In recent years, Myanmar has opened up its doors to the world, and has become a popular tourist destination for many people. However, the jam packed cities that may be considered a tourist death-trap to many intrepid travelers may be something that you want to avoid, or spend as little time as possible in.
Luckily, much of Myanmar’s old culture and rustic charm is still in tact throughout the country, and there are many places to go that offer something a little different than the tourist mainstays.
Before embarking on your adventure, there are a few things to keep in mind. You must have a visa to go to Myanmar, which can be fairly easily obtained. There are also no direct flights from the U.S. to the country, but taking a connecting flight from Bangkok is the quickest way. Cash is king in Myanmar. There are some ATMs around the country, and have recently started accepting international cards, but cash is still recommended. The US dollar is also a currency of choice, but be warned that many places will not accept dollars to exchange if they’re even the slightest bit worn. Dress codes are also fairly conservative, and you’ll be denied access to temples if your knees and shoulders are not covered. Furthermore, be sure to remove your shoes and socks whenever entering a temple or home.
The dry season in Myanmar is from November to February. However, if you want to avoid the influx of tourists, there are many festivals during the other months, and the humidity and rainfall isn’t that much of a problem.
Bagan (Formerly Pagan)
Bagan Plains photo by DIMMIS:
Bagan is the heart of the country’s ancient architecture, and home to more than 2,000 temples. The many Pagodas—a tiered Buddhist temple—allow you can take in the history and traditions of the different dynasties through the ages, which is displayed in paintings on their walls. Bagan was also the capital of Myanmar’s first dynasty (the Kingdom of Pagan) from the 9th to 13th centuries. Beyond the lush landscape and ancient structures, you can also take a scenic boat ride down the Ayeyarwaddy (also spelled Irrawaddy) River, and catch a picturesque sunset. The river provides access to many smaller villages in the area, making small excursions to tucked away places extremely easy.
Located in the Shan State, Inle Lake, has many small villages and mountains surrounding it. Here you’ll find fishermen rowing boats by using their leg while standing. The lake also provides beautiful views of floating tomato fields and flower gardens anchored by bamboo poles. To really get a cultural sense of the area, it’s best to go during September and October, when the ceremonial Hpaung Daw U Festival happens for eighteen days, and is closely followed by the Thadingyut Festival of lights. During the Hpaung Daw U Festival traditional images of Buddah are place in a replica of a royal barge and towed by numerous smaller boats from village to village. There is also boat racing during the festival.
Pyin Oo Lwin
Pyin Oo Lwin is a scenic hill town in the Mandalay Division located in the Shan Highland. Many tourists come here during the winter, but it serves as a resort town for Myanmar locals during the summer months. Steeped in colonial history, you’ll find many old British style homes here, and decorative horse carriages. Known as the “flower city of Myanmar” Pyin Oo Lwin is home to the National Botanical Gardens. There are also many waterfalls and caves to explore in the outlying areas. In mid-April you can also enjoy the sights and sounds of the Thingyan Festival, which is the New Year Water Festival for the country. Many towns, including Pyin Oo Lwin, hold religious ceremonies during the day, and have song and dance celebrations by night.
Angie Picardo is a writer at NerdWallet’s TravelNerd blog, where you can find money saving tips on how to save up for a sojourn to Myanmar by setting financial goals.