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Only a fool would travel to Burma outside of peak season… right? Well, if that’s the case, I must be a damn fool, because I travelled to Myanmar off-peak and loved it.
My trip began on the 8th of May and finished on the 28th – pretty much the hottest time of year – and it was fantastic. So take it from me: you don’t have to wait for the cooler temperatures (and higher hotel prices) to enjoy a trip to Myanmar. Here’s why.
Myanmar’s climate can be roughly divided into three seasons: cool, hot, and rainy.
The ‘cool’ season, which stretches from November to February, is dry, warm-to-hot, and usually clear, making it by far and away the most popular time to travel. The low season, meanwhile, from March until May, brings sweltering temperatures and high humidity. Finally, the rainy season, from June to August, sees Burma lashed by tropical downpours.
As far as most people are concerned, the balmy period from November to February is the only time to travel. But, though it may bring the most favourable weather conditions, there are plenty of other reasons to consider off-peak travel.
But first, the ‘downsides’…
Now, I don’t wish to mislead you – there are reasons that travellers have traditionally avoided heading to Burma during the hotter parts of the year. For a start, Burma (Myanmar) in May is hot. And I mean bloody hot.
When Kate and I reached Yangon the mercury was pushing 40°C, and the humidity was such that we felt like we were wading through soup. This isn’t the kind of heat that goes away when the sun goes down – so whether it’s midday or midnight, prepare to sweat.
Another oft-cited downside of the low season is that it’s dustier and hazier than other times of year, meaning that you can expect fewer clear skies and impressive sunsets. In my experience, this was only partly true. In fact, nearly every day of my trip was clear and sunny – and though the sunsets in Bagan may have been less glorious than in the cool season, it certainly did nothing to dampen my enjoyment of those spectacular views.
Travelling in the low season is not for everyone. Make no mistake: it is as hot and humid as can be. If you tend to be miserable in the heat, it is probably not for you. BUT! If you’re a sun-seeker who doesn’t mind adapting to the pace of life in the tropics, there are a multitude of benefits to be had…
You’ll have the place to yourself
Even at the busiest times of year, Myanmar is one of the least touristed, most laid-back places in Southeast Asia. But though you’ll find hardly any of the pushy touts, drunk backpackers and tourist scams that are common in some parts of the world, it can no longer be denied that some places in Burma have started to feel a little well-trodden.
This brings me on to the main benefit of travelling in low season: the absolute lack of crowds. Put off by the thought of the heat, nearly everybody opts to travel to Burma from November to January, leaving even the most popular destinations almost deserted for the rest of the year.
As we travelled around the country, Kate and I were amazed to find how many of Myanmar’s incredible sights were nearly completely empty. Even Bagan, Burma’s crown jewel and most famous attraction, was largely devoid of visitors.
Zipping along the backroads on our e-bike, through a landscape virtually unchanged for 800 years, we didn’t see another soul for hours at a time. It’s how I imagine Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu might have been thirty years ago: magnificent, unrestored, and blissfully quiet. There aren’t many world-class destinations you can say that about today. As far as I’m concerned, a bit of heat is a small price to pay for such a rare and wonderful experience.
You’ll get incredible hotel deals
One of the other benefits of the low visitor numbers during the low season is that you can take advantage of off-peak deals and stay at some of Burma’s best hotels for a fraction of the price you’d pay at peak time.
Though we were travelling on the smallest of budgets, Kate and I managed to snag a twin room at this beautiful hotel in Bagan (below) for less than the price of a hostel dorm, and had the added benefit of a swimming pool to cool us off during the hottest part of the day.
What’s more, due to the lack of demand, luxury hotels along the coast were only too happy to let us relax on their sun loungers, swim in their pools, and take advantage of their cocktail bars – all for no more than the price of a drink, and sometimes for free. Score!
For more on low-season savings in Myanmar, take a look at our blog post on getting a five-star holiday for a four-star budget in Burma.
Not everywhere is hot in the low season!
Another welcome surprise for visitors to Myanmar: despite all dire warnings and disclaimers, in many places it’s not actually that hot.
Though Yangon and Bagan were well and truly scorchio when we visited in May, just a few hours’ bus journey into the hills brought much cooler temperatures and lower humidity. Loikaw and Inle Lake were hot, but not uncomfortably so – and in coastal Ngwe Saung I’d go so far as to say the weather was perfect. Glorious sunny skies, empty beaches, and a constant sea breeze to keep us cool and comfortable. What more could you ask from a beach break?
A cleverly planned trip to low season Burma (Myanmar) will make the most of the country’s mountainous geography and ample coastline, making time for the southern beaches (Ngapali is wet during this season, but Ngwe Saung, Chaung Tha and Dawei can be glorious) and heading to the hill towns of Pyin Oo Lwin or Hsipaw for fresh weather and superlative hiking.
How to survive the heat
The key to enjoying Burma (Myanmar) in the low season is to slow down, adapt to the local pace of life, and take precautions.
Of course, the usual injunctions to wear light, loose clothing, wear plenty of sun cream and drink lots of water apply – but to really make the most of the season, do as the locals do and get up early. And I mean really early. Take advantage of your jet-lag and get up with the sun – that way, you can do the bulk of your exploring in the cooler hours of the morning, then escape the midday heat with a cool drink by the pool, or with a long siesta in your air-conditioned hotel room.
Another great way to adapt to the heat is to keep moving. In Yangon, we spent a very enjoyable afternoon riding the circle train, which provides a constant breeze and some of the most interesting views imaginable. In Mandalay we got around by bicycle, and in Bagan we rented an electric scooter – the best idea of all – and zipped about the plains with the wind in our hair.
Follow all these tips and, like Kate and me, you’ll discover that heat is no barrier to an incredible holiday in Burma.
To read more about where we went and what we did, check out my post on 5 alternative destinations in Burma (Myanmar) – or contact one of our travel consultants to start planning your own low-season holiday today.