A visit to Myanmar is everything that every wary tourist is longing for – nature, culture, history, and adventure minus the usual press of people. After all, immersing yourself in one place is better than hopping from one country to another in a shallow need to tick off must-sees. Myanmar allows you to slow down and appreciate smaller details, things you may otherwise have missed in a frenzied urge to move on to the next destination.
If there is something we learned from the lockdown, it’s that staying in one place could be beneficial. However, months of being cooped up within the reduced space of our immediate surroundings create a craving for a change of scenery. Yet, the pandemic has instilled in us a fear of large crowds. We now hunt for a less jam-packed destination, where we can revel in the exotic, exclusive, idyllic, isolated, unknown, and unfrequented.
Is Myanmar safe to visit after the international travel ban? Absolutely! Here are excellent reasons why you should visit Myanmar after the lockdown is lifted.
1. Hot Air Balloons in Bagan
If there’s one scene that encapsulates the surrealness of Myanmar, it is of hot air balloons clouding the horizon, over glinting stupas dotting the vast plains of Bagan. Of course, Myanmar’s charm is spread out all over other regions. But still, no other place on earth offers such ethereal views a few hundred feet from the ground.
The best time to go on a hot air balloon ride is during sunrise when the land is enveloped by golden hues and silver mists, creating an even more mystical ambiance. The excursion starts at 6 AM and lasts for 45 minutes. Before take-off, you get a welcome of cookies and tea or coffee, while the crew inflates the balloon. A celebratory glass of wine and light breakfast awaits you upon landing.
Another reason to visit Myanmar is its coffee. Nestled between Kalaw and Mandalay, just a few hours away from Inle Lake, is the district of Ywangan. The town is worth visiting not only for its spectacular landscape but also for its coffee industry. In the village’s mist-shrouded mountains are hidden coffee farms tended by smallholder farmers, the majority of whom belong to ethnic groups. These small-scale growers typically grow coffee around their home, intercropping high-quality arabica beans with avocado, papaya, macadamia, jackfruit, and other crops. However, the country’s coffee industry remains underdeveloped, mainly because of a lack of support for small scale coffee growers.
The organization Behind the Leaf is slowly changing this. Comprised of socially-concerned entrepreneurs, Behind the Leaf empowers small-scale farmers, particularly the Pa’O ethnic group, by providing agricultural education and buying the beans at a fair price. Moreover, the organization introduces this kind of beans to the international markets. This helps forge sustainable growth in the local communities. Now you knew where to get the best coffee in your visit to Myanmar.
3. Visit Myanmar: Lacquer
Myanmar’s impressive lacquer tradition dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries and is one of the most defining artistic crafts in the country. The famous lacquer comes from the sap of the Thitsi tree, which is endemic to Southeast Asia and usually grows in the wild and hilly regions of Shan State. The lacquerware could be plain, incised or gilt, and ranges from rice baskets and plates to folding screens and tables to ceremonial bowls and jewelry boxes.
During your visit to Myanmar, check out the village of Phwar Saw in Bagan. It is the center of the country’s lacquerware industry, supplying products to markets in Yangon and Taunggyi, as well as training future artisans in a newly opened school. Surprisingly, the village remains free from over tourism despite having attracted visitors who are intrigued by the traditional hand-made art and the rural life of the locals.
4. Visit Myanmar: Luxury River Cruise
Cruising the rivers on your visit to Myanmar is a marvelous way to discover some of the country’s remotest areas without giving up the extravagance of first-class accommodation. Beautiful custom-built vessels that range in style from British colonial steamboats to sleek motorized yachts are a common sight in Myanmar’s mythical and enchanting Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers. Most luxury boats have suites that feature floor to ceiling windows, elegant lounges with Burmese style furniture, world-class spas, and plunge pools. Smaller boats limit the number of passengers to 12 for safety and more intimacy. The cruises can last from three days to a week, depending on the route.
Witness magical landscapes unfold before you as your boat glides across the Irrawaddy River through rustic riverside villages, lively lakeside markets, breathtaking temples, and ancient monasteries. Marvel at the Ponnyashin Pagoda set atop a hill as you sip cold wine from the spacious observation deck or as you laze in the coziness of your private balcony. Some cruises take you on an excursion of the Chindwin River. Here, you can observe the unhurried life of the locals in sleepy villages hidden on the foothills of imposing mountain ranges and dense forests.
5. Visit Myanmar for: The Beaches
Myanmar’s beaches are some of the world’s most beautiful and diverse, from secluded shores ideal for romantic strolls to natural lagoons fringed by luxuriant jungles. Imagine crystal clear waters of mixed shades of blue, endless stretches of pearly white sand, and verdant palm trees slightly swaying in the balmy breeze. The best thing about these beaches is that they are unspoiled and devoid of crowds.
If you’re looking forward to frolicking at the beach when you visit Myanmar, head to Ngapali Beach. This is arguably the best among Myanmar’s beaches and a must-see during your visit to Myanmar. In addition to its vibrant local culture, powdery white sand, and turquoise waters, Ngapali is a renowned snorkeling and diving site with a wealth of unique marine life. For accommodation, you can stay in a small beach hut or lodge in a seaside villa. While here, do not miss the opportunity to indulge in the local cuisine, which mainly features fresh seafood.
6. Mergui Archipelago
Can you picture having a secluded tropical island paradise all to yourself? The Mergui Archipelago has 800 idyllic islands, each one more stunning than the last. Despite its breathtaking beauty, the archipelago remains one of the least places that tourists would visit in Myanmar — a blessing for adventurers who seek the less trodden path. You can kayak through dense mangrove forests, watch monkeys forage for crabs on the shore, get on an island safari, stay at the eco-resort on the remote Boulder Island for an off-the-grid experience, and visit the villages of the seafaring indigenous Moken people.
Because of its relative isolation, the region’s marine life is thriving. The sea teems with rays and sharks, dugongs and turtles, and an abundant coral reef garden. It is also home to the plain-pouched hornbill and several other species of birds. If you’re bold enough, you can follow the narrow trails that lead into the middle of the untouched jungles and witness the remarkable wildlife that scientists are just starting to explore.
7. Visit Myanmar for Trekking
Blessed with natural beauty, Myanmar has among the best trekking destinations in Asia. One of the best trekking sites to visit in Myanmar is the mountain village of Hsipaw in the northern Shan State. Although not as popular as the Kalaw-Inle trekking route, the Hsipaw hike is quieter, less crowded, and offers a more authentic insight into Myanmar’s rural life.
Located on the banks of the Duthawadi River, Hsipaw’s is home to various hill tribes, vast tea plantations, and simple yet filling cuisine. The town is a combination of stunning features that both contradict and complement each other, from verdant rice paddies to arid hills, hidden natural hot springs to roaring ice-cold waterfalls, and traditional stilted bamboo houses to elegant towering pagodas. On the hiking trail, you will see golden spiders and an occasional snake as you pass by abundant vegetation and fields of tea, corn, and soya. After the trek, you can go on a vertigo-inducing train ride across the Gokteik Viaduct, a 320-foot high bridge over a rocky gorge.
Sadly, the region suffers from an ongoing skirmish, making some areas off-limits to tourists. You can be assured, though, that Hsipaw, like the rest of Myanmar, is relatively safe to visit.
8. Himalaya Mountains
On your visit to Myanmar, head to the northern tip of the country, within Kachin State, and you’ll see the imposing Myanmar Himalayas, the only snow capped peaks in Southeast Asia. The region is sparsely populated and undisturbed, making it the perfect idyllic getaway. Its landscape is varied and wide-ranging, from the magnificent peak of Hkakabo Razi, which rises 19,295 feet above the ground to the pristine waters of the roaring Nam Lang River to thickly forested valleys flourishing with exotic wildlife.
Venture into the Hkakabo Razi National Park on your Myanmar visit and you’ll spot rare flora and fauna, such as the striking black orchid, the goat antelope, and the red panda. Get on a rubber raft and brave the raging white rapids of Nam Lang as you steer through astounding canyons and gorges. Trek into the remote village of Putao to meet the spirited and friendly indigenous people who have lived in the region for hundreds of years.
Exploring the village life on your visit to Myanmar allows you to delve deep into the rich cultural heritage of the locals while enjoying the striking scenery of luxuriant jungles, suspension bridges, ancient pagodas, and monasteries, set against a backdrop of clear skies and snow capped mountains.
9. Morning markets
The local markets are among the best places to visit in Myanmar. Whether you’re looking for fresh produce, home ornaments, vibrant textiles, or exotic souvenirs, you will never go wrong with Myanmar’s five-day markets. These itinerant markets portray a lively and picturesque sight on the waters and banks of Inle Lake. What makes the markets unique is that they migrate from one lakeside village to another every five days. The sites Heho, Taunggyi, Minethauk, Nyaungshwe, Shwenyaung, take turns in hosting a traveling market every fifth day.
Traditionally, these hubs are where farmers from the uplands meet the fisherfolks of the lowlands to exchange their products and use the money to buy other essential wares from the numerous stalls. You can easily get lost in a labyrinth of aromatic spices, colorful flowers, exotic delicacies, freshly caught fish, and detailed lacquerware.
10. Floating Villages of Inle Lake
The majestic Inle Lake is one of the many reasons to visit Myanmar. On the placid waters of the Inle Lake is a cluster of stilt houses connected to each other by walkways and bridges made of bamboo and teak. The houses look uncomplicated, yet they create a distinct scenery that has become an iconic representation of the Inle Lake. Close to these houses are floating gardens where residents grow beans, cucumbers, flowers, tomatoes, eggplants, and other crops.
The district is home to various ethnic groups, among them the Intha people, whose fishermen are known worldwide for their unusual way of rowing and their conical fishing nets. Some parts of the lake swarm with floating markets, selling everything from fruits and vegetables to household goods and fishing equipment. Alongside the markets are workshops where the locals make their crafts, such as silk textiles woven from the coarse thread of a lotus plant, and cheroot, the traditional cigars of the country. One of the best things to do on your Myanmar visit is to interact with the charming Karen women who are renowned for their long neck rings and exceptional talent in cloth-weaving.
12. Visit Myanmar: Bagan
Bagan is often the main reason why many tourists would plan a visit to Myanmar. Over 3,500 stupas, temples, monasteries, and other fortifications pepper the sprawling plains of Bagan. The site is a monument of Myanmar’s most important Buddhist empire and a testimony of its rich spiritual and architectural history that dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries. In 2019, Bagan was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 25 years after it was first nominated.
Arguably the two most iconic edifices in the site are the Ananda and Sulamani Temples. The lively Ananda is a combination of Mon and Indian architecture and features a cruciform layout girdled by ornate terraces that lead to a small pagoda at the top. Meanwhile, the Sulamani Temple, with its brick and stone exterior and beautifully frescoed interior, appears less flamboyant yet more polished.
Don’t overlook the smaller and more remote pagodas and temples scattered in the less frequented parts of Bagan. These structures may not be as monumental as the bigger and more imposing temples, but they induce a kind of quietude and tranquility. During your visit of Myanmar, don’t miss the chance to explore these Bagan temples and see these edifices up-close. You can rent a bike or hire a horse-drawn carriage at sunset to see these temples bathed in splendid tints of orange, purple, and gold.
13. Buddhist Sites
Myanmar is a strongly devout Buddhist country and is home to thousands of unbelievably exquisite and well-preserved temples and other religious structures. During your Myanmar visit, you’ll come across small stupas hidden in jungles to towering pagodas in the middle of a bustling city to golden monasteries perched on a mountain. The country’s enthralling pagodas and many religious sites have attracted hordes of tourists from all over the world, including pilgrims from the neighboring countries.
Regarded as an iconic landmark of Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda is immediately recognizable for its elaborate gold facade and diamond-studded spire. Settled on top of Singuttara Hill in downtown Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda hovers 99 meters above 100 acres of grounds. This colossal pagoda, however, is more than just a beautiful edifice. It is also Myanmar’s most prominent Buddhist pilgrimage site as it enshrines four sacred relics of the three previous Buddhas and the current Gautama Buddha.
Another significant Buddhist pilgrimage site to visit in Myanmar is the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, also known as the Golden Rock. The small structure sits on top of a granite boulder on the peak of Mount Kyaiktiyo. Golden leaves pasted on by male devotees cover the rock giving it a surreal appearance as it glints under the sun.
14. Heritage Buildings Yangon
A stroll along Yangon’s Pansodan Street takes you to a world steeped in colonial history. Here, you will find Victorian buildings with redbrick outlays and arched verandas, offices with Corinthian columns and pitched roofs, and structures with centered domes and tiered porticos.
In the heart of Yangon’s rich architectural heritage is the Strand Hotel. Built in 1901 by two Armenian brothers, this Victorian-style hotel is one of the most iconic landmarks of the city’s colonial history. Over the years, the Strand Hotel has undergone a number of renovations but it has always remained true to its original architectural design, maintaining its teak and marble floors, mahogany furniture, even period bathroom fixtures. In 1993, the hotel was included in the Yangon City Heritage List.
Other heritage building to explore on your visit to Myanmar includes The Secretariat, the High Court, Rowe & Co, Myanmar Port Authority, Bogyoke Aung San Market, and the Police Commissioner’s Building.
Around late October and early November, the skies of Myanmar brighten with lavish fireworks and thousands of hot air balloons lit with candles. The Tazaungdaing Lights Festival marks the end of the rainy season, and the balloons are offerings to the heavens in a bid to drive away ill-fortune.
Nobody celebrates the festival like the city of Taunggyi in the Southern Shan State. In Taunggyi, the celebration lasts more than a week with activities like weaving competitions, human-powered Ferris wheel rides, and carnival games. The center of the festival, however, is the balloon competition that dates back to 1894, when the British first held the contest. Other undertakings during the festival include alms-giving and charity, paying homage to the elders, and visiting pagodas.
There you have it — our top reasons why you should visit Myanmar after the travel ban is lifted. So plan your trip as early as now, and be ready to experience the adventure of a lifetime in the land of golden pagodas, pristine nature, and amazing people.