The Southeastern Asian country of Myanmar (formerly Burma until renamed by the military government) is a wonderful place to visit and because of the fact that it has actually only been officially open to tourists since 1996, means that it is still fresh and raw for visitors. I have to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this country which has seen so much political unrest in recent years. Things have greatly changed for the better in the last 2 years, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is free after years of imprisonment and whilst there are still problems here, it is a nation which is easy to travel around and absolutely stunning. I really fell in love with Myanmar and here is why.
Off the Beaten Track
I love Southeast Asia but because so much of it has become a victim to heavy tourism, it has meant that much of the most popular places and those once-hidden away places have become over populated, over traveled and many of them have lost their charm. Myanmar is not like this at all given the fact that it has only recently opened its doors to tourists, there is so much to explore that really is off the beaten track.
I had some apprehension about how much the locals would accept foreigners but I needn’t have been worried as they were some of the kindest and most welcoming people that I have ever had the pleasure to encounter. I felt this in the hotels, on the street and in cafes and restaurants and everyone seemed to be prepared to go the extra mile to help me out during my time there.
In many parts of Asia you will find the tourist tax added on to everything that you buy and I can honestly say that this was not the case in Myanmar. Perhaps it is because of the country’s devout religious beliefs, perhaps simply because they are good people but when you buy things in Myanar, the price that you see is the price that you pay.
Few places have left me as awe-struck as I was when I set my eyes upon Shwedagono Paya, a 2500 year old buddhist pagoda that is glittering in gold and precious metals. Within the pagoda are some of the most revered Buddhist relics in the world and for most Buddhists, a trip here is something which they could only dream about doing. The intricate and hand-crafted elements of this place are stunning and as someone who has seen their fair share of religious buildings, I can say that there are none more beautiful than this one.
Finally, Mandelay, the chaotic city which is filled with rich culture and a zany way of life. I stayed in Mandelay for 3 nights and in truth, the city left me breathless. This is the second biggest city in the country and it is a hive of activity day and night that really must be seen to be believed.