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We’ve been busy chatting to our friends on the ground in Burma, and have come up with a list of top 10 tips for first-time visitors to the country. Insider travel advice, top destinations, and unmissable experiences – you name it, we’ve got you covered!
1. Try on a longyi
Whereas people in most Asian countries wear Western-style clothing almost exclusively, the people of Burma still commonly don traditional garb in their day-to-day lives. The most recognisable garment you’re likely to see is the longyi – a piece of fabric that is worn like a skirt by men and women alike. You don’t need to buy a longyi to try one on, as they are often provided to tourists at religious sites where it is forbidden to show your knees.
2. Catch the oil lamp ceremony at Shwedagon Pagoda
The lighting of the oil lamps at Shwedagon Pagoda is a tradition that dates back well before the days of electricity. Locals and pilgrims alike would donate oil lamps in their hundreds and even thousands, so that worshippers could enjoy the pagoda after dark when the temperature is cooler. By taking part in this tradition and lighting a few yourself, you can be part of this atmospheric and age-old ritual.
3. Get out on the water at Inle Lake
We usually hesitate to call anywhere a “must-see” destination, as everyone has their own interests and preferences, but for some places we make an exception. Inle Lake, a vast, 120 square kilometre expanse of water in the Shan highlands, is one of those locations. Made famous by its leg-rowing fishermen, floating farms and stilt villages, heading out on the lake and exploring the beautiful surrounding countryside is an unforgettable experience that we believe should form part of any first-time trip to Burma.
4. Consider off-peak travel
The most popular time to travel to Burma is November to March. While this does essentially guarantee hot, dry conditions throughout your trip, we would urge you to consider low-season travel – for a number of reasons. Prices are lower, crowds are fewer, and the scenery is nicer, to name just a few. To find out more about the benefits of “green season” travel, read our blog post from earlier this year.
5. Stock up on US dollars
Though Burma has recently stopped using US dollars as an alternative currency, USD is still by far the easiest currency to exchange for Burmese kyat. With ATMs still few and far between, it’s much easier to bring a sizeable float in dollars (only those in pristine condition will be accepted) as these can be exchanged in almost any destination. For more advice on money matters in Burma, have a look at the travel tips section of our website.
6. Explore the amazing temples of Bagan
Bagan is another one of those places that deserves to be called “must see” – because it truly is unmissable. Many (if not most) travellers will have originally been inspired to visit Burma by photos of Bagan, a vast plain studded with thousands of brick pagodas. It is one of the most bewitching landscapes in Asia, if not the world, and should not be missing from any itinerary! Our top recommendation is to take the sunrise balloon ride over the plains to see the pagodas wreathed in morning mist.
7. Head to a local tea shop
If you are looking for a true Burmese experience, there is no better way to mingle with the locals than by nabbing a seat at a local tea shop – the social venue of choice for most Burmese. Found on almost every street corner, these tea shops are a great place to try the local snacks, and become particularly crowded during premiership football games – especially if Manchester United are playing. (Burma isn’t completely out of touch with the outside world, you see).
8. Ride in a Trishaw
The trishaw, a kind of rickshaw-bicycle-hybrid, is the typical mode of transport in Burma. Though you can find trishaws in many Southeast Asian countries, Burma is one of the few places where they are still widely used by the local people, not just tourists – so jump aboard and see the world the Burmese way!
9. Meet the elephants
The elephant is one of the world’s most majestic animals, but many elephant-centric tourist operations have a less than squeaky clean record when it comes to animal welfare. Not so at the Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp in Kalaw, a family-run conservation centre that rescues ex-working elephants and makes sure their autumn years are peaceful and stress-free. A visit here is sure to be a highlight of your stay in Burma – read our blog post from earlier this year to find out more.
10. Keep an open mind
Burma is a country on the move – as the recent elections reminded us all – but visitors should remember that the country really only entered the modern world five years ago. Power cuts, tortuously slow internet, and extremely bumpy roads are par for the course, and should be embraced as part of the adventure rather than an unfortunate hindrance.
That’s that for our top 10 tips, but you can see our website for more in-depth advice on travel to Burma. If you’re ready to start planning your holiday now, take a look at some of our Fully Tailored Journeys and Small Group Tours to get your started.