Blissfully untouched by mass tourism, Myanmar offers visitors a rare opportunity to travel back in time. Its melting pot of cultures consists of more than 135 different ethnic groups, each with its own history, culture, language and cuisine. Add in some spectacular scenery and a crumbling colonial charm and you have yourself a truly special destination.
As with most Buddhist countries, a sense of calm pervades daily life, particularly in rural areas. We, however, started out in the bustling city of Yangon where modern high-rises are under construction adjacent to centuries-old colonial buildings. If you only visit one temple in Yangon, head for Shwedagon Pagoda, a stunning vision in gold and beloved by the locals.
We thoroughly enjoyed an excursion on the quirky Elephant Coach – a restored colonial style bus with a beautiful teak interior accommodating just six guests in large comfy seating, complete with air-con, and a lovely host serving cool drinks!
Yangon’s Belmond Governor’s Residence is a truly 5-star hotel offering shady trees, a gorgeous pool, beautiful teak buildings and a whir of fans providing a cool retreat from the summer heat. You must try the Tiffin dinner – a deliciously iconic experience. If you prefer being in the centre of town, head for The Strand Hotel with its colonial history, famed High Tea and atmospheric cocktail bar.
In Bagan, the ancient temples strewn across the vast plains are simply outstanding and best viewed at sunrise or sunset – a sight that would ably compete with Machu Picchu or the temples of Mexico for ‘wow factor’! We stayed at the beautiful Bagan Lodge which offers glamping-style suites in resort-like grounds, complete with stunning swimming pools and a gorgeous spa.
Mandalay is the religious heart of Myanmar, with a rich historical legacy from its time as the Royal Capital of the last Burmese King. The people here are incredibly friendly and I loved interacting with the students on Mandalay Hill, who were all keen to practice their English. In fact, wherever we went, the people were delightful. Myanmar’s complicated political situation over the years has made life difficult for many, but as they are now free to discuss issues openly, you’ll find that the locals are very enthusiastic to engage with foreigners and share their stories.
Arguably the best way to experience Myanmar is on a leisurely cruise down the Ayeryawady River. Anawrahta, our beautiful ship, saw us gliding past life on the serene river and embarking on daily excursions to rural villages and fascinating monasteries. Onboard life included the option of yoga at sunrise, beautifully luxurious cabins, and delicious cuisine – a highlight was a rooftop BBQ one evening under the stars. Tasty culinary favourites included delicious pickled tea leaves, noodle soups, and a variety of subtle curries.
November through to February is a great time to visit, when it’s free of heavy monsoon rains and comfortably cool. Take an open-mind and be prepared to fall in love with its beautiful landscapes and equally beautiful people.