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Burma – So what is all the fuss about?

Added 30 Apr 2013
Burma – So what is all the fuss about?
 

Having just returned from Burma, Polly Rusyn - our Burma Product Manager - was struck by how vibrant and varied a destination it is. She shares her highlights and tells us why now is the time to go.

First-time visitors to Southeast Asia may well be overwhelmed by this once hidden gem, yet those who have already experienced the likes of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, and haven’t yet been to Burma, may be forgiven for thinking there’s not much left to add to the mix.

But Burma, too, has her own personality - just as Thailand basks in the knowledge her beaches will never be empty and treats more curious visitors to jungles, elephants and hilltribes; and as Laos bows to you languidly and lets you see her at your own pace secure that you will fall in love with her; and as Vietnam picks you up and carries you from one end to the other in a maelstrom of markets, traffic and temples before throwing you a curveball when she shows you the beauty of her expansive tranquil beaches; and how Cambodia welcomes you in the confidence you will leave full of awe at her world-famous temples, full of compassion at her turbulent dark past and full of hope for her emerging future.

Burma, undeniably at home with her Southeast Asian neighbours, smiles warmly and opens her arms in the knowledge that the longer you stay with her, the more you will want to see as she has it all: towering temples, ancient monasteries, mysterious pagodas, jade green paddy fields, swathes of near empty palm-tree lined beaches, markets vibrant with colour, epic lakes, expansive rivers, lofty mountain ranges, verdant jungles and wonderfully hospitable people.

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The time to visit is now

If you haven’t already been, the time to visit is now while the country still retains some of its naivety. Already, the elderly cheroot-smoking hilltribe women hold out their hands asking for a dollar in exchange for a photo. Coca Cola has found its way in; however as yet there is no sign of a McDonalds! Although Burma is still a country with only a handful of ATMs and without international mobile phone coverage, times are changing and changing fast. In the few years since the boycott of tourism was lifted by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the cost of visiting the country has increased as tourists have flooded in. As a result, foreign investment has seen new roads being laid down and new hotels being built in order to meet the rising demand.

Why Burma?

That said, Burma is worth the extra expense, not for the standard of accommodation or for the quality of the infrastructure but for those treasures that money cannot buy: Bagan’s temples viewed at the beginning or at the end of the day when the atmosphere is magical and the setting awe-inspiring; experiencing a ‘water world’ life on Inle Lake where farmers tend their crops on floating islands and where sometimes only the silhouette of a leg-rowing fisherman breaks up the expanse of the lake’s shimmering waters; the sight of monks in deep crimson robes mixing with locals in colourful longyi as they take an evening promenade over U Bein bridge; watching the sunset in the serene surrounds of Rangoon’s Shwedagon Pagoda as locals worship and children play; the smiling faces, cheeks brushed with thanaka powder, of ladies in local markets squatting surrounded by bulbous vegetables and succulent fruit… And most memorable is perhaps the hospitality of the Burmese, who are as inquisitive about us as we are of them and who are undeniably a charming and genuine people, who greet tourists as guests and whose smiles are as warm as their welcome.

Burma is a country undoubtedly finding its feet but one that, although last to join the Southeast Asian tourist destination club, can certainly hold her own. I for one will be returning not only to revisit where I have already been but also to explore further afield and immerse myself fully in what this wonderful country has to offer.