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Burma – or Myanmar– is the ‘it’ destination of the moment, having featured in almost every recent travel magazine's ‘where to go’ list.. It’s a far cry from a few years ago when the travel media was debating whether it was ethical to go, human rights groups were advising travellers not to, and publishers were slammed for releasing books on Burma.
A lot has changed in a couple of years. This Southeast Asian country lying on the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal, with Thailand and Laos on its eastern border, China to its north, and India and Bangladesh to its west, has gone from being a military junta isolated from the world – following a 1962 military coup d'etat which ousted the democratically elected government – to a nation pursuing democracy that opened up following the 2010 elections and the November release that year of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who’d been under house arrest for almost 15 years. After Aung San Suu Kyi encouraged tourists to visit, the international community lifted informal travel boycotts that had been keeping travellers away.Read more
Despite featuring in luxury travel magazines, Burma remains a rustic place to visit. Still relatively undeveloped, life moves at a snail’s pace and modernisation has been equally slow, although, since the recent boom in tourism foreign investment is ensuring an improvement in infrastructure and the building of new hotels . Mildew-dappled colonial buildings dominate cityscapes, although shiny skyscrapers have been making an appearance. Most Burmese still prefer to wear the traditional lonyi to modern dress. Streets aren’t illuminated with neon-lit signs like Bangkok and Hong Kong and there aren’t Seven-11s on every corner.
While 2012 saw the introduction of ATMs (mostly in Yangon), US dollars remain the main currency to exchange for local kyat, however if even slightly creased or marked are rejected. While a glut of shopping centres opened in recent years, they aren’t the monumental malls of Singapore or KL and most locals still prefer to shop the markets. Each day sees more new cars on the streets, but they still share the roads with horse carts, trishaws, bicycles, and motorbikes.
Of course all of this is part of Burma’s charm. Equally alluring are its gleaming pagodas, historic temple complexes that rival Cambodia’s great Angkor complex, and lush landscapes distinguished by forested mountains, tranquil lakes, picturesque rivers, and impressive caves.
The big four sights are Rangoon (Yangon), Bagan, Inle Lake, and Mandalay, which most tourists visit on organized tours, while destinations such as Pindaya Ngapali Beach and Hsipaw see more intrepid tourists. Travellers are also increasingly getting off-the-beaten-track, visiting traditional hill tribes and choosing home stays over hotels. Not yet jaded by tourism – tourists remain a novelty in Burma – the Burmese are some of the friendliest people you’ll meet and encounters with locals are a highlight of a trip.
Places of interest in Burma
On the banks of the Ayeyarwady River (or Irrawaddy River), Bagan (also written as Pagan) was first founded in 849...
A shallow, 13.5 mile-long lake in the Thanlwin River basin on the Shan Plateau in eastern Burma, southeast of...
It may be Myanmar’s second largest city after Rangoon, but Mandalay in Upper Burma feels more like a big rural...
Myanmar’s main city Rangoon dates from the 6th century AD when it was a fishing village inhabited by the Mon people...