Before your friends started posting photos of their recent trip to Myanmar, did you have any idea what this country has to offer? 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. But that’s Burma (officially called Myanmar)
Best flights from Hong Kong to Myanmar - Dragonair has launched direct flights to Yangon from Hong Kong. For indirect options, consider 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. 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…
Bagan: temples and pagodas
Bagan, located on the banks of the Ayeyarwady (formerly Irrawaddy) River, is home to the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. Construction began in the 11th century when King Anawrahta converted to Theravada Buddhism, and set out to spread this doctrine to his people.
For dinner, go to Be Kind to Animals The Moon (bizarre name, I know). They serve excellent dishes, but my favourite one is the tomato curry.
Inle Lake: rest and relaxation
The gentle way of life on the lake is transfixing, 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 only found in this little gem of a place. Villages line the shore, and also pepper the tiny islands. But this being so, I have come across few vacation spots so peaceful and meditative.
We stayed at Viewpoint Eco Lodge in Nyaung Shwe. Its luxurious cottage suites are built in the traditional Shan style – stilts on a lake. The staff paid close attention to every little detail so that our stay was a memorable one. We hired bikes and went for a wander. The road was rocky and bumpy, but 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.
To explore the lake, hire a boat and cruise around. This is your chance to visit with Burmese blacksmiths, silversmiths and silk weavers. Most of the simple yet picturesque village houses are built on stilts. You can sail to a bustling local market to see the colourfully dressed farmers and villagers of the region, particularly the Pa-O tribe, who bring in oxen carts loaded with flowers, vegetables, dried fish and clothing – and lay their goods out on the ground. Indein Village on the west coast of the lake is a definite must! The ancient Shan, vine-encrusted pagodas on the hilltop are a dramatic sight.
Yangon: the heart of Myanmar
The gateway to Myanmar, Yangon is where contemporary and colonial Burma coexists. A few years ago, there was very little sign of any foreign (or domestic) investment in the city. If you visit now, you will be welcomed by billboards advertising the latest mobile phones, some high-rise buildings and line after line of cars. But don’t be put off.
As you stroll you’ll be greeted by the super-friendly smiles of the locals, most of whom still wear traditional longhis (sarongs). The Burmese girls in particular are a joy to behold, their faces patterned with thanaka (a white sunscreen made from ground bark) and their shining hair hanging down to their waists or even ankles.
It’s impossible to pinpoint my favourite part of Burma, as each place offers something unique. It’s a heaven-sent destination for history lovers. It’s also one of the only places in Asia where you can watch at first-hand a people in transition. And as I said it’s the people that really make Burma fabulous. Their warmth and friendliness will fill you with peace and contentment.