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Burma’s not a family destination? Poppycock. Just ask anyone who’s done it: Burma is a truly inspirational place to travel with children – not just because of the awesome sights, but because of the unfailingly friendly people and fascinating culture. But don’t take my word for it! Here are some of our favourite family experiences in Burma. If these don’t convince you, I don’t know what will.
1. Take a cookery class
The applicability of this will, of course, depend on the age of your children – but a cooking class is a great way to introduce the younglings to the wonderful world of Burmese cuisine. If you have fussy eaters in your flock, I would even suggest this as a way of coaxing them into trying new things, as kids are often more inclined to try something they’ve made themselves. I don’t promise it’ll work though.
One of our favourite cooking lesson experiences is in Bagan, where you’ll not only have the chance to get involved in selecting the produce from the market and cooking it up into a delicious meal – you’ll also learn about the national cuisine and eating habits of the Burmese people. Even if your children turn their noses up at the food, they’ll hopefully find it interesting to learn how another culture does tea time.
2. Visit Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp
I’ve yet to meet a child who isn’t delighted by the prospect of meeting an elephant. Come to think of it, there are few adults who wouldn’t enjoy a visit to the Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp either. This conservation project is located in the beautiful hills of Kalaw, and gives kids the chance to feed, wash, and interact with the seven resident elephants. Green Hill Valley provides a respite for former working elephants, and you can rest assured that the animals here are extremely well looked-after and relaxed.
Spend the night here and you can also participate in treks through the surrounding forests, visiting some of the local hilltribes who live in the region.
3. Make your own lacquerware
For children with an artistic streak, a lesson in making traditional lacquerware is an excellent Burmese experience. Lacquer is a type of varnish made from tree sap and used to coat beautiful objects made from wood – such as ornamental boxes, bowls and buttons. Each object requires many coats of lacquer, and a really high-end, intricate piece can take up to a year to complete! Thankfully, a lesson doesn’t take that long. After a tour of the workshop, where you’ll observe every stage of the process in action, one of the craftsmen can help you paint your own traditional design on a coaster, ready to take home as a souvenir.
4. Join in Burma’s biggest water fight
If you happen to visit Burma in mid-April, you may be lucky enough (or unlucky enough, depending on your perspective) to coincide with Burmese New Year – or Thingyan. Like other countries in Southeast Asia, the Burmese celebrate their new year by throwing water all over each other, adults and children alike. Only monks and pregnant women are exempt from the tradition, so prepare to be comprehensively doused if you find yourself in the line of fire (i.e. anywhere).
This is a fantastic time to take a family holiday to Burma, as the entire population throws propriety to the wind and enters into the spirit of mischief. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in a country-wide water fight? Just be sure to keep your cameras and other gadgets safely stowed away – an electronic casualty would definitely spoil the fun.
If you’re not travelling in April, check out our festivals section to see if you could be in with a chance of catching another celebration.
5. Play on Ngapali Beach
Experiences and activities are all well and good, but most people need a little down-time on their holidays – especially those with children to wear them out. Ngapali, an unspoilt stretch of white beach fringed with jungle, is the perfect place to indulge in a bit of R&R, and there’s plenty of sun, sea and sand to keep the children entertained. If your budget stretches to it, you can even take a hot air balloon ride over the surrounding region! Now that flights over Bagan are altitude-restricted, this is our new favourite balloon experience in Burma.
6. Ride in a horse-drawn cart
There are still many places in Burma where travel by horse and cart – or even ox and cart – is very much still a way of life, not just a gimmick for tourists. Visit the ruins of the city of Ava, for instance, on the outskirts of Mandalay, and it’s more or less the only way to get around. In Pyin Oo Lwin and Bagan, too, you’ll find locals and visitors alike going about their business in horse-drawn carts and carriages – quite a novelty for kids who have grown up zooming around in cars.
7. Bike through Bagan
If the thought of dragging your children around endless temples fills you with dread, you’ve never been anywhere like Bagan. This is as far from stuffy as it gets, and you certainly don’t need to be a temple enthusiast to have a fantastic time exploring the region’s ruins. A great way to cover plenty of ground and let off steam is to hire mountain bikes – which will allow you to keep a brisk pace and make your own discoveries.
8. Kayak on Inle Lake
Ordinarily you might struggle to get your children enthused at the idea of visiting a lake – even a lake as vast and impressive as Inle – but there are plenty of ways to make this an exciting family adventure. For a start, this is a lake that’s home to thousands of people, who live above the water in wooden stilt houses, get around in taxi boats, and grow their food in floating farms. And if travelling by longtail boat isn’t exciting enough, you can rent kayaks and really start exploring this Asian Venice for yourself.
9. Cross the Goteik Viaduct
And finally, if you have a little one with an absorbing fascination with trains (and I’ve known a few), there could be few journeys more spectacular than the one across the Goteik Viaduct, between the former hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin and the town of Hsipaw. Built by the British at the end of the 19th century, the viaduct towers 102 metres over the valley below and boasts amazing views over the surrounding country. Just don’t look down!
These are just a handful of the amazing experiences that Burma has to offer families. For more ideas and advice on travelling with children in Burma, take a look at the family section of this blog. To start planning your own family trip, click here!