Myanmar, formerly Burma, has a colourful history. In 1962 the country came under military rule, and it stayed that way until the election of President Thein Sein in 2011, when he became the first civilian to become head of state in almost half a century. Since then, much has changed. Whereas a backpacking adventure would have previously been impossible, today there are many ways to tour the country independently.
While areas of high risk remain, they are easily avoided if you plan your route in advance. Although the Foreign Office advises against visiting three states in the country’s north, it says that most trips elsewhere are likely to be trouble-free.
Unlike neighbouring Thailand, Myanmar still has heaps of places to discover that remain untouched by mass tourism.
Here are four reasons to plan a trip to Southeast Asia:
- Sagar Village, Inle Lake
- The wild south
Sagar Village, Inle Lake
With its floating villages and gardens, Inle Lake is one of the most popular tourist spots in Myanmar. Less well known is the remote ancient village of Sagar, which can be reached by boat. On market days, the hill tribes from the region come together in Sagar, and on these occasions it is particularly interesting to mingle amongst the people. If you can get some, do sample the rice wine of the Pa-O tribe – it is considered a speciality of the region.
The wild south
The Tanintharyi region in Myanmar’s far south is a backpacker’s dream. Although fixed roads are a rarity here, hardly any foreign tourists get lost in the area, and there are many things to see.
The Mergui Archipelago consists of more than 800 islands, with lush mangrove forests and white sandy beaches surrounded by the turquoise blue sea. If you’re looking for undisturbed tranquillity, this is the place. Many of the islands remain uninhabited – they weren’t explored until 1997, as access was completely prohibited.
Dives or discovery tours conducted in absolute solitude are possible here. What makes the islands particularly interesting is the abundance of wildlife: Mergui is home to tigers, elephants, monkeys and, it’s rumoured, Sumatran rhinos.
In the centre of Myanmar, some 80 miles from Mandalay, lies the city of Monywa. It is known for the Thanboddhay Phaya, a Buddhist temple that contains over 500,000 brightly coloured statues of Buddha. Close by is a 127-metre tall Buddha sculpture, making it the largest in Myanmar.
From the pagoda, the views over the temple and the forests around the city are simply breathtaking.
The historic temple city of Bagan is one of the most important archaeological areas in Southeast Asia. The vast site south of Mandalay has over 2,000 sacred Buddhist monuments from the 9th century.
Although the historic spot is one of the main tourist attractions of the country, once you’ve paid your admission fee you’ll have the freedom to explore the area on your own. This is best done with the aid of a bicycle – almost all hotels and guest houses in the region rent both standard and e-bikes. If you don’t want to cycle, you can go by taxi or book a guided tour on a horse carriage. However, the most spectacular way to experience Bagan is from the air – hot air balloon rides over the area are readily available.