Rudyard Kipling once wrote, “This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about.” It’s hard to imagine a place being so unique that you can’t compare it to other places – so here’s our guide to Burma, including all its must-visit destination!
To get to Burma, fly into Yangon from HK with Thai Airways (flying via Bangkok) or Singapore Airlines (flying via Singapore). It’s easiest and fastest to take domestic flights between each city, however it’s also possible to travel around by bus and train. The best times of year to go are October to March.
If you arrive in the evening, I recommend staying the night in Yangon at The Strand, and starting your travel around Burma bright and early the following morning, starting with…
The history of Bagan dates to the 11th century, when King Anawrahta converted to Theravada Buddhism and set out to spread this passion to his people, resulting in the construction of thousands of temples and pagodas. You can spend hours exploring the temples, learning about Buddhism, the history of Bagan, and what life was like back in the 11th to 13th century. Hopping from one temple to another and admiring all the frescoes and intricate details on the carvings never gets old! Head to Pyathada Temple in time for sunset, and watch the sun cast an orange glow on the horizon.
For dinner, go to Be Kind to Animals The Moon (bizarre name, I know). They serve excellent vegetarian dishes; my favourite was the tomato curry.
Kalaw, an hour’s drive from Heho airport, is a hill station surrounded by mist-shrouded mountains, bamboo groves, evergreen foliage and colourful villages. Most travellers skip Kalaw but I highly recommend visiting for a less touristy Burmese experience.
If possible, you should do the 3-day hike to Inle Lake; with limited time, we instead did just a short trek to one of the jungles to visit the Elephant Conservation Project. After our hike, we met some mahouts who invited us to help them wash and feed their elephants. None of the elephants were chained and looked happy and free.
After feeding the elephants, we met the owner, Maw, who led us to an empty plot of land where we helped plant trees. Burma is one of the most densely forested countries in the Asia Pacific, but now has one of the highest rates of forest loss on Earth. Maw wants to “restore” the forest by encouraging visitors and locals to plant trees.
The gentle way of life on the lake is meditative, whether you are visiting one of the floating gardens by boat, observing the fishermen with their unique fishing style, or simply relaxing on your balcony enjoying the serenity and tranquillity found in this little gem of a place. We stayed at Viewpoint Eco Lodge in Nyaung Shwe. Its luxurious cottage suites are built in the traditional Shan style (stilts on a lake) and the staff paid close attention to every little detail so that our stay was a memorable one.
We hired bikes from the hotel and went for a wander. The road was rocky and bumpy, but all the pedalling soon paid off when we got the first glimpse of the scenery – it was absolutely gorgeous! After getting lost a few times, we stumbled upon Red Mountain Vineyard and stopped for a sneaky glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
The following day, our boat ride took us to a local market and the floating gardens. The shore and islands are littered with villages on stilts, inhabited mostly by the Intha people. The Indein Village in the west coast of the lake is an absolute must visit – you will feel lost in a sea of ancient Shan style pagodas encrusted with vines.
Yangon is where contemporary and colonial Burma coexist. I don’t recommend spending a lot of time in Yangon, where the main attractions (the pagodas and colonial buildings) can be done in a day.
Food-wise, the restaurant Le Planteur is a real gem. It serves quality French food in a fantastic setting. For a more local eatery, Feel Myanmar is a great place to try local Burmese cuisine.
We concluded our trip with a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the architectural masterpiece that dominates Yangon. Despite the number of people that flock the pagoda, there is a sense of calmness around it. Try visit at sunset – the sun casts a magical glow on the gold stupa, which makes it stand out beautifully from the dark blue sky (photo opportunity!).
It’s impossible to pinpoint my favourite part of Burma, as each portion offers something unique. Go to Bagan to experience its historical and architectural side, Kalaw for outdoor adventure and responsible tourism, Inle Lake for its culture and Yangon for the transition between old and new. I fall in love with the country and the warmth and friendliness of the people more and more with each visit.
Sassy’s Top Tips:
- When visiting temples, your shoulders and legs must be covered. Bring a scarf or sarong.
- Pack PLENTY of mosquito repellent!
- Don’t forget your camera.
- Book tours in advance.
- Go with an open mind.
- Local women might ask for your mascara or lipstick. Don’t give it to them, as they tend to resell these items in the markets.
FLIGHT CENTRE DEAL TO YANGON: $5,864 (excluding taxes and fuel surcharge) with Singapore Airlines; includes return economy airfare to Yangon and 3 nights’ accommodation at the 5-star The Strand Hotel, daily breakfast and return airport transfers. Valid until 24 October 2012, depending on availability; call Flight Centre on 2830 2899 for more info.
Cecilia is the Marketing Campaign Manager of Flight Centre Hong Kong; she loves the beach, travelling and good food!
For assistance on your travels, visit www.flightcentre.com.hk. Flight Centre’s team of travel consultants can help you book everything travel-related, as well as make excellent recommendations.