Burma (also known as Myanmar) is fast becoming one of the worlds major emerging travel destinations. It’s a fascinating country that’s only recently become visible to Western eyes. You’ve probably heard of Burma because of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners, serving 15 years of house arrest before her release in 2010. With Burma having been closed off from the rest of the world for almost 50 years under military dictatorship, it’s like stepping back into old Asia, or what Thailand was like a few decades ago. The place feels authentic and untouched, something that’s often very hard to come by.
Burma is special, but as tourism rapidly grows things will change. If you want to experience that unique feeling of seeing a country almost untouched by globalization, the time to go is now. But if you need more convincing, don’t worry because I’ll give you 10 reasons why you need to get to Burma right now, before it’s too late.
1. They Have the Best Temples in the World
You’ve probably heard about the lost city of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but Bagan is where you can truly live out your Indiana Jones fantasies. Forget about the overcrowded tour group infested temples of Angkor Wat, because Bagan is where it’s at! We had temples all to ourselves, and this was during peak season. If checking out the view from the top of a deserted temple isn’t your thing, you can also take a hot air balloon at sunrise and float above more than 2,200 ancient temples.
2. The World’s Oldest Teak Bridge
I know it’s a bridge, so what? What made this one of my best days in Burma were the friendly locals that cross U Bein Bridge everyday. While it’s just over 1km long, it took us close to 1.5 hours to cross because of the number of locals who stopped us for photos. There was the lady who had a professional photographer take a photo of us, and who then later chased after us to proudly show off her newly printed photo. There were the monks who took lots of selfies while practising their English with us, and who even bought us coconuts. The look of envy from every other tourist we passed wishing they had their own monk friends was priceless.
3. They do Bling to the Limit
Yangon is home to the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is the oldest in the world dating back 2,600 years. It’s also incredibly sparkly, like REALLY sparkly, with thousands of diamonds, rubies and sapphires, and hundreds of gold plates.
4. They Row With Their Feet
…because using your arms is for fools. The fishermen on Inle Lake are famous for their leg rowing. Their one leg fishing technique allows them to see all the reeds and water plants in the lake while using their hands to collect the net.
5. The People
Inspite of their long history of military dictatorship, the Burmese people are so welcoming and friendly, your cheeks will literally hurt by the end of day from your constant smiling. Most importantly, there are cute kids everywhere. So if photographing cute Asian babies is your thing, then Burma is for you.
6. They Won’t Be Curious For Long
One of the most memorable parts about traveling through Burma was simply the locals intrigue with any tourist they came across. They would chase you down the street yelling “mingalabar” (hello) and want to take dozens of photos with you. However as more and more tourists flock to Burma, seeing a foreigner will become the norm, and that friendly, curious nature will undoubtedly fade. Right now we’re a novelty, but ask any Thai or Vietnamese person whether they find tourists a novelty, I doubt they’d answer the same way a Burmese would.
7. You Won’t Get Overcharged or Scammed
Burma’s long isolation from the rest of the world has meant they are yet to cotton on to the whole concept of ripping tourists off. Unlike many other parts of S.E Asia, when locals in Burma strike up a conversation it’s purely out of curiosity. It’s not because they’re trying to sell you something, or distract you while their friend pickpockets you or drives by on a motorbike and snatches your bag. As tourism in this country increases, so will the ugly sides of the industry.
8. Bragging Rights
Who doesn’t love being the first among their friends to explore a place? A lot of people have been to Thailand and Vietnam, but have they been to Burma. Be a trendsetter and be one of those first to discover this fascinating country before everyone else does.
9. It’s Off the Beaten Path
Burma is how I imagine the rest of S.E Asia was a few decades ago. Before tourism became the number 1 industry and before McDonald’s was on every corner. Their culture hasn’t been diluted from globalization, so it feels very authentic, something very hard to find in this modern and interconnected world. The buildings are old, the cars are old, and there’s a major lack of any big name Western brands. In fact Coca Cola was one of the very few I recognized, and that is what makes Burma unique. This of course will change dramatically with McDonald’s and KFC on their way.
10. It’s Changing Fast
If you want to see Burma while it’s still authentic, then the time to go is now. Prices are continuing to increase rapidly, with hotel prices more than tripling in the last few years. American fast food chains are on their way, as are a number of luxury hotel chains. So go now before it becomes too commercialized and loses it’s old Asia charm.
Have you been to Burma? What were your experiences there? If not, have I encouraged you to visit??