Long isolated from the rest of the world, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) only recently opened its borders and began to receive foreigners. While some roads still remain prohibited to travelers due to ongoing civil unrest and sporadic fighting, much of the country is now safe, and travelers are starting to flock to the mysterious land that was off-limits for so long. Before I visited Myanmar, every traveler who had been would tell me, “You absolutely must go to Myanmar.” I ended up changing the last part of my Southeast Asia itinerary to listen to them, and I’m so glad I did. Here are seven reasons why I think you should visit Myanmar now too:
1. The warm and friendly people.
Myanmar people are some of the best people I met throughout all my Southeast Asia travels. Because they aren’t yet accustomed to tourists, they are genuinely curious and welcoming, and they don’t just see tourists as sources of money. In my two weeks there, the kids would always wave and say “Mingalaba” (hello), their faces lighting up when I waved and said it back. Other locals invited us to eat with them so they could practice English while sharing their culture with us. And when I sat at a table near a university in Yangon one day, some of the students came up and asked if they could sit and have a conversation. No sales pitch, not trying to distract me so their friend could rob me, nothing. They came over simply for the sake of meeting me. It’s one of the most welcoming countries in the world, and it was pretty refreshing after so many other incidents in Southeast Asia…
2. It hasn’t been Westernized… yet.
But it’s heading that way fast! Though only a few global companies have spread there so far, more are on the way, and international products are beginning to infiltrate. Investors call Myanmar “the final frontier” because since opening up, the country has been developing at one of the fastest rates in the world, and businesses are jumping at the opportunity to expand there. There’s already one KFC in Yangon and there are plans to open one in Mandalay as well, with other global companies sure to follow. If you want to see the true culture before Western influences take over, you’d better go sooner rather than later.
3. The impressive ancient architecture
Myanmar is sprinkled with so many stunning ancient monuments, that it would take months, even years, to see them all. In Bagan alone, over 2,000 temples and pagodas are still standing, and though they rival Angkor Wat in scope and splendor, they are much less crowded. You can rent a bike to get from temple to temple as you explore the area, which is all the more mystical without the swarms of tourists that visit Angkor daily. Then if you really want to go on an adventure off the beaten path, you can head to the ruins in Mrauk U, where you’ll be one of very few tourists.
4. Beautiful landscapes
Between picturesque mountains in the north and pristine beaches in the south, and from temple-studded Bagan to peaceful Inle Lake, Myanmar is full of gorgeous landscapes to enjoy. It’s impossible to fully portray the beauty of Myanmar landscapes in photographs, for they are far too vast. Sitting on top of a temple watching the sunset over the temples of Bagan was almost frustrating simply because it was impossible to capture such an incredible moment on camera. So go, go and enjoy the stunning landscapes that Myanmar has to offer. Just don’t be too disappointed when it doesn’t look the same on camera.
5. Rich culture
Because it was closed off from the world for so long, Myanmar is a country that seems a lot more “stuck in time” than other countries in Southeast Asia. The people still wear traditional clothes (most common is the longyi, a sarong worn by both men and women) and thanaka (paste from tree bark) on their face, and many kids still learn traditional music such as the saung (a unique type of harp). The fishermen on Inle Lake row small wooden boats balancing on one leg and paddling with their other, while their wives stay home and sew clothes or roll tobacco. But while much of Myanmar looks exactly as I imagine it looked a hundred years ago, it’s recent opening to the rest of the world means outside influences will soon begin to have a negative effect on the country’s previously isolated and well-preserved culture.
6. It’s safe.
Despite the fighting and civil unrest that continues along its borders, Myanmar is probably the country I felt safest in throughout Southeast Asia. On sleeper busses in Vietnam or Thailand I would always lock up my backpack and sleep with my money belt on, but in Myanmar I never once locked up my things. I’d leave my backpack on the bus along with my laptop and cameras while I got off for the 30-minute meal breaks, and I never thought twice about it. On Thai sleeper bus just weeks before, my friend Maud had $100 worth of baht stolen from her backpack that lay at her feet while she was sleeping, but Myanmar people are so friendly and generous, that when I dropped some money in a shop without realizing, a Burmese guy chased after me just to give it back.
7. Get there before the rest of the tourists do.
Because it only recently opened up to the world, Myanmar is not yet overrun by tourists, and that’s one of the best parts about it. Most sights in the world are better when you don’t have to weave in and out of crowds and when you don’t have to wait 30 minutes to snap a photo without strangers in it… (Plus, the concept of the “tourist prices” is still fairly rare). Though there are no swarms of tourists yet, don’t expect it to last too long. Myanmar tourism is rapidly increasing, and they’re doing construction all over the country to accommodate. They’re fixing up roads, building high-rise hotels, and expanding airports. If you think you ever want to go to Myanmar, go now, before the rest of the world goes and ruins it.
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida ✌