2nd November – 4th December 2017
When we told people at home we were planning to visit Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, they asked us why? They wanted to know if it was safe and what there would be to see here. Within the travelling world however this is the perfect place to travel right now. Travellers kept saying it was one of their favourite countries and that it had a kind of magic. This country only properly opened up to tourists in 2011. This means that it has not yet been overrun by backpackers or large tour groups. It has also meant that the people here are excited to see and meet tourists. I have enjoyed many conversations with locals who just want to genuinely tell you about their country and who are not interested in just taking your money.
People also said that the magic always happens in the early hours in this country. I have to admit this was not wrong. I feel like I have not seen so many sunrises in my life as I have in Myanmar in the last month. I also cannot remember having this many early nights before. This country has so much to offer and every minute of daylight felt like it had to be maximised.
The journeys also add to the exhaustion. I didn’t realise Myanmar was so large. It has an amazing extensive bus network providing transport for a very cost effective price. The journeys themselves however are very long ranging from 6 – 10 hours and the roads are often bumpy and winding. However it is worth it for the thousands of golden pagodas, hidden teak monasteries and the welcoming friendly locals we met during our four and a half weeks in Myanmar.
Food and Drink
Myanmar isn’t known for its food. It has been influenced greatly throughout its history by its neighbouring countries. We found it was easy to find Chinese, Thai and Indian food everywhere. It does however have some local dishes some of which we have listed below.
A personal favourite of mine is the tea leaf salad. This is something you would normally look at on a menu and be confused by however it is a traditional Myanmar dish and therefore I had to try it. It is a combination of pickled tea leaves, garlic, dried beans and peanuts. It’s surprisingly filling and is a great alternative to the normal western salad.
This is a very simple and often cheap dish that stands out from the more repetitive plain dishes on the budget menus. Similar to the well known sweet and sour but with a spicy kick.
This is a noodle dish famous throughout Myanmar although it does originate from the Shan state. It consists of thin rice noodles topped with a tasty spicy sauce and small pieces of either chicken or pork. They encourage you to mix it all together before you start eating and so you end up with a tasty sticky noodle mess. You can often find Shan noodles sold at night markets where they are sold for sometimes as little as £1 per bowl.
As we had four weeks in Myanmar we wanted to visit a few places off the usual beaten track and Hpa-An was top of that list. Whilst not much to do in the town itself there was loads to explore in the surrounding countryside and we spent several days on scooters finding caves, temples and swimming spots. The many karst hills around the area offer staggering views especially early in the morning or around sunset.
Inle Lake is a spectacular shallow lake with various stilted villages dotted around it. One of our days here was spent on a full day boat tour where we visited temples, villages and small workshops devoted to everything from lotus weaving to cigar rolling. For lunch we stopped and ate with a local family in their stilted house and were treated to an elaborate feast consisting of six or seven different dishes. We definitely didn’t go hungry in Myanmar.
Undoubtedly Myanmar’s most iconic tourist sight Bagan is truly incredible and something that can’t be missed when visiting the country. Thousands of temples and pagodas are spread out over the plain and range in scale from cathedral size with towering passageways down to tiny single stupas with no entrance. Whilst it’s one of Myanmar’s most busy sights it’s easy to hire an ebike and get away to some of the quiet areas where the tour buses can’t reach. We saw every sunrise and sunset over the five days and even managed to fit in an unforgettable balloon flight which took us right over the main temple area.
In previous blogs we have mentioned that it’s always important to visit the capital of a country. Myanmar however became an exception to this rule. Naypyidaw became the capital in 2007, prior to this it was Yangon (previously known as Rangoon). We didn’t visit Naypwidaw however we did visit Yangon and multiple other ancient capitals which are all steeped in history.
Things we learnt
- Almost everyone chews betel giving them a noticeable red smile. Betel itself is a nut grown in southeast Asia. It is sold in small leaf parcels called ‘Kun-ya’ which encloses the chopped up betel with catechu and slaked lime. You pop the parcel in your mouth, suck or chew and then spit when you start to salivate too much. Betel nut itself is a drug making it addictive and the combination supposedly gives you a little buzz. One side effects of this habit is that the betel nut stains everything red. This means not only does it stain the paths and roads where people spit but also gives everyone a red smile.
- Longyi is a garment seen throughout Myanmar. It is made up of a long cylindrical piece of cloth wrapped around the waist. It is the tucked in a the front and secured without a knot. Both men and women wear these.
- Thanaka is a traditional cosmetic paste worn mainly by women (although sometimes men) in Myanmar. The light cream paste is often applied to the face and is said to not only for beauty but also to protect from the sun and help with skin conditions such as acne.
Top three phrases/words
- Mingalabar – Hello ( မင်္ဂလာပါ )
- Kyei zu tin ba de – Thank you very much
- Nay Kaung Lar? – How are you? ( ေနေကာင္းလား။ )
Travel Statistics for Myanmar
Beers drank: 17.5 (each)
Beds slept in: 16 (each)
Bribes paid: 0
- Plane: 1
- Bus: 8
- Minibus: 3
- Train: 2o
- Boat: 6
- Taxi: 12
- Car: 1
- Pick up truck: 6
- Rickshaw: 13
- Mototaxi: 1
- Horse cart: 1
Spending in Myanmar
Currency: Myanmar Kyat
Currency Conversion: £1 = 1815.477 MMK
Number of days in country: 32
Breakdown of spending (together) –
Food & Beverage: £210.37
Activities: £930.30 (incl. Hot air balloon ride in Bagan)
Total (together): £1998.26
Total (per person): £999.13
Average Daily Spend (together): £38.44
Average Daily Spend (per person): £19.22
Note: ADS excludes all flights into and out of the country and the hot air balloon ride in Bagan