remotely similar to them in the way they welcome and treat tourists (within SE Asia)
Burmese people are extraordinary welcoming and friendly in a way that is shocking and surprising. Think of a very humble country with high levels of poverty, which has suffered and struggled for many years, that possesses a difficult past and is currently fighting for progress in a government that controls and limits the freedom of its citizens. Sounds far too horrible for the sort of smiley warm happy people you find everywhere.
This is a country where you walk around and people in rural areas leave their houses or choruses to say hello to you, where they have very little and regardless of this, they offer you their food, where children shyly approach you with a wide smile looking at you with funny curiosity as many of these children who live in rural areas, are seeing tourists for the very first time in their lives.
They hardly speak any English (but this will easily change very soon with the progress that the country will endure in the next few years as they get more and more used to the tourism that is slowly starting to arrive) but their inability to speak English only adds up to the very genuine experience of being in Myanmar and makes it for funny situations.
Accommodation prices are currently higher that most of the most popular countries within SEAsia (very simple rooms with fan and share bathroom can cost anything from $7-$10 and ++). The amount of money that you pay does not match with the quality that you get. Rooms’ lack any comforts and luxuries but then again, if you are backpacking that would be the least of your concerns, however $10 to $12 surely goes over your daily budget for accommodation (at least for me is way too much!)
Of course there is nothing to blame them for as it is very recently (up to 3 years now) that they are getting a consistent flux of tourists and Guest Houses are still very few with exceptions on the most popular touristic spots (ex. Inle Lake, where several hotel construction works are currently undergoing). It is very likely that within the next few years, as more private Guest Houses start opening, the competition will bring (slowly) the prices down.
Long uncomfortable bus rides and I seriously mean UNCOMFORTABLE with absurd arrival times to destinations. The good thing is that there are great bus connections for the whole country (to the areas that are NOT restricted) and you can pretty much find any bus combination to get from point A to Z. Myanmar is not Thailand by any means and even though I personally took a ride in a very nice VIP bus just once, most of the buses are rather worn out and quiet old, so while they are absolutely fine to travel (but they can break up on the road quiet commonly) do forget luxury bus rides across the country unlike its neighbouring Thailand.
It also very common that buses will arrive at their destination at 2-3am (this is quite normal if you take a late bus). Don’t worry because they will always be taxi drivers waiting outside wherever you are, but arriving at those times sort of reduce your chances to haggle a ride price and force you to stay at the first GH you find decreasing your choices for the obvious reasons, at least until is day light again.
Unless you are travelling at night, the buses (all of them and with NO exceptions) will blast through their on board TV’s insufferable incompressible Burmese soaps and karaoke songs on a VERY VERY loud volume. No local person ever complains, which is something that comes across to me as absolutely insane and whether you complain to the driver or not, the volume is NOT going down, so take some earplugs for your bus journeys.
Some things in Myanmar do not make any sense at all and believe me, this is one of them that will drive you absolutely mad.
And last but not least, inside many buses you will feel that you are in the Artic and I can tell you from first hand that this is TRUE. It won’t be cool but freezing cold, here’s another thing that makes no sense whatsoever when you see a full bus of locals covered from toe to head in blankets shivering with cold and again, no one complains! One time I thought I would get hypothermia, it was that cold!
Conclusion, always remember to get your jacket out of the backpack before you board a bus. If you don’t, you’ll remember you read this and regret it deeply, besides arriving to your destination purple 🙂
The rural areas are absolutely gorgeous!
You can get to a town and be disappointed that it does not look anything great but remember that specially in Myanmar, true jewels are found outside the towns that can be easily be reached by motorbike or bicycles so hire one of those and start riding as it is the best way to discover its green fields, rice paddies and heart-warming countryside people (note: is you hire a bike, be extremely cautious and always wear your helmet, there are some crazy drivers on those roads)
I would like to specially recommend you to visit Hsipaw and most important and absolutely not to be missed Hpa An, which are truly beautiful inspiring places with gorgeous fields and rural villages at short distances from the town.
Also, many people that visit Inle Lake they take the boat and then leave the town not looking back thinking that the boat tour was all they could do. Again no, Inle Lake deserve another day or more than two to rent a bicycle and cycle through the fields, a truly remarkable rich experience.
Something really nice happened to me in Myanmar as a solo traveller that I have never experienced before. You meet, interact and share experiences with other travellers on a different level as you do in any other country of SE Asia and this happens constantly; on bus rides, on hostels, on the road, on the street…..everywhere.
This is something that I have also commented with other travellers while there and it seems to be a common sensation, too. We have discuss it and got to the conclusion that the fact that there are currently so few of us travelling in a country where there seems to be so many confusing information about it, makes it easier to be more open minded, intrigue to share feelings and opinions, itineraries and information with other travellers.
In Myanmar, you will bond and make friends like in no other country in SE Asia. There is something about Myanmar that makes us more sociable and willing to share experiences.
Let’s say the food is much less interesting that its neighbour countries. I’m even going to say that is boring-ish. It seems to be a lack of fascinating dishes available and after a couple of weeks into my trip, there was only so many noodles and rice I could eat (and I don’t eat pasta…so I spent almost eighteen days eating fried rice. SERIOUSLY)
But here are the good news! Just two days before and I left the country, I discovered what so far, for me, has been the best dish from Myanmar; the Tea Leaf Salad, an absolutely delicious dish and a welcome change from fried rice. Please make yourself a favour, and try it! YUMMY
I’m sure this is really good news from you; Myanmar is not the expensive country people at the web make it to be. NOT!! I hope you are not putting yourself off visiting this fascinating country for financial reasons because Myanmar is another cheap SE Asian country to visit (I mean, c’mon, Singapore is expensive not Myanmar).
Of course I already mentioned that the accommodation it is not cheap and this is true for now but I would go as far to say that the accommodation is the only expensive thing you currently find in Myanmar (and it decreases considerably if you are two travelling and share the expenses)
Everything else if cheap; food, buses, beer, renting bikes and motorbikes, petrol…. the exception to this is my following point, keep reading.
Most of entry fees go straight to the military government. This is bad with capital letters, totally off putting. Here’s how much you are going to pay; $20 entry fee for Bagan, $10 entry fee for Inle Lake, $10 dollars entry fee to visit the Royal Palace in Mandalay. All of this goes to their horrible government and there is nothing you can do because these places happen to be absolutely amazing and not to be missed.
Take note of this; I have been told that in Bagan if you take a taxi and offer to pay more to the driver, he can take a route he will avoid passing through the main entrance road to Bagan hence you don’t pay the £20. Worth a try only if is not to give any money to their Government!
Bad or Good…? Not sure…
This friend of mine told me that three years ago there were no ATM machines whatsoever, none at all. Guess what? Now there are absolutely everywhere, even inside the temples!!
I’m not really sure whether this is good or bad… I mean, as a traveller with no new dollars on me or many of them in hand, this is undoubtedly good as it makes my life easier and takes stress away. Before I got to Myanmar I was sick with worry on what I would do when I ran out of dollars, but the amount of ATM machines widely available everywhere it only means one thing; progress has started it and I’m sure that is only a matter of years that to this, 7-Elevens will follow and so on (the westerner world taking over..)
So it is for you to decide whether you are happy reading that ATM’s are plentiful or whether you think that will destroy the charms of the country.
Thee list of good and bad could go on and on but I think the post is long enough. Now is time you make your own list by taking the step by actually visiting Myanmar.
Surely you have read a million times that you must go to Myanmar NOW, before industrialization takes over. Hearing my friend comments from his visit three years ago and comparing them with what I have seen now, I can only agree with these people.
But not matter when you decide to go, the Burmese people will always be beautiful, welcoming and very warm. At the end of the day, this is what makes this country so special, ONLY its people.
Thailand is no longer the country of smiles, Myanmar is.