Although recently visited by Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama and David Cameron, prior to Aung San Su Kyi’s release in November of last year and her party’s (The National League for Democracy) positive statement on tourism in Burma, the country was almost entirely closed to Western tourism.
While the rest of Asia has surged toward modernity, this long period of isolation means Burma still retains an Asia of old charm. With mass tourism discouraged the emphasis for travel in Burma is now on small group tours to Burma and responsible independent travel.
Although the military junta still rules, there are ways to avoid gifting the government money and support local communities and independent business. Indeed, Burma offers some truly luxurious options that are complimented by a culture steeped in history and truly hospitable people!
Getting about in Burma
River cruising aside, this is the least glamorous part of touring Burma! Whilst getting to Burma can be done with most major airlines like Malaysian and Thai Airways, domestic travel offers less variety depending on how you like to fly. Currently none of the non-government owned domestic airlines offer a business or first class option. Road transport can be done but given the state of Burma’s roads travel by air is always recommended between the major destinations like Mandalay, Yangon and Bagan, for comfort and speed!
Hotels in Burma
If you’re concerned about where you tourist dollar will end up, avoiding government hotels need not be an issue. There are a plethora of accommodation options.
In Yangon enjoy the Governor’s Residence which is a delightful property located in the Embassy Quarter of the city. Built in a colonial style in the 1920’s the hotel is exquisitely decorated throughout. Although we normally recommend dining away from your hotel, this property has its own restaurant which is widely recognised as one of the city’s finest for its traditional and fusion menu!
In Burma’s royal capital of Mandalay we’d always recommend a stay at the Rupar Mandalar Resort. This boutique style property offers a prefect escape from Mandalays bustling streets and unlike many hotels it is resplendent with local décor giving it a real air of authenticity. Unlike many hotels in Burma this property also has an outdoor pool, perfect for escaping Burma’s sometimes searing heat.
Bagan is home to the famous “spikes” temples originally constructed in the 9th century spanning over 26 square miles. To see these 4,000 or so temples a few days is always recommended. A stay at the Aureum Palace hotel makes for a great choice. With views of Bagan and its hundreds of spiked temples the hotel has decent cuisine, evening entertainment of traditional dance and all the trappings you expect a 5-star hotel.
Dining and drinking
As restaurants chop and change a great place to do your research is Trip Advisor. However, if you’re joining a small group tour then your tour leader or local guides are the best port of call for up to the minute advice! Sandwiched between China, India and Thailand and home to a number of ethnic minorities, the cuisine of Burma delivers incredible variety. The day to day staples are rice, potatoes and noodles with various meat, vegetarian and seafood options available on the coast. Dishes of note include Mohinga, a fish soup with rice and Lethok Son, a spicy vegetarian rice salad!
Eating in small independent restaurants is always advised. Not only do you get to meet local people but you get to enjoy truly authentic cuisine as well as help support local business and keep your dollars away from the ruling junta.
Travel tips for Burma
- US dollars are widely accepted but notes must be in pristine condition
- Using the local currency (Kyat MKK) is fine but for the best rate we’d recommend changing your currency in Burma
- Allergies are not recognised in Burma so have your local guide write a note to take with you to local restaurants warning of any you may have
- The Burmese love to chat and the most widely used greeting is Min-gala-ba, which basically translates to hello!