Let’s Plan a Trip to Myanmar: Land of Spirit and Golden Spires

Let’s Plan a Trip to Myanmar: Land of Spirit and Golden Spires

There are few things which are as full of wonderment and more awe-inspiring, both in the closed fist of language and the open palm of experience, than travelling to an ancient land rife with gilded pagodas and altruistic traditions.

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We visited Myanmar {Burma} on: 06 November, 2017

We stayed for: 2 Weeks

 

When my husband, Vikram and I were invited by the Tourism Board of Myanmar to visit their gorgeous country – like an explorer who thoroughly believes in uncertainties being the salt of life, I felt excited about our visit to a land largely unknown to me. I was aware of its rough geography. I knew very little else.

So here are some Myanmar {Burma} factoids to get us all up to speed

  • The British colonized Burma in the 1880s making it a province of British India.
  • Burma was renamed Myanmar after a military uprising in 1989.
  • Buddhism is the main religion in Myanmar.
  • Tourism has been promoted by the government of the country since 1992.
  • Internet here is relatively slow but unlike popular belief it is not censored.

More than a century and a half after Lewis Carroll embarked his Alice on a journey of self-discovery through the magical rabbit hole, I found myself on a route of self-contemplation in a country which was nothing short of the wonderland Lewis Carroll described in his book. The simplicity of lives, the magnanimity of the temples and the exquisiteness of nature in Myanmar opened my heart and soul coercing me to explore more of the country, to know more of its culture.

Ancient history is intricately woven into the tapestry of its landscapes and every corner of this spell-binding country is worth being explored. If you want to get off the beaten track, then plan a trip to Myanmar. There are treasures in the form of experiences hidden in undeveloped villages just waiting to be discovered.

 

Getting to Myanmar

There are six points of entry in Myanmar that you can choose from:

By Air:

  • Mandalay International Airport
  • Yangon International Airport
  • Nay Pyi Taw international Airport

By Land:

  • Myawaddy land border crossing
  • Tachileik land border crossing
  • Kawthaung land border crossing

 

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Helpful tips to help you plan your trip

  • The currency used is the Burmese Kyat
  • It is best to apply for your Myanmar tourist visa online beforehand. Visit http://www.evisa.moip.gov.mm/ and print your e-visa before you start. On arrival, you can simply take your e-visa to the immigration counter to get it stamped.
  • Myanmar and Burma are used interchangeably by most travellers and locals in the country.
  • Certain parts of Myanmar are currently dealing with armed conflicts between different armed ethnic groups – mainly the ones in Northern Shan, Kachin, Rakhine states. So stay vigilant and avoid areas which are out of bounds for tourists.
  • Electricity operates on 230V supply voltage and 50Hz. You will be able to use plugs in the shape of three round pins forming a triangle (Type D) and two pins (Type C).
  • The hotel Wi-Fi seemed unbearably slow. The locals we spoke to advocated for SIM cards available locally. But since we were visiting for just two weeks, we decided to do without.
  • The best time to visit the enigmatic country of Myanmar is between December and February. These three months see less rain and the climate is more pleasant when compared with the rest of the year.
  • You may especially want to avoid the months of May to October when the monsoons make it difficult for travellers to explore the country.
  • There are over 1,000 ATM machines in the country. You will not face a problem when it comes to accessing your money especially in the tourist areas. You will be charged 5,000 MMK each time you withdraw and the limit for each withdrawal is 300,000 MMK. It is best to shop or go out with smaller currencies available with you. If you have large currency notes then try breaking them at the hotel.
  • Although we never felt at risk throughout our stay, I would advise you to travel smart all the time!
  • Not knowing the language did not reduce our positive experience of the country. Most people understand English and actions simply ended up being louder than words.
  • If you visit any of the temples, remember to take your shoes and socks off before you enter. This applies even when the idols have been placed outdoors.
  • Public transportation is good and easily available in most parts of Myanmar. Buses are the most common form of transportation but trains are available too. JJ Express is a popular VIP option for travelling in a bus.
  • There are a number of airlines that can help you travel within the country. We had never heard of them before but they seemed satisfactory. We tried Mann Yandarpon and Air KBZ. Both the airlines allowed for free checked luggage and included a snack box.
  • Ethical Tourism: Myanmar is politically and culturally sensitive. While altruism is inherent among its people it is best to accept their ways and dress modestly and respectfully every time you venture out. Sleeping, partying or trespassing in the temples is considered to be a grave sign of disrespect so remember to avoid these at all times.

 

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Places to visit

Bagan

The mesmerism of 2,200 pagodas gracefully create a sweet and subtle reminder of the magnanimity of its ancient and historic past when the temples were the centre of religious and social grandeur. Today, brick red, gold and white spires and stupas reach out for the sky with its foundations deeply rooted, creating a beautiful mirage where travellers gasp at wonderment.

You are allowed to climb up the stupas and spires to watch the rising and setting sun creating an aura with its playful rays. The main attraction here is the hot air balloon ride in the early hours of dawn when the place is immersed in quiet and the blushing sky captivates all your senses allowing you to enjoy the most exquisite views of the region.

Please Note: A tourist fee of MMK 25,000 has to be paid to enter the archaeological site. Remember to keep this ticket with you because the security guards may check it at any time.

The best way to explore the place is to hire an E-bike and grab a free map before you set off to explore. The adventurous soul in me hinges on the Pagodas that remain unnamed – the ones that will need to discover for yourself 🙂 As for the named ones, here’s a list of my favourites:

Sunrise

  • Lowka Oushang
  • Law Ka Shaung
  • Shwe San Daw

Sunset

  • South Guni
  • Thisa Wida
  • Kheminga {Old Bagan}

 

Inle Lake

Nowhere does the enchantment of nature or the magic of picturesque villages come more vibrantly alive in the country than in the remarkable sceneries of Inle Lake. Everything from the stilt houses to the floating gardens drowned me in a sea of schmaltz as I experienced the remarkable splendour of nature and the simplistic lives of the locals in the region.

Note: You will have to pay another tourist ticket of MMK 12,000 to enter Inle Lake.

  • Boat trip – This is a perfect way of exploring the fishing villages and rewarding yourself with a beautiful sunset at the end of your excursion. A boat tour will cost you MMK 20,000 and will accommodate a maximum of 4 passengers. We were provided with the opportunity to experience the Inle Lake culture more closely as we visited the different villages, and as for the fisherman, their sense of balance is simply commendable. You have to watch them to know what I am talking about.
  • Mingalar Market – This is just the place for local and fresh produce, where I splurged on the freshest fruits I’ve ever seen. It is also a good place to buy souvenirs at competitive prices.
  • Red Mountain Estate Winery – Nestled comfortably in the mountains overlooking the jewel-toned Inle Lake, this place is great for watching daylight turn into dusk. Wine tasting here will cost you as low as MMK 5,000 and a cheese platter comes for the same price.

 

Yangon

The commercial capital of Myanmar is remarkable and unique in its own way. The influx of modernism in an inherently historic city has created a magnetic landscape where golden pagodas augment the skyline and colonial architecture feed tourists a glimpse of their historic past.

  • Shewedagon Pagoda – One of the most stunning Pagodas in Myanmar and worth going to see. It can be exceptionally crowded here, so I prescribe you enter from the East gate and leave your shoes outside.
  • Sule Pagoda – Considered as an important piece of architecture, with an importance in Burmese ideology, politics, and geography of the city – it is located in the heart of downtown.
  • Earn good karma points! Set some doves free outside Sule Pagoda – a Buddhist practice where caged doves are set free to earn merit by freeing the lives of the captivated birds.
  • Bogyoke Market – I loved this market because of the variety it offers. Whether you are thinking of special spices and beautiful fabrics to take back home, or fresh produce, this market has all of it and more.
  • Belmond Governor’s Residence – This piece of colonial architecture is truly elegant, and there’s a lot of history in it for you to discover. Take a seat and order a glass of pimms or beer to enjoy your time and soak it all in.

 

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Food that you must try

Tea Leaf Salad – For a refreshing snack, the tea leaf salad is a perfect dish where tea leaves are mixed with sliced tomatoes, shredded cabbage, nuts and peas. You can even pair it with a plate of rice.

Shan Style Rice – Among the most typical food here; the rice is cooked with turmeric which turns it into a lovely shade of yellow. The dish is topped with deliciously cooked flakes of freshwater fish and garlic oil. It is usually served with raw garlic, leek roots, and pork grinds.

Shan Style Tofu Noodles – The name of this dish is somewhat misleading because there is no tofu used in it. The locals replace tofu with something similar which is made from chickpea flour. The rice noodles come with a serving of marinated chicken and pork. It gets even more delicious with some chilli oil and pickled veggies are added on the top.

Nangyi Thoke – This dry noodle dish was different from the noodles I usually eat. The thick and round rice noodles looked particularly interesting with chicken, slices of fish cake, bean sprouts and hardboiled egg creating a visual treat.

Mohinga Soup – With the Irrawaddy tracing the entire country from north to south, fish is common in most dishes. This is why the Mohinga {fish} is so popular in Myanmar. Round rice noodles are served in a delicious herbal broth which consists of a long list of ingredients. It is preferably eaten for breakfast but you will find many locals enjoying it as a snack.

Buthi Kyaw {gourd fritters} – Each finger-size gourd is coated in a batter made of rice flour, chilli, garlic, ginger and water, and deep fried. Onions and potatoes are also used instead of gourds to make onion and potato fritters from the same batter.

Mandalay Mee Shay {rice noodles with pork} – This dish was terrific. The rice noodles were served with delicious meat sauce which made it irresistible. It is popular among the locals and a must try when you are there.

Curry meal – You can order a curry meal at any of the local restaurants; curry meals come in variations of pork, fish, shrimp and beef. The meal generally includes rice, salad, a small dish of fried vegetables, a large bowl of soup and a delightful tray of fresh vegetables. This may cost you around MMK 5,000 to 6,000.

Snacks – Deep-fried food is a crowd favourite in Myanmar. When you are travelling the country, you would never have to go hungry because most streets are laced with stalls serving quick snacks such as savoury fritters, spring rolls, and breads & noodles with crispy garnishes.

Sweets – I enjoyed the sweets here because they didn’t use a lot of sugar. Grated coconuts, coconut milk, cooked sticky rice, rice flour, tapioca and fruits were used in a more pronounced way replacing the need for sugar.

Beer – We had the chance to taste two beers and both were very tasty. With all the deep frying that the Burmese indulge in, foods here can be very oily, so a cold glass of Mandalay or Dragon beer was perfect to wash down all our meals.

 

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A few words and phrases to help during your trip

The main language in Myanmar is Burmese:

  • Hello                                             Mingalar par
  • Goodbye                                      Thwa: bi
  • Please                                           Kyaayyjuupyu
  • Thank you                                    Kyei: zu: tin ba de
  • You’re welcome                           Kyo zo ba de:
  • Yes                                                  In:
  • No                                                   Hin
  • Pardon me                                    Thi: khan ba
  • Do you speak English?               Aagliut lo pyawwtaat parlarr

 

Reasons to love Myanmar

  • In a world where technology and modernism prevails, it is a big thing to lie back and simply revel in the simpler pleasures of life that are often overlooked in our busy schedules. Myanmar takes you back in time, to immerse you in the pure bliss of being rather than running after what you want to be.
  • The warmth of the locals, their friendly smiles and inviting chats are idyllic.
  • The rich biodiversity and the breathtaking natural landscapes are a big reason for me to encourage all of my readers to take a trip to this paradisiacal country. Whether it is the calming beauty of the Inle Lake or the splendour of ancient temples scattered across the Bagan plains, there is something so welcoming, so serene and so heart-warming about this place that I could visit it again without a second thought.

 

Feeling Inspired?

There’s more to my trip. I couldn’t just collect all my thoughts for one post, so stay tuned to know about the stunning properties that I was invited to review.

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* I love bringing together a bunch of conflicting items and weaving my own sense of one-ness to them. *

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