Myanmar, the largest country in SE Asia is also the least visited country in the region largely due to the controversial military dictatorship which controlled the country in recent years. Many people were scared of visiting the country as they fear it may be dangerous and volatile. However, the truth is that for foreign travelers the country is probably the safest in the region.
Part of Myanmar’s appeal is all the mystery. Unlike other SE Asian countries, you will find little in the way of comprehensive online information which added to the mystery of this one time very closed off country.
Myanmar (formally known as Burma) has been somewhat isolated under a military dictatorship until recently, but is now undergoing political changes and opening up to tourism. Under the old military dictatorship, every foreigner who visited was required to register and log basically every step of their trip. Over the last several years, the situation has changed and there is far less regulation with tourists with no need to log trip details in most areas of the country. In fact, I rarely saw any military or police presence in all my time in Burma.
With the big flow of foreign investment as well as the increase in visitors, it means the country is changing fast and opening up to the outside world after years of isolation. Because Burma was isolated for so long, a visit can be like stepping back in time into a world that has been cut off from the rest of modern society. You will see rickshaws, crumbling colonial remains, people wearing the traditional ‘longyi’ with thanaka bark smeared on their faces, and cows roaming the dusty streets.
You can really turn back the clock with a trip to this time-warped country where there’s no such thing as a 7-Eleven or even Starbucks which is seemingly on every street corner in other SE Asian countries we visited. Even McDonalds has not yet succeeded in bringing their brand of tasty poison into Myanmar. Myanmar has also yet to be completely overwhelmed by Western clothing. It was really cool seeing all of the locals still dressed in their traditional Longyi clothing.
Myanmar is fast becoming the must-visit country for backpackers in SE Asia. My initial impression upon landing in the busy capital city of Yangon is that it sure looks like Asia from 20 years ago. It still offers a genuine experience in Asia, far away from the masses that you find in the neighboring countries. So my best advice is to go there now, before it is completely overrun by foreigners like some of its neighbors, and before things change too dramatically.
Because changes happen so quickly, I found it a bit challenging to find up-to-date information on what to expect when visiting the country. For example, there are now ATM’s available to get cash instead of having to bring along a wad of US currency for your entire stay. SIM cards are available for your unlocked I-Phone which are quite helpful to access the internet as the wifi in most areas kinda sucks. Visas are easier to obtain via their online e-visa program eliminating the need to wait in lines at the local embassy to secure a visa. A bunch of airlines are now operating between cities when in years past only long uncomfortable, bumpy vomit inducing buses were the only mode of transport. Basically, Myanmar is starting to get their shit together and the obstacles and hassles of traveling here have been alleviated.
Even though it is the least visited country in the region, the times when Myanmar was a well kept secret and completely ‘Off The Beaten Track’ are now gone. However, the good news is that there is a real efficient tourist infrastructure beginning to be put into place to make travel here quite easy. Myanmar is indeed changing at a very high pace and is fast becoming the must-visit country for travelers in SE Asia. As Myanmar opens up, sanctions lift and life there rapidly changes, more travelers are venturing into this country. Since 2011, tourism has doubled every year, and well over 1 million visitors arrived in 2015 following the onset of political reforms. Many foreigners formerly boycotted the country at the request of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, so as to avoid contributing money to the repressive military regime.
Myanmar is a country of many incredible and sometimes surreal sites. The most popular core destinations on the traveler circuit in Myanmar are Yangon (the capital), Mandalay, Bagan, Ngapali (beach area) and Inle Lake. To get more off the beaten path, you can visit smaller places such as Hsipaw, Mawlamyine, & Hpa-an plus many others.
Myanmar is an amazing country and it’s nice to see that there is still a country that hasn’t been over run yet. Great people, great food and so comfortable to visit. No problems with anything. Best country in Asia to visit. Simply, a happy place. Just glad I saw it before everyone shows up. I hope to visit Myanmar again as I am keen to see more of the country.
LOOSE STOOLS INDEX-
Sorry, no loose stools index numbers for you on my country summary posts. I know you may find it difficult to sleep at night without this index update but the stools index will return in the next post from the Philippines. Going to a new country always seems to bring fireworks to the consistency of the stools so it is worth the wait.
THRU THE BINOCS-
I may have touched on this in a previous blog post but I just felt the need to reiterate. You may be wondering why I have given mostly glowing reviews to the places we visited. I can tell you straight up Big Doug is not sugar coating anything. That is just not the way I roll. I would attribute our success rate to diligent online research prior to this journey and effectively weeding out all the shitty touristy places. If you do your homework, you will be rewarded. However, I am not certain that rule applies at the track.