Journey to the golden land

Myanmar remains one of the most mysterious and undiscovered destinations in the world. Indeed, the country’s people and culture are amongst the most charming and authentic in the region.

As this ancient land struggles to forge a new modern identity, its history and colonial past sit side by side with centuries old temples and a population optimistically looking towards the future. Visually, Myanmar is spectacular. From the ancient temples of Bagan and Mrauk-U to the bustle of Mandalay, from the northern snow-capped mountains to the tranquility of Inle Lake, Myanmar provokes the senses with a series of challenging contradictions. 

Myanmar today offers a rich and varied travel experience that takes you back in time. Commonly referred to as the “Golden Land”, Myanmar is a deeply religious Buddhist country with countless numbers of glistening temples and ancient monuments that date back thousands of years. Although the country is still very traditional, there are visible western remnants from the British colonial era as evident in the grand faded colonial architecture in Yangon.

While Myanmar may be considered to be changing rapidly in recent years, essentially it is still a very poor country with limited infrastructure and services. We ask you to be understanding of the plight of its people and that they may not have been afforded the same opportunities for education and development provided elsewhere in the region.  As a result, the standards of some hotels or transportation is not first class, however, the people’s cheerful character and genuine interest in the world outside of their own should keep you entertained throughout your travels.

Myanmar has a lot to offer

From 1962 to 2011, Myanmar was ruled by a military junta with absolute power. The name was changed from Burma in 1989 by the ruling military government, officially recognized by the United Nations, however many national governments and much of the Burmese population do not recognize this name change, since they do not recognize the military government.

Over recent years the country has begun to open up to foreigners, this has created a vast wealth of opportunities to explore as there was never a beaten path to begin with. Myanmar is vast in its beauty from the high snow capped mountains of the north right down to the white sand, palm fringed beaches of the south.

People

Myanmar is home to people of many different ethnicities, including the Bamar or Myanmarns (around 65%), Shan (10%), Kayin (7%) and the smaller Kachin, Chin and Mon tribes. There are also sizeable Chinese and Indian populations. The Bamar tend to be concentrated in the lowlands while ethnic minority groups live at higher elevations.

Religion

The main religion in Myanmar is Theravada Buddhism which has been the official religion since the 11th century. About 90% of the Burmese people follow Buddhism. Although many people also believe in nats (animist spirits). Some hill tribes are Christian and there are also Hindu and Muslim communities.

Landscape

Myanmar is the largest country by geographical area in mainland Southeast Asia and is bordered by China, Laos and Thailand to the east, by Bangladesh and India to the north and by the Indian Ocean in the west and south. The Ayeyarwaddy River runs through the center of the country and fans out into smaller tributaries to form a delta on the south coast. Intensive irrigated farming is practiced throughout central Myanmar, and fruit, vegetables and citrus crops thrive on the Shan Plateau. Nearly half of the country is comprised of preserved forests and natural ecosystems mainly due to the country’s slow economic development. The Himalayas stretch into Myanmar, with the highest peak reaching 5,889 meters. With its long stretch of coastline facing the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, Myanmar offers many beautiful and undeveloped beaches. The islands of the Mergui Archipelago (in the far south, bordering Thailand) offer great diving.

Climate

The hottest season in Myanmar falls between March and mid-May (average temperatures 25°-38°C or 77° to 100° F), when the rainy season begins. The rains last from mid-May until the end of September (23°-33°C or 73° to 91°F) and are followed by three months of relatively cool weather (average temperatures 18-24°C or 64° to 75°F). It can even get down to near freezing at night around Inle Lake.

History

The land’s original settlers, the Mon, were pushed out of the lowlands by the arrival of the Bamar from the Tibetan Plateau during the 9th century. King Anawrahta established his court in Bagan in 1044 and declared Theravada Buddhism as his kingdom’s official religion, founding an era of great architectural, religious and artistic achievement.

When fighting between warring Burmese kingdoms touched on Bengal in the 19th century, the British moved in, taking Myanmar as a colony. Japanese forces invaded in WWII and at the end of the war, Myanmar was left under the leadership of the freedom-fighter Aung San, who was assassinated along with most of his cabinet in 1947. The country declared independence in 1948, although fighting between different ethnic groups continued.

Following a left-wing army coup in 1962, General Ne Win set the nation on a socialist course that proved economically devastating. Popular discontent erupted into huge demonstrations in 1987 and 1988. In 1988, a military junta seized power in Yangon, and changed the country’s name to Myanmar in 1989. Elections were held in May 1990 where the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide. But the military, or SLORC, refused to recognize the election results and placed the leader of the opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Recent changes in Myanmar have awakened international attention to this once-ostracized Southeast Asian nation. These changes include the release from house arrest of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Syu Kyi in 2011, her subsequent election to parliament, the visits of leading politicians from the US, UK and Europe, the dropping of many international sanctions and a renewed increase in tourism.

Lifestyle

Eating

The staples of Myanmar cuisine are rice, rice noodles, and curries but not as spicy as those from India or Thailand. A clear soup called hingyo accompanies most meals and a fermented fish sauce or paste called ngapiye is usually served to add to the flavor. Chinese, Indian and European food is served in restaurants at most tourist places.

Drinking tap water is not advisable. Bottled drinking water is widely available for a reasonable price. The majority of hotels and restaurants will use hygienic ice, however, if eating at a market or on the street it may be best to avoid ice.

Shopping

Myanmar is still developing, and so its people can be very persistent when trying to make money, especially around tourists whom they perceive as very wealthy. People will try to overcharge you, but rather than becoming irritated, join the game! Bargaining in antiques stores and art galleries is fine, but be aware that handicraft and souvenir sellers in Myanmar make very little money. There are large numbers of sellers competing for relatively few tourists, and while you might feel happy with a”good bargain”, they will be left with almost no money to take home to their family. Try to agree a fair price so you can both have some fun and they can continue to support their dependents. It is also recommended to check prices of the same items in the neighborhood before reaching a deal.

If you being followed by street vendors and do not wish to make a purchase, often the best course of action is to say “no” firmly and politely, and continue on your way. Do not hesitate or linger, as this will encourage the seller to try and engage you further.

If you choose to ship items home, we highly recommend that you buy shipping insurance and check the policy details. As shops are not responsible for damages incurred en route, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Shopping

Myanmar is still developing, and so its people can be very persistent when trying to make money, especially around tourists whom they perceive as very wealthy. People will try to overcharge you, but rather than becoming irritated, join the game! Bargaining in antiques stores and art galleries is fine, but be aware that handicraft and souvenir sellers in Myanmar make very little money. There are large numbers of sellers competing for relatively few tourists, and while you might feel happy with a ”good bargain”, they will be left with almost no money to take home to their family. Try to agree a fair price so you can both have some fun and they can continue to support their dependents. It is also recommended to check prices of the same items in the neighborhood before reaching a deal.

 

If you are being followed by street vendors and do not wish to make a purchase, often the best course of action is say “no” firmly and politely, and continue on your way. Do not hesitate or linger, as this will encourage the seller to try and engage you further.

If you choose to ship items home, we highly recommend that you buy shipping insurance and check the policy details. As shops are not responsible for damages incurred en route, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Etiquette

Myanmar people have a different view on upper and lower parts of the body. The upper part is considered sacred while the lower part is considered inferior to the upper part, even dirty. Therefore, never mix the things you use for your upper part with that of the lower part. For example, a towel used for the lower part should never be mixed with the upper part, especially the one used for the head and the one for the feet.

 

Never put your feet on the pillow used for the head, or sit on the pillow for the head.

Never touch a person’s hair, head or cheek, even if you consider it as a friendly gesture. Myanmar people would not consider it friendly, and will think you are rude.

Do not touch any part of a lady’s body. You might end up in a police station.

Do not point your feet towards Buddha’s image, elder person or any sacred place.

Beckoning someone by crooking your finger is considered rude. The correct way to call someone over is to extend your hand with the palm down and flap your fingers towards your wrist. To ask for the bill in a restaurant or shop, extend one hand in front of you with the palm raised and pretend to write on your palm with the other hand.