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AboutMyanmar (Burma)

For those jaded after seasons trekking up and down Southeast Asia from Chiang-Mai to Ho Chi Minh City, Myanmar (Burma) offers visitors the chance to reclaim the wonder felt when first sampling this corner of the world. The bamboo curtain that once concealed most of Southeast Asia parted in the 1970s, but the country then known as Burma remained in isolation from much of the world until the removal of the tourism boycott by the National League for Democracy and other international human rights groups in 2010. Travellers are now welcome in Myanmar; and travellers are justifiably excited.

With white sand beaches and deserted islands in the south, snow-capped Himalayas to the north, and luscious forests, languid rivers and swooping deltas peppered with glittering pagodas throughout, now is the time to discover the remarkable country of Myanmar. The sparkling Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the majestic ruined kingdom of Bagan, and the Golden Rock that perches seemingly impossibly on the cusp of a cliff on Mt Kyaikhtiyo are just a few of the gems that will seduce the most cynical of travellers.

Woman at Market, MyanmarBurmese Boy with Broom, Myanmar

Myanmar:The Country and People

Myanmar is the largest mainland country in Southeast Asia, sharing borders with five other nations and with a coastline along the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal to the west and southwest. Situated at the crossroads between India and China, the two great empires of the East, and sharing almost 2,000 kilometres of border with Thailand, over the centuries the country of Myanmar has benefited richly from the customs and flavours of its neighbours in terms of language, religion and cuisine.

Nuns at Bago, Myanmar | Soe Lu

Myanmar itself, to borrow a neat turn of phrase from Lonely Planet, is, if not quite a melting point, certainly a mixed salad bowl of ethnicity. The patchwork of cultures running throughout the country is dominated by the Barmar, whose ancestors monopolized the fertile central plain of the country situated about the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River. However the ethnic races of the Shan, Mon, Kayin (Karen), Kayah, Chin, Kachin, and Rakhine on the border frontiers of the country make up over 30% of the population. Alongside these ethnic races there are over one hundred other recognised ethnic groups. Therefore when travelling in Myanmar you will not only observe the customs and conventions of one culture, but a score. Indeed, the deeper one explores the country, the more one discovers just how richly diverse this land is.

Outside Yangon and the surrounding regions of other metropolitan hubs such as Mandalay and Mawlamyine, one can find communities that have not yet been penetrated by western fashion and the English language. This allows the more adventurous travellers in Myanmar to stumble upon settlements where the dialect spoken is utterly unique to those villagers; where exotic and intricate recipes are being prepared as they have been for generations; and where rituals and customs are practised as ardently as they were hundreds of years ago. Across the breadth of Myanmar, men and boys continue to wear longyis (the long skirt-like garment similar to the Indian sarong), motorbikes have only recently overtaken trishaws and horse-and-cart as the main method of transportation for much of the population, and betel-nut is still chewed and spat to the ground in dark blood-red jets.

What’s more, the people of Myanmar, both country folk and urbanites, are some of the most charming you are ever to encounter. Meeting and engaging with the locals is likely to prove as rewarding and memorable as a visit to the most grandiose temple. Cheerful, buoyant and quick to break into broad grins, the Burmese are eager to engage in the world once more, and to invite the world to engage with them.

Myanmar (Burma) Today

Traveller trails are being carved out throughout the country principally around the hot spots of Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake. However Myanmar today is still unspoilt by the stain of aggressive tourism; the country is currently without either a Starbucks or a McDonalds. There are now ATMs in the larger cities, but infrastructure is basic and frustrating hangovers from the junta years such as the refusal to accept creased US dollar notes to exchange remain stubbornly in place.

Myanmar men on truck, Myanmar | Ko Bo GyiOld lady shopping at market, Myanmar

However creature comforts are springing up fast and in the meantime it is a thrill to learn about Burma today and to explore a country that has been left in isolation for so long. When visiting Myanmar it will be hard not to wander off the beaten track and with a bit of pluck and planning you will find vast swathes of this country where the people haven’t seen a foreign face for months (if ever) and the landscape as far as the eye can see is free of cars, condos and cheap hotels. While tourism in Myanmar remains minimal, now is the time to visit.

If you are yet to visit Myanmar, Sampan Travel can help make the introduction and allow you to commence your own relationship with this remarkable country.

You can view our Suggested Journeys to give you a taste of the kind of trips Sampan Travel creates, and please feel free to contact us at any time.