The country of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is located in the South Asian peninsula, between China, India, Laos, Bangladesh and Thailand. Until recently, the country had an embargo on foreign visitors. Therefore, much of the land is still untouched by tourists. This off-the-beaten path destination has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty, historic sites, delicious food and raw authenticity.
Here are some things you probably did not know about Myanmar (that’ll make you want to head there straightaway)…
You Will Be One of The Few Tourists There
Visiting Myanmar feels like stepping back in time, and participating in the life as it has been for decades. Many of the locals commute by ferry to the largest city and former capital of Yangon to work, wearing colorful sarongs (known as longyi). Here you can see hawkers selling everything from boiled quail eggs and dried fish heads, to mobile sim cards. Spot the nomadic fisherman living on traditional wooden boats. Travel by trishaw through the small villages, shopping for fresh vegetables and seafood in the wet markets. It is a country where you will experience the real culture, and not find many fast food restaurants, designer stores or name brands.
You’ll Be Surrounded By the Friendliest People on Earth
Burma was recently named the world’s friendliest country in the world by InterNations Expat Insider 2015, with more than 96% of respondents positively rating their affability toward foreigners. The locals are always smiling, making jokes and are very welcoming. Despite the language barrier, they will still try to help you in some way.
Did you know that the famous long-neck women wearing brass necklaces are originally from the Padaung Tribe in Myanmar?
You Can See All Different Kinds of Ecosystems
The geographical location of Myanmar makes it diverse in natural beauty. There are the Hengdun Mountains in the north, picturesque fishing villages on the banks of three major rivers, inland lakes and wildlife reserves, Buddhist temple complexes, expansive coral reef in Mergui Archipelago, to white sandy beaches along 1200 miles of coastline, Myanmar has it all!
Did you know that Southeast Asia’s highest mountain, Hkakabo Razi, at 19,295 feet, is located in Myanmar?
Myanmar is the Most Generous Countries in the World
According to the CAF World Giving Index by the Gallup World Poll, Myanmar is the most giving country in the world, with 91% of the population donating money, 55% volunteering, and 63% helping a stranger. Though Myanmar is also one of the poorest countries in the world, a widespread generosity comes from Buddhist teachings, which preaches that accumulation of merit through charity and good deeds (karma).
There is So Much History and Beauty to Uncover
There are tons of historic and spiritual attractions in Myanmar. Stroll through the broad avenues dotted with colonial buildings with traditional wooden architecture in Yangon, and find yourself gleaming at a pagoda at practically every corner. Once known as “the garden city of the East” Yangon had public services and infrastructure on par with London by the early 20th century.
In Yangon, visit the world-famous 2,500-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda, adorned with 5,488 diamonds and 2,317 rubies, and see one of the largest reclining Buddhas in the world at the Chauktatgyi Pagoda. With 1,000 Buddhist statues on its grounds and within its halls, the Kothaung Paya is impressive, to say the least. The city of Bagan looks magical with its 3000 pagodas and temples built between the 9th and 11th centuries. Mandalay, the second largest city and the last royal capital, is home to Buddha’s sacred tooth relic replica, and one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the world.
Did you know? Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay is known as the World’s Biggest Book as the entire Buddhist scripture (known as Tripitaka) is inscribed on its 792 stone slabs.
Buddhism Is Everywhere
The population of Myanmar is 89% Buddhist. It is the most religious country in terms of the proportion of monks to civilians and the proportion of income spent on religious purposes. The history of Buddhism in Myanmar is over 2,000 years old. Until recently, all men were required to be a monk for at least two years. Even now, every male will go and live in a monastery for three times in his lifetime for at least a week at a time. Monks can be found roaming the streets and knocking at doors asking for their daily offerings. Also, a number of temples, pagodas and Buddha statues fill into the landscapes all over the country. There’s no escaping spirituality when you are visiting Myanmar.
It is Called “The Golden Land” (and You’ll See Why)
With all the gold-layered palaces, temples, pagodas and Buddha statues, there is a lot of glam that makes Myanmar earn its title of the Golden Land. Gold leaves are sold outside the religious monuments where people can stick the gold on to the building or statue. It is believed that by building or donating to the pagoda, you will receive blessings, and take a further step towards salvation.
Did you know – Yangon, though the largest city, is not the capital of Myanmar? The capital was moved to Naypyidaw in 2006 by the ruling military.
You May Never Have Better Food After a Visit
Myanmar is an emerging foodie destination, and those who have tried the local cuisine can attest to the fact that it is spicy, diverse and delicious. With influences of Indian, Chinese, and Thai, regional Burmese dishes are largely based on rice, vegetables and seafood as staple ingredients. A typical meal would balance four primary flavors – sour, salty, spicy and bitter. Many dishes are served and eaten family style. Savory salads, rice noodles in thick broths, curried fish and prawns, spicy stewed lentils and grilled flatbreads are among a few staple foods. One of the most popular dishes is Laphet or fermented green tea leaf salad with sesame seeds, peanuts, fried garlic, dried shrimp and sesame seeds.
Your Money Will Go a Long Way
Traveling in Myanmar is quite affordable, with several hostels catering to backpackers charging $10 – $25 per night to 3 and 4-star hotels at $60 – $100 per night, with everything from guesthouses and boutique hotels in between. Food is quite inexpensive and there is a range of options from street food to upscale cafes ranging $0.20 – $5.00 per dish. Only the luxury hotels serving Western food are pricier.
Generally, hotels will take US dollars and the local currency, Kyat, for street and food purchases. As of recently, ATMs and credit cards are possible to use in the country.
Myanmar Is Now Open for Tourism
Direct flights to Yangon are available from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Qatar, Germany and India. Visas can easily be obtained online in a few easy steps. There are also many tour operators, hotels and resorts offering great deals throughout the country. Themed tours include food, diving, beach, spiritual, and yoga journeys, among others.
I traveled to Myanmar on Silverseas Discoverer Andaman Sea expedition inaugural cruise to the country. A handful of small cruise ships that can sail into Yangon through the Irrawaddy Delta are now offering itineraries that include stops in Myanmar. Cruising is a great way to experience some of the highlights of the country without having to deal with the hassle of local transportation, tours and hotels. Being an expedition journey, my ship arranged for offshore sightseeing with English speaking guide, internal flights, and authentic meals at local restaurants included in the cruise fare.
Whether you are seeking a spiritual, cultural or outdoor adventure, Myanmar is great destination to explore before the rest of the world gets there!
What surprised you most about Myanmar after reading this article? Let us know in the comments!