Category Archives: Tourism

LIVING A LOCAL LIFE: A MONTH IN MYANMAR

By Ria Bhagat

In November-December 2017 I was sponsored by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to complete a three-week internship in Yangon, Myanmar through the New Columbo Program. As an undergraduate university student my work with an NGO at East Yangon University was not eligible for a business visa. Therein lay the challenge: how could I see the most of Myanmar while tied to the city of Yangon for three weeks?

On a 28-day tourist visa, one can hardly even scratch the surface of this complex country – and that’s without being tethered to Yangon for business days. Myanmar is home to more than 100 ethnic groups. Almost two thousand kilometres of land stretch from Arunachal Pradesh to the Bay of Bengal; including glaciers, coral reefs coastal wetlands and more. Do not make the mistake of looking for signs of Delhi in Yangon, or fall into the trap of comparing Ngapali Beach to Ko Samui. Though influenced by the cultures of the countries surrounding it, Myanmar is worth exploring because of its uniqueness, not its familiarity.

Yangon is a city full of life: enchanting, often perplexing and a worthy introduction to the country. In between aging colonial buildings are hints of a more vibrant reality: night markets with fresh river fish still squirming on ice, women and men in longyi of every colour of the rainbow and a skyline lit up by numerous gold pagodas.

In a city of over seven million, you can feel like you belong in a matter of days. This is especially the case if you make the effort to do so. Myanmar language is not broadly spoken outside of the country but smiles are easy to come by – as is curiosity. While you drink in your new surroundings, locals can spy you from afar. Whether a business colleague or a busy street side tea shop, foreigners are peppered with questions. The best way to respond? Tweya da wan ta bad de. ‘Pleased to meet you,’ and add a few questions of your own. When Myanmar citizens travel, it is not uncommon to hear people admit they know nothing about the country. A little effort goes a long way for foreigners to show their interest in Myanmar culture.

At East Yangon University, as with the majority of Myanmar, students dress in longyi every day. Girls often wear matching tailored tops (ingyi), and the traditional acheik water wave pattern competes alongside more contemporary designs featuring the likes of Hello Kitty and emojis. Individuality is permitted and even celebrated on social media; but the attire still lends a sense of uniformity to both the classroom and broader community.

Dressing and speaking like a local – even if in somewhat fragmented ‘Myanglish’ – provides a cloak for exploring. Perhaps only true locals will look forward to the unmistakable condensed-milk taste of Myanmar milk tea in the morning, but an aromatic bowl of mohinga is a breakfast to be savoured. The unofficial national dish of Myanmar is best enjoyed roadside, at a plastic chair and table, watching city life go by. Other staple dishes include Shan noodles and salads seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice and crunchy fried onions.

The best part of spending multiple weeks in a city is the opportunity to savour it. Directions are easy to remember; particularly in Yangon where streets are numbered. Restaurants can be visited 2 or 3 times. What was once unfamiliar becomes speckled with ‘favourite’ spots – the iconic Bogyok Market and its in-house seamstresses and artists; Maha Bandula Park with its perfect view of Sule Pagoda. Despite leaving the city at every opportunity provided – once even to dart across the river to a fishing village called Dala – Yangon was a wonderful welcome home.

BOGYOK MARKET

Each opportunity to see a piece more of Myanmar’s tantalising puzzle was unforgettable. Local travel agents are a valuable asset particularly as reliable online information can be hard to come by. ‘VIP’ bus is by far the most comfortable way to travel – if you choose the right provided and pay between $20-25 USD, the seats will be spacious, the coach will be air conditioned and sleep will be easy to come by. Internal flights are much quicker but also less reliable. When time is precious, choosing air travel is often unavoidable.

Mandalay also has an international airport and is well connected to the country’s most popular tourist sites. The city merits a visit by its own right; particularly for a weekend away from Yangon. Mornings in Mandalay are tranquil by comparison and leaving the south means escaping the heat. Beauty is everywhere and in different forms. On the outskirts of the nearby Anisakan village is Dat Taw Gyain, a 120m tall roaring waterfall. Kuthodaw Pagoda features the world’s largest book: comprised of two-metre-high standing stone pages. Mandalay Hill is an essential visit for sunset. Dotted with pagodas and monasteries along the way; Suntaungpyei Pagoda sits atop them all.

SULE PAGODA
Kuthodaw Pagoda

Mandalay is rife with opportunities for exploration and adventure. For just the opposite, the closest beach getaway by distance to Yangon is Ngwe Saung. The coastal village sits aside the Bay of Bengal, with access to snorkelling, swimming and snoozing for a deserved break from normal. Accommodation options vary from backpacker-style bunkers to resorts and villas; which means the company is diverse. Many in Myanmar wear thanaka, a traditional cosmetic product made from ground bark and it is particularly popular in Ngwe Saung for its sun protection properties. Seafood is a must here, as well is an Inle Lake, an undoubtedly more popular water destination for tourists.

The nearby township Nyaung Shwe is full to the brim with lake-oriented exploration activities; such as cycling routes around the shoreline and boat trips to floating markets and restaurants. Cooking classes and day spas are easy to come by, and a winery set atop a mountain provides another stellar sunset location.

Even with less than 48 hours to devote, Bagan is a non-negotiable part of any visit to Myanmar. Seeing the sun rise and set over thousands of thousand- year old temples is a breathtaking spiritual experience. Paying a $25 USD entry fee to the Bagan Archaeological Zone is worth it to contribute to the preservation and restoration of the temples; especially considering the complicated relationship with UNESCO. There is no need for an itinerary in Bagan. You simply hop on a bike, take along a map that is hardly worth glancing at and instead gaze at the endless miles of pagodas. Locals will tell you stories about their history and guide you to hidden staircases where you can ascend to a new view of the horizon. The experience is one that summarises travelling in Myanmar: difficult to plan, infinitely easy to enjoy and utterly unforgettable.

It is human nature to look for signs of home when faced with the unfamiliar. Leave this tendency behind when travelling in Myanmar. To the majority of the world, Myanmar is unfamiliar and that makes the prospect of discovery an opportunity that should not be passed off.

Courtesy –
Ria Bhagat is an Australian law student with many passions; two of which are protecting human rights and travelling the world.

Exploring the Hidden Gems of Myanmar

The Hidden Gems of Myanmar

One visit to Myanmar is enough to dazzle travellers. The eclectic fusion of the traditional and the modern, the old and the new entices visitors to partake of and enjoy the way Myanmar thrives, despite the many challenges it faces. The discerning traveller would not miss observing the energy, hope and potential lurking in the air of Myanmar.

Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has opened its doors to the world in the last couple of years and has become one of the go-to holiday destinations for people across the globe. Myanmar provides something to please everyone and ensures that nobody leaves its shores disappointed. The most popular tourist destinations include Yangon, Mandalay, Kalaw, Bagan to name a few. However, there are a number of places in Myanmar that have remained off the beaten track. This article uncovers such gems.

LOIKAW

Loikaw, the smallest state of Myanmar, has largely remained untouched by tourists and is one of the least visited places in Myanmar, which adds to the charm and lure of the place. Loikaw is the capital of the Kayah State. It is located in the Karen Hills area, near the State’s northern tip. Loikaw, along with Demoso, in the Kayah State, have been opened to independent tourists only since 2013.

For a place so remote and unaffected by tourism, the large ethnic diversity one finds in Loikaw is fascinating to observe- Palaung, Shan, Kayah, Kayan are some of the groups found here, each adding their bit in making the state of Loikaw an eclectic melting pot. A stroll through the villages of Loikaw will open up interesting vistas for the tourists in the form of stunning pagodas, temples, stupas, lakes and caves. Tourists are likely to come across ‘long neck women’ wearing golden rings coiled around their necks. A curious traveller will certainly be intrigued by this unusual sight. While it is difficult to trace a reason for this, it is believed that these rings protect the Palaung women from being killed by tigers and the long neck makes them look beautiful.

Loikaw offers a quiet and serene environment to tourists, ideal for indulging their spiritual side and to introspect. One of the most popular sights in Loikaw is the famous pagoda called, ‘Taung Kwe’, towering above the town, on the top of a lime stone hill on the Mingalar Thiri Mountain. The spectacular view of the town especially during sunset makes the journey to Loikaw worthwhile. A cluster of other pagodas such as Myaka Lup pagoda, Shwe Let War pagoda and Nagayon pagoda stand behind Taung Kwe pagoda. Other places that offer a visual treat to tourists include:

i. Seven Stages Lake- a series of seven interconnected lakes, known for the scenic beauty and tranquillity they offer to the tourists.

ii. Christ the King Cathedral- built in 1939, it is Kayah’s oldest surviving church and is a fusion of traditional European architecture and local Buddhist styles.

iii. Kayah State Cultural Museumbuilt in 1996, it is a treasure trove for all the art and cultural aficionados, interested in discovering the life of the Kayah inhabitants. The museum holds a rich collection of books, traditional dresses, household utensils, weapons, paintings and musical instruments.

The sleepy city of Loikaw provides a pleasant introduction to the Kayah way of life and is a base for venturing out into the neighbouring villages.

HPA-AN

The Hidden Gems of MyanmarSitting on the eastern bank of the Thanlwin river, the capital of Kayin (also known as Karen) State, Hpa-an is a place where time seems to stand still. The laidback atmosphere and breath-taking caves and mountains make Hpa-an a backpacker’s paradise. Thanks to the new highway linking Hpa-an to the Thai border at Mae Sot and Yangon, and improved border crossing facilities at Myawaddy, this remote place is witnessing a steady flow of visitors, especially from the neighbouring Thailand.

The population of Hpa-an, about 421,575 (2014 census), predominantly comprises people of the Karen ethnic group, which make up approximately seven percent of the total Burmese population. The place offers a unique opportunity to the curious traveller to know more about the local Karen culture, as majority of people have held on to their traditional ways and language.While Hpa-an is safe and peaceful for visitors, November is a good time to head there, for the visitor can experience the Karen Don festival and get a true insight into its culture.

Besides lazing around at the delightful riverside, soaking in the picturesque landscape, lush green fields, tourists have plenty to enthral them on their visit.

i. Mt. Zwegabin- Dominating the landscape of Hpa-an is Mt. Zwegabin, about 7 miles south of the town, and 2372 ft. in height. The hike to the summit is demanding, but duly compensated by the stunning 3600 views of the town on offer.

ii. Saddan Cave- Gigantic cavern filled with dozens of Buddha statues, pagodas, wall cravings and a lake, transports the traveller to a different world away from the hustle bustle.

iii. Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda- Perched atop a limestone pinnacle, this unique and surreal pagoda almost seems to defy gravity.

iv. Kaw Gun Cave- Located near Kawgun village, this is a natural limestone cave and is covered with several Buddha statues, many dating back to the seventh century.

While Hpa-an may not be the preferred place to visit on the trip to Myanmar, it certainly is worth a visit and offers spectacular vistas for the tourists.

DAWEI

The Hidden Gems of MyanmarBeing closed for tourism until early 2013, Dawei is largely undeveloped and unexplored. But, therein lies an opportunity for an adventurous traveller, looking for an authentic and novel experience. Dawei offers jaded travellers everything that a metropolitan city does not- peace, fresh air, pristine beaches, solitude, few people et al.

Dawei is the capital of the Tanintharyi Region and got its independence from the British rule in 1948. It has enormous potential for tourism, as it has something for everyoneuntouched coastline, jungle interior, sprinkling of islands, beautiful pagodas and white sand beaches. With imminent development threatening to disturb the idyllic and untouched environment of Dawei, a trip to Dawei makes for a great treat. Some of the places that could be explored besides lazing around in the town are:

i. Maungmagan Beach- The most popular beach with the locals, around 12 km west of Dawei, Maungmagan has seen a semblance of development; some tea shops, beer stations and restaurants.

ii. Nabule Beach- Tourists can head to Nabule Beach around 15 km north if they want to experience stunning white sands of the Nabule Beach, away from humanity.

iii. Shwe Taung Zar Pagoda- The main religious site in Dawei, the Shwe Taung Zar Pagoda is a sprawling complex of shrines and statues.

Dawei is one of those places where one could just relax and do nothing.

Rudyard Kipling described Burma (now Myanmar) as, “This is Burma. It will be quite unlike any land you know about.” It is calling out loud to travellers, time to answer the call.

Courtesy- Arun Arora is a writer, trekker and a traveler who shares his experiences on various digital portals.

Bagan: A Jewel of Southeast Asia

Bagan

Lying on the banks of the mighty Irrawaddy river – 150 kilometers south-west of Mandalay, the vast plain of Bagan is a home to thousands of Buddhist temples that combine to form one of the richest archaeological sites in Southeast Asia and an extraordinary testament to the religious devotion of Myanmar’s people and rulers over the centuries.

Along with offering views quite unlike anywhere else on the earth, one of the beauties of spending time in what is now officially called the Bagan Archaeological Zone is that, once you have paid your K25,000 entry fee, you have the freedom to explore this fascinating area at your own leisure. Bagan is in general more-touristy and possibly less of the ‘real Myanmar’ than other parts of the country, but despite obvious sales ploys such as a multitude of children selling hand-drawn postcards, you will rarely suffer the hard sell – and the locals remain warm and friendly.

An Ancient Kingdom

BaganBagan (formerly known as Pagan) was the capital of a large influential kingdom from the ninth to the thirteenth century. This kingdom was the first to unify the area that is now Myanmar, establishing the Burmese culture and ethnicity as well as Theravada Buddhism in the region. Over this period of rule, as the city and kingdom grew in stature, over ten thousand temples were built on the surrounding plains.

Mongol invasions eventually led to the fall of the Kingdom of Pagan, the city was reduced to a small settlement, never to recover its past glory. The area did, however, remain a destination for Buddhist pilgrimage. A few hundred temples were added between the thirteenth and twentieth century, but the extensive earthquake damage over the years meant only 2,200 temples remained, in differing states of repair.

Indeed, over the last five hundred years, many of the existing temples have been renovated – a process continuing till date, has yielded mixed results. Many say that Bagan has not attained the UNESCO World Heritage site status due to the Myanmar government’s insensitive updates in the 1990s, although it is once again being considered. However, the area is large enough and there remains so much of what is original still to see, that none of this stops the area from being a unique wonder to behold.

Bagan

A Vast and Diverse Area

Each of the 2,200 plus temples, stupas and pagodas has its own unique story to tell, and many can be freely explored inside and out. Some are locked, but even if you are traveling around without a guide, you can sometimes find a friendly local nearby to open them for you. The most spectacular time to see the temples is when the sun dramatically rises and falls over the plain at dawn or dusk.

A large earthquake hit Bagan in 2016 and caused significant damage to some of the temples, but ironically, much of it was to the more modern additions to the then ancient structures. Many believe that the quake may actually end up encouraging more sensitive development in the area, and the vast majority of temples are now once again free to be explored.

Exploring the Temples and Plain

There are a number of ways to explore the area:

  • By Bicycle

This is the cheapest way to get around, and allows the most freedom to do as you choose; the plain is too large to explore by foot, but getting around by bike allows you to get to most of the temples. Almost all hotels and guesthouses offer them for hire, as do various restaurants and shops on the popular ‘Restaurant Row’ in the town of Nyaung U.

You can also cheaply hire an electric bike – through on the flat plains of Bagan, the advantages over a bicycle are minimal (tourists are not allowed to use motorbikes in the area).

You can pick up a free tourist map showing you the main points of interest; although you are unlikely to get seriously lost, it is worth planning your trip in advance to make the most of your time. Bear in mind that it can get hot and dusty when cycling, particularly during hotter times of the year, so carrying water is essential and helps you beat the heat. You can pick up refreshments at the many restaurants and tea shops in the area.

  • Horse and Cart Guided Tour

This is the most romantic way to tour the temples. Most drivers can speak minimum English and have the profound knowledge of better routes around the temples along with few hidden gems. However, horses have to follow more well-trodden tracks than bicycles, as there are areas they cannot reach. Prices range from K15,000 to K25,000 for a day, depending on the season.

  • By Car

If you want to avoid the heat and dust completely, take an air-conditioned taxi or minibus. This is naturally the most comfortable way to get around, and most drivers speak some English. Cars will usually cost between $20 and $50 per day, depending on the season and how far you travel.

  • By Hot Air Balloon

The most exotic and spectacular way to see the temples is to head to the sky. Trips cost USD285 per person and offer a unique view of the plain and temples. You should always book well in advance, particularly at popular times of the year such as Christmas and the New Year (the ballooning season runs from October to April).

Taking two or more days and using different forms of transport can be the best way to explore the plains. If you see the highlights by horse and cart or hot air balloon, then following it up with a bike ride can be the ideal way to find the specific temples that have taken your fancy.

Bagan

A Guide to the Top Temples

The best approach to explore temples with a guide, but you can also get some advice from a friendly local and start exploring on your own. There are some sites that should not be missed, which include:

  • The large and the beautifully maintained Ananda Pagoda – A huge festival takes place here in late December, which celebrates the traditional lives of farmers in the area; locals come from surrounding villages in their decorated bullock carts and camp on the plain. Theatrical troupes provide entertainment, and on the final daybreak, there are formal alms given to monks who live in the nearby monastery.
  • The Gawdaw Palin Pagoda which sits on the banks of the Irrawaddy River
  • The Myoe Daung Monastery – a beautiful teak-built structure and the imposing Tharabar Gate in Old Bagan.
  • The distinctive red brick Dhammayangyi temple, covering the largest area of all the temples in the area.
  • The tallest structure on the plain, The That Byin Nyu temple.
  • Amazing sunrise and sunset views from the Shwesandaw Pagoda and Pyathada pagodas. As of the new season starting in October 2017, there will also be a number of new hilltop viewpoints to stop overcrowding on the temples, and hopefully climbing on the temples will be restricted.
    Of all the pagodas in Bagan, the Shwezigon Pagoda in Nyaung U is a traditional Myanmar temple complex.

Away from the towns and most famous temples, exploring off beaten tracks can be a lot of fun; the pagodas that can be found east of Nyaung U, along with the banks of the Irrawaddy, are a good example. Here you will find open temples with beautifully preserved interiors, from the top of which you will see fantastic views over the river – and hardly other tourists.

For more background, history and more impressive collection of artifacts from the region, head to the Bagan Archaeological Museum, located off the main road near the river bank in Old Bagan (entry$5).

Content and Photo Courtesy – Marcus Allender, Founder, Go-Myanmar.com

Heritage preservation potential boost for tourism

 

Basic Education High School No 6, Botahtaung – has been presented the 17th commemorative Blue Plaque by the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT). Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar Times

“We are preserving heritage buildings in Yangon numbering about 200 buildings … We also plan to preserve and renovate … the old Ministry of Hotels and Tourism Office building and the Secretariat without doing any damage to [their] heritage value.  It [the project] would be supervised directly by the regional government,” the chief minister said.

Yangon Regional Government, in cooperation with Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT) and Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), is heading the installation of blue plaques at buildings for preservation and commemoration.

Currently, 17 blue plaques have been installed at buildings, and plans to install about 100 more blue plaques are underway.

Furthermore, YHT has already submitted to Yangon Region Government a catalogue of heritage buildings which has listed about 160 buildings, and mostly state-owned buildings, for Yangon’s heritage preservation, explained Daw Moe Moe Lwin, YHT director.

She added that now the old Ministry of Hotels and Tourism Office building is under the management of the Yangon Region government and the YHT is also trying to garner support from various organisations.

“We hope that the building … can [help] make up renovation costs, [and] would be available for the public [to visit] as well,” she spoke to the Myanmar Times.

The management of the Secretariat building has been supervised by the committee jointly established by representatives from the Yangon regional government and the YHT. The committee has invited companies interested to submit renovations plans for tender.

“This building is more than 120 years old, so it is very important not to damage it during renovation. For the preservation of the building, it [construction work] would need to be systematic and specialised,” said Daw Moe Moe Lwin.

Other heritage buildings have headed toward different destinies. One of the oldest schools in the city – Basic Education High School No 6, Botahtaung which was presented the 17th commemorative Blue Plaque by the YHT earlier this month, is still a school, while the old Burma Railways headquarters, which dates back to the 1880s, is part of Yoma Central, a real estate development project located on a 10-acre site and involving more than US$600 million of investment.

More than 15 years ago, the YCDC drew up a heritage list comprising 189 historical buildings in Yangon based on a survey conducted in 1996. Buildings on the list can only be renovated with permission from the committee and renovation work must not change their original design and appearance. The list is limited, however, because it does not include any privately held properties or entities.

Back in 2012, industry experts told the Myanmar Times that tourism-related businesses represented an obvious use for many old buildings and that colonial landmarks should be saved to bolster the city’s tourism potential. Preservation could be seen as an investment in Yangon’s future.

With little details released, it remains to be seen whether the 200-building preservation plan would be an effective way to develop tourism, both in the short term and in the long run.

Top 10 Myanmar Travel Destinations

Explore the TOP 10 best tourist destinations, tourist spots, attractions in Myanmar (Burma) for your holiday! Myanmar is one of the mysterious country in South East Asia and because of its cultural and geographical diversity has retained much of its historic and unique character. Discover the great attractions in Myanmar and the country’s wonderful uniqueness.

 

Yangon is a big and yet not modernized city, with Victorian buildings, tree-lined avenues, lakes and parks and a bustling city centre of friendly vendors, colourful stalls and people going about in their daily chores dressed traditionally in their Longyi and flip-flap sandals. The Bogyoke Aung San market (also called Scott’s Market) is a must for every visitor and so is the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda – the prominent landmark of Myanmar. The first fundament of the Shwedagon is believed to have been built more than 2000 years ago, and the pagoda is revered by Buddhist and non-Buddhists alike. Yangon is the gateway to Myanmar and has direct air links with Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Seoul, Doha, Beijing, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Chiang Mai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Guangzhou, Kunming, Nanning, Gaya and Dhaka.

Mandalay

Mandalay Fort, Myanmar.
Mandalay Fort, Myanmar.

Mandalay was the last Royal Capital of Myanmar and is located nearly 700 km north of Yangon between the mighty Ayeyarwaddy River and the Shan plateau. Mandalay is considered the centre of Burmese culture, a city of artisans and a trading centre of goods in all directions. The geometric laid out streets, the many bicycles riders, the 8 km long moth and wall around the former Royal Palace, the pagodas and monasteries abound and the sacred Mandalay Hill towering over it all, are some of its most visible features. In the vicinity of Mandalay are the former royal capitals and religious centers of Amarapura, Mingun, Inwa (Ava) and Sagaing, each worth visiting. Mandalay is another gateway to Myanmar and has direct air links with Bangkok, Singapore, Kunming and Chiang Mai.

Bagan

Bupaya Pagoda in Bagan,Myanmar
Bupaya Pagoda
 Bagan, the capital of Myanmar’s first dynasty, was built by King Anawrahta in 1044. It is located about 193 km south of Mandalay. There are over 2000 temples and stupas spreading in 42 square kilometers of desert like plain on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River. All those red bricks and stucco religious monuments were built during 11th to 13th century. The magnificent temple architecture, incredibly fine mural or frescos paintings, brilliant stucco carvings, and the most elegant Buddha images, all are telling motifs of the sublime culture of the ancient Bagan dynasties.

Inle Lake

Myanmar, Inle Lake: fishermen on the lake paddling with the help of their leg
Myanmar, Inle Lake: fishermen on the lake paddling with the help of their leg

A five kilometer long canal suddenly opens up to a wide lake with numerous villages on stilts and floating gardens against the hazy mountain ranges. Fishermen in their shallow boats cast their cone shapedbamboo down in the lake to trap the fish, and the lake dwelling framers tend to their floating gardens from their canoes. The gardens are anchored to the lake beds with long bamboo poles and host flowers or tomatoes, chilies, cauliflowers and other vegetables. The lake is situated in the Shan State, 1000 meter above sea level and is the home of the Intha people and many other ethnic minorities. Sailing among the villages you can hear the silk looms clanking and the tapping of the ironsmiths and get a glimpse of girls chatting while wrapping cigars and wave to the smiling kids looking out through the open shutters of the wooden or bamboo houses built above the water.

KALAW in the Shan State is another cool place to be during the hottest months of the year. Many ethnic minority villages around and interesting market in town. Good trekking down to Inle Lake or to Pindaya.

Pindaya

Pindaya Caves Myanmar - Shan State
Pindaya Caves Myanmar – Shan State

PINDAYA, famous for its caves housing more than 8000 Buddha images. No one seems to know how they all got there. Most of them are at least hundreds of years old while others are recent additions. They have been placed in such a way that they form a passage through the caves. Pindaya is surrounded by some very beautiful scenery.

Kyaing Tong (Keng Tung)

Jeune fille des minorites ethniques

Kyaing Tong, is a town in eastern Shan State, Myanmar and it is also the principle town of Keng Tung Township.  The weather in this area is particular cooler than compare to the tropical area of Myanmarwhich is a suitable place for those visitors who would like to enjoy plenty memorable sceneries in the chilling weather.  Kyaing Tong is geographically located in an easily accessible location to the golden triangle area.

There are plenty of shifting fields and most local community maintains their unique culture where visitors can see traditionally built huts on the mountain slopes.  As it is interconnected to the golden triangle, and where diverse ethnics group inhabitant, therefore; visitors can expect to see other cultures and traditions but not just only the traditions of Kyaing Tong itself are the main attraction of Kyaing Tong has to offer.

Kyaing Tong has plenty of hiking, mountain climbing trips in a trekking pilgrimage to nearby mountains to visit the villages of different Shan ethnic tribes, enjoy the breath-taking sceneries along the way while admiring the pagodas along the way.

A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO TRAVELLING IN MYANMAR / BURMA: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU ARRIVE

Myanmar is hot on the Southeast Asia travel trail right now, but as a country which has only recently opened its doors to tourism, travelling here means facing many challenges that you do not necessarily encounter on the same scale as other countries in the region.

Infrastructure is only just beginning to spring into life and the art of the tourist trade is still in the developing process, yet every second of the long journey times, the energy expended in the daily frustrations and the patience and sign language needed to cross the language barrier is worth it for the rewarding experience you will have in this beautiful and still very much untouched country.

Be prepared for the different way of travelling you will encounter in Myanmar, and don’t believe the scaremongering about the ridiculous expense and immense difficulties that are putting many people off travelling here.

The beauty of being here is in not knowing what will happen and in the understanding that both you as a traveller, alongside the local people are helping to bring about a new beginning (providing tourism does not eventually ruin the country which is a current concern).

Here’s my list of handy things you should know before you jump head first into a place which Kipling described as “unlike any land you know about”…

trvel

1.       Money, Exchange and ATM’s

Brand new dollar bills

The need to have crisp, un-creased, unmarked, brand new dollar bills still remains. Since the vast majority of people fly into Myanmar from Bangkok, this seems to be a popular place to get hold of the bills. I changed my money at a currency exchanger called SuperRich in Silom and the whole process took around an hour. If you have time, withdraw all your money in Thai Baht, as using your card means having to pay a 2.5% commission/ fee on top, compared with the 150 baht (approximately £3) standard ATM withdrawal fee. When exchanging in hard cash, there is a small fee for every $10, but this still works out cheaper than the card fee.

Exchanging dollars to kyats

You can exchange your dollars into Myanmar Kyat when you get to your hotel or guesthouse, in a local bank or at the airport – the latter not always being not as good a rate as the others. Refrain from using the money exchangers on the street who try to lure you with higher rates – it is said they cleverly short change you and unless you are willing to count your money three times, then it’s not worth the hassle.

ATM’s

The stories are true – Myanmar is now equipped with a sporadic scattering of ATM machines. Dishing out kyat, there are machines at the airports and I found many in Yangon (including at the most famous spot in town – the Shwedagon Paya) and Mandalay city centres, as well as in Nyaung U in Bagan. You might find ATM’s in the smaller towns, but don’t leave it this late to stock up on cash, just in case.

When to use dollars and when to use kyats

Typically, dollars are used for paying for your accommodation and some forms of transport, such as internal flights. Everything else from food, street snacks, tuk tuks and guides are paid for in kyat. However, should you find yourself low on dollars, most locals are happy to except kyat instead, but you will be paying more – while the current exchange rate is approximately 870-900 kyat to the dollar, many will simply round your dollar up to 1,000 kyat. So if your room for the night is $25, they will typically ask for 25,000 kyat, rather than work to an official exchange rate.

2.       It’s Not Expensive

On average I have spent between $30-$40 a day, including the cost of my accommodation and transport. It’s only expensive if you choose to travel that way, stay in top-end places and eat at expensive establishments. Being aware of your money and how much you are spending will ensure that you spend the same amount here as you would in any other part of Southeast Asia.

3.       When to Travel

Cool weather, lots of tourists

The popular, high season is November to February when the weather is warm but not stifling, and attracts the greatest number of visitors. This, in turn, makes the limited accommodation options tricky to secure and will mean trying to book ahead or face paying out for the more expensive options left over.

Stifling hot, limited numbers of tourists

I choose to travel in May before the monsoon season would arrive in June, and there really was a limited number of tourists, meaning I could walk into guesthouse and get a room without any problems. The only downside to this time of the year is that it is incredibly hot and I mean disgustingly, sweaty hot.

4.       Choosing Accommodation

More or less every single traveller carries a Myanmar Lonely Planet, and whether you are a fan or not, this book has been thoroughly researched and is the only time I have fully relied on it as a bible rather than a reference point. However, given the regular increase in tourism which local businesses have capitalised on, prices have risen from what is printed. All accommodation and eatery options have been researched in order to provide travellers with a comprehensive list of places that are not government-owned (see number 4).

In the more remote regions where I travelled, which were not listed anywhere, I relied on the knowledge of locals or the tuk tuk driver who ended up taking us to the only place in town which held a ‘foreigner license’.

If you can, try to pair up with another traveller in order to cut costs – many guesthouses have double rooms, triples and dorms.

5.       Travelling Responsibly in Myanmar

If you are a luxury traveller wanting to stay in and dine at the top end, government-owned hotels then you will not be travelling responsibly here. Each to their own, but if you travel irresponsibly here then you probably should not be coming at all.

In this time of great change and with locals given more rights to trade privately, it’s important that we support them rather than line the pockets of the corrupt and controlling system. While your guesthouse will not always be the cleanest or most comfortable, or your food the most delectable, remember one thing – local support is the greatest thing you can give during this exciting stage of development in Myanmar. For many, it will be time to embrace a new way of travelling.

I choose to eat and drink at local establishments and bought items from local markets and street vendors. Not only did I feel I was giving something to those who deserved it most, it was also the ideal opportunity to meet and get to know the local people, which in itself forms one of the greatest memories of travelling here.

6.       Getting Off The Beaten Track

The far northern, mountainous area, the western Chin State and the far reaches of the southern Mon State and Tenasserim region are generally off-limits to tourists unless you have applied for a government visa in advance.

However, myself and a few other travellers managed to get all the way south to Dawei and Myeik in the far south without a permit as we heard while in Mawlamyine that it had been open for a couple of months. It took days of long, arduous travel to get from place to place but it was a true adventure to hit area that were untouched and which had hardly ever seen tourists.  The only downside was that restrictions were still enforced in each area where we were faced with a 7pm curfew in Dwaei and couldn’t go out on a boat in Myeik (which is known for its archipelago of islands).

The restrictions mostly come down to the issue of safety for tourists, which locals have expressed is an absolute concern (for example, there is little in the way of insurance for the boats), although our gut instinct was that we were also being watched a little.

7.       Bus Journeys

Buses are EVERYWHERE and will be the main form of transport you take to get you to almost any part of the country (where tourists are permitted). Your guesthouse can help you book your ticket in advance (with a decent company)  or can tell you what time to turn up at the local station in order to buy your ticket there.

The journeys are long, sometimes averaging 10-12 hours. Night buses (which bring you to your destination around 3 or 4am) are not sleeper buses and some still play their funky Myanmar CD’s and cheesy music videos until the early hours of the morning. Pack your iPod, invest in some heavy duty extreme ear plugs or kindly ask for what was once amusing entertainment now noise pollution to be turned off.

Never ask a driver about the time of arrival. Due to superstitions based on a belief system of nats (spirits) that existed before Buddhism came to the fore, asking when you will arrive at a destination conjures up bad spirits and is taken seriously. The result? You won’t get an answer.

8.       Negotiation, Haggling and Bartering

In Southeast Asia, bartering is a given; a game that is often expected and enjoyed. In Myanmar, it is almost unheard of. It’s rare that you can negotiate your room rate (i.e. discount for more than one person) and I’ve had several looks of utter bewilderment in markets when I have lowered the price in order to start bartering. Unless the price is ridiculous, take it for what it is – you are helping out a local after all.

9.       Learning the Language

I always stand by my word that whether you are great at picking up languages or not, the two most important words you should always learn are hello and thank you. Anything else is a bonus.

Hello: Ming-gu-la-bah

Thankyou: Jay-zu-de-bar-dee

Not only is it polite but it is well received. Be prepared for most locals to giggle in response – they are not mocking you; they are just not expecting it.

10.   The Internet is VERY Limited

In Myanmar, internet is either non-existent or a sign proclaiming ‘wifi’ or ‘internet café’ is like stumbling upon the gold pot at the end of the rainbow and finding it empty. It will either not work or be terribly slow. I obviously found this more difficult, as a writer, but if you can, try and suck up the loss of fast, reliable and consistent communication with the outside world.

11.   Learning to Mime

While English is common, mainly in the big cities, there will be endless amounts of situations where you will find that it’s not spoken at all. Now is your chance to bring out your hidden miming skills. My best one, after failing to find a toilet by flashing a piece of toilet paper, was to act out a squatting motion. Embarrassing as it was, it did the trick as well an inciting a few giggles from the locals. I also find wordless picture books handy in these situations too!

12.   Discussing Politics

You may read that it’s important not to start political discussions, unless they are introduced into conversation first. While this is true, the name ‘Aung San Suu Kyi’ passes the lips of a local before you know it and in public too. Politics is no longer limited to extremely private discussions (maybe the more heated ones are). A local friend privately told me that it is ok to speak out against a situation or a person if you can back up your story. I am not sure how true this is or she is just a little rebel!

I’ve been told of stories from Chinese and Indians who, although born in Myanmar, are unable to visit the land where their grand-fathers and great-grand fathers are from as the government has made it difficult and expensive to obtain and visa/permit and a passport. I’ve heard terms of ‘stupid’ and ‘greedy’ used in relation to the government and all without me asking.

Locals are keen to know what you think and how much you know and will point ‘The Lady’ and her father out on posters, book and newspapers. My limited conversation has always been along the lines of:

“Aung San Suu Kyi. You know?”

“Yes. You love Aung San Suu Kyi. We love Aung San Suu Kyi.”

The Burmese are eagerly awaiting greater changes; share with them what you and your country thinks.

13.   Be Prepared to Smile – ALL the Time

Burmese people are the most genuine, friendly, warm-hearted and amazingly beautiful people I have ever met. Not one will turn you away when you need help and hardly anyone will try to short change you or be cheeky in a transaction. They are so fascinated by the presence of outsiders, that you can see the sheer excitement on their faces. Smile and say hello, shake hands, hug, exchange e-mail addresses and revel in the wonderful reaction you get back.

14.   Don’t be Offended When Locals Make a Kissing Noise

This is in no way a derogatory sound aimed at you*, but the Myanmar way of calling attention. It’s actually rather fascinating and you realise, when trying to practice yourself (yes, I did), that you can’t quite do it as loudly and precisely as them.

*Ok, some young lads have tried it in a more cheeky form but it just sent me into a fit of giggles.

15.   Dodge the Red Spit!

The majority of locals chew on leaves containing a mixture of tobacco and betel nut which turns their mouth and teeth red. However, a part of this snacking process involves the regular need to spit out the juices – anywhere and everywhere – so dodge the red spit showers and don’t scour in disgust. This is how it is. While pavements and walls are stained with it, you don’t want to be.

16.   Make the Most of Your Visa

While a month of travelling is not possible for everyone, if you can make the most of your 28 day visa, do. This is not a country that be seen in a few days or a week, much like you can do the key highlights in the more easily navigable Cambodia and Vietnam. This is a huge country and travel times are long, plus it takes times to really get to grips with how things work here and understanding the people, the culture and the political climate. Spend at least two weeks here if you can – skimming this incredible landscape is an absolute waste. I’m already trying to plan spending another month here.

17.   Be Prepared to be ‘Templed Out’

Yup, the Southeast Asia fatigue strikes again. In Myanmar, a temple is going to greet you on every corner, or more specifically here, a golden stupa/pagoda/pyre. While beautiful, it can be lethargic stumbling upon too many as they look similar bar slight differences in height and decoration. If limiting your pagoda hopping (locals tend to love showing off the pagodas in their towns if showing you around), be sure not to miss out on the stunning Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and the incredible temples complexes of Bagan, which really are unique.

myanmar-burma-travel-tips

TOURIST VISA PROCESS TO BE SIMPLIFIED BY MYANMAR GOVERNMENT

tourist
KANDAWGYI LAKE IN YANGON, MYANMAR

Myanmar opening its gates to the rest of the world suddenly piqued interest about this country. Aung San Suu Kyi’ party NLD winning the elections and other countries viewing Myanmar as moving towards becoming a complete democracy improved its image a lot and enhanced this interest even further. As a result, a lot of foreign companies have already entered Myanmar and many more are waiting for a chance to do so. This shift has also made common people all around the world interested in Myanmar who are now seeing it as a possible vacation spot. Therefore, the Government is expecting a huge increase in tourist arrivals and in order to make the most of it Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism has decided to simplify the process of getting tourist VISA. 

In order to make the necessary changes in the existing VISA policy, Myanmar Government formed a committee on May 4, 2016. The committee consists of officials from nine different ministries and it will work on reforming the reform the process for VISA overstays as well as also review process regarding entry of blacklisted foreigners. All this is expected to make it easier for those foreign tourists who want to visit Myanmar as well as encourage various other foreign citizens to choose Myanmar as their tourist destination.

6 AMAZING EXPERIENCES ONLY MYANMAR CAN PROVIDE

v14-15a

Myanmar is changing and it is changing in a good way. For the last many decades, it was not on the list of vacation destinations for most people around the world. It’s being ruled by the army and the sanctions imposed on it by various countries because of it made people hesitant to visit Myanmar. Also, getting a visa was extremely hard and could even be considered close to impossible. So, in a way this country was pretty much a separate world of its own which was closed off for all the outsiders.

All that has changed in the last few years as Myanmar is opening its gates for the rest of the world and transitioning towards democracy. This country is blessed with breathtakingly beautiful locales and it is home to some of the nicest and most friendly people in the world. Now that people residing in other countries are getting to learn more about Myanmar, they are becoming interested in its culture and so many want to visit this wonderful nation. Myanmar is not just a good tourist destination but it is also unique in many ways. Below is the list of six amazing experiences that only Myanmar can provide:

1. Teahouses:

v14-15b

People of Myanmar are very fond of tea and drinking this beverage is so commonly popular here that it can be called a lifestyle. Here, people do not frequent bars like they do in the western countries. Myanmar people prefer going to teahouses and this practice is so common that each and every neighbourhood has at least one such shop and some of them even remain open 24 hours a day. The ambience and feel of sipping tea at these teahouses is a very different experience that you will not get anywhere else in the world.

2.  One-leg Rowing:

v14-15cThis is one sight that you most probably have never seen if you have never been to Myanmar. One-leg rowing is practiced by Myanmar’s Intha fishermen using ten feet long boats that are built like canoes. Nowhere else in the world will you find people rowing using their legs. They wrap one leg around an oar and control the movement of the boat by manipulating the pressure on their free leg. Intha fishermen live in colourful floating villages held up by bamboo which is a wonderful sight in itself.

3.  World’s Largest Book:

v14-15d

If you want to see the world’s largest book, you will need to visit the gilded Kuthodaw Pagoda located at the foot of Mandalay Hill in Mandalay, Myanmar. This pagoda has a total of 730 marble slabs all of which are inscribed with Buddhist teachings. It was built circa 1860 by King Mindon Min and it took him eight years to complete the construction. The texts displayed on 729 of the five feet long and three and a half feet wide marble slabs were taken from ancient manuscripts. The last slab contains information about the pagoda and how it was built.

4.  World’s Longest Teak Bridge:

v14-15e

U Bein bridge located in Amarapura, Myanmar is 1.2 kilometres long and that makes it the world’s longest teak bridge. The bridge was built in the late 1850s when the capital of Myanmar was shifted from Amarapura to Mandalay. The Amarapura palace was dismantled and the pieces of wood obtained from it were used to build this bridge.

5.  Burmese Cat Sanctuary, Inle Lake:

v14-15f

The Inle Heritage House is built above the Inle Lake and it consists of six bungalows and is also home to Myanmar’s only over-water Burmese Cat Sanctuary. The sanctuary was created to save the very rare Burmese cats from extinction when their number became alarmingly low. In 1930s not even a single Burmese cat remained in Myanmar as they were freely allowed to breed with other cats which led to no pure bred cat being left in the whole country. Fortunately, some people had taken these cats to other countries and maintained their pure breed. 40 of these cats were reintroduced to Burma and housed in the Inle Heritage House. Here you can not only watch these cats but also play with them.

6.  Shwenandaw Monastery:

v14-15g

Shwenandaw Monastry is only former royal residence in Myanmar that still retains its original structure. The other royal palaces were destroyed in World War II bombing. King Thibaw Min starting building this structure as it stands in 1878 and it took him five years to complete it. It was built using the materials obtained from dismantling the royal place built by King Mindon Min in the year 1857. This magnificent building showcases the traditional Burmese architectural style. It has large teak pillars and artistically carved teak panels which display scenes from Jataka tales recounting stories from previous lives of Gautam Buddha.

MYANMAR HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BECOME ASIA’S MOST POPULAR BEACH DESTINATION

Untitled-11

With coastlines forming a quarter of its total perimeter, Myanmar has a huge potential to become Asia’s most popular beach destination. The country has a coastline area stretching to 1,930 kms which is mostly a large spread of white sand. Myanmar’s western coast faces the Bay of Bengal and its southern coast faces the Andaman Sea. This region comprises of some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. What especially makes Myanmar’s beaches special is that most of them are still untouched and pure; a rarity in today’s modern world. Let’s have a look at some of the best beaches Myanmar has to offer to tourists.

  • Ngapali Beach:

Untitled-12

This is surely the most popular beach destination in the country. Located just seven kilometers away from the town of Thandwe, this beach stretches for three kilometers and overlooks crystal clear waters of the Bay of Bengal. Despite getting so much tourist attention, Ngapali has been able to still maintain its fishing village charm. The place offers plenty of accommodation options fitting different budgets and there are good facilities available for enjoying sea sports such as scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking. There is also a golf course just 15 minute drive from the beach.

  • Chuang Tha Beach:

Untitled-13

This beach is close to Yangon and therefore quite popular as a weekend getaway among the local population. This is the place to go to if you want to observe the local beach life in action. Chuang Tha is the most commercial beach in Myanmar and it also has the most number of hotels. There are some islands nearby and tourists have the option to hire a boat and explore them if they feel like getting away from the crowds.

  • Ngwe Saung Beach:

Untitled-14

Also known as the “Silver Beach”, this fifteen kilometers long beach offers a big stretch of pristine white sand unravelling amidst a backdrop of beautiful tropical forest and alluring blue waters. The place has not been much developed which gives it a laid back vibe. The accommodations here are cheaper as compared to Ngapali.

  • Kan Thaya Beach: 

Untitled-15

  • If you really want to get away from civilization then this four and a half kilometers long beach is the perfect destination for you. This beach is not visited by many tourists and as a result it has managed to stay completely unspoiled. One can reach Kan Thaya by taking an 8 hour drive from Yangon. Hotel options here are fewer as compared to other beaches but one is sure to easily find a room at any time of the year.

TRAVEL COMPANIES IN MYANMAR TAKING A JOURNEY OF THEIR OWN

MM-JUN-JUL-2015-30

The traditional business model that they have been following for decades is not working for travel and tourism companies in Myanmar anymore. As telecommunication sector is improving and internet is becoming readily available to the people of Myanmar, local tours and travel companies are finding it hard to compete with the websites offering online bookings. Most of these websites are foreign owned, and they are making a huge dent into the market share of local companies. Foreigners prefer booking online in advance as they do not like relying on local tour and travel companies.

The huge discounts provided by the websites are a big factor responsible for this paradigm shift. Hotels are more willing to give higher discounts to websites as they provide a much higher volume of business. They are reluctant in offering similar discounts to local travel agencies and sometimes the difference in price can go as high as 40 percent. A major cause of concern for the tour and travel agencies located in Myanmar is that the cost of accommodation and other related services here is surprisingly higher than the neighboring countries such as India and Thailand. Most tourists have become accustomed to inexpensive hotel stays in south Asian countries and the higher prices in Myanmar come as an unpleasant surprise to them.

The price of accommodation and food in Myanmar is comparable to that of a developed country like Japan. That is why most people who visit Myanmar try to cut down the costs as much as possible by checking out the different options online. Some of the local travel companies have built somewhat of a reputation for themselves by being in business for years. These companies might be able to withstand the competition from foreign websites but for the new companies it has become very difficult to survive.