InsideAsia designer extraordinaire, Kate braved the high temperatures of low season Burma (Myanmar) for a three-week holiday in May. In her words: “It is the low season for a reason. It’s hot, crazy hot! But, on the flip side there were no queues and hardly any tourists. It was more than worth it”.
This was the beautiful Ngwesaung Beach – south of Ngapali beach and nearer to Yangon. Choosing to take a 5-hour bus trip from Yangon meant that we were slightly squished for the whole journey. But on the upside, we were entertained by some Burmese comedy on the TV the whole way. Take some earplugs.
There are miles and miles of perfect sandy beach here and, as you can see from the photos, there really was nobody around. We padded along the beach in search of a drink, and when we found a little beach bar, we actually had to wake the bartender up. I don’t think he’d had a customer for a long time! There’s no doubt that it would be too hot for some people – it must have been about 40 degrees – but we were pretty happy here drinking cocktails and cooling off by dipping in and out the sea.
My favourite part of the whole trip was the day we spent wondering around Loikaw, the least touristy of everywhere we visited. We arrived at sunrise just as the market was setting up – after a very bumpy overnight bus ride – and were only there for 24 hours so it is all a bit of a blur.
Everyone there was so friendly, and excited to see us; we couldn’t walk past anyone without them smiling, waving or saying hello – “mingalaba”. This also meant that we were the subject of many sweaty selfies which wasn’t so fun, but it did make me feel like an A-lister for a few minutes.
Although there was a pagoda similar to this in the town centre, we spotted this one in the distance and were determined to reach it. Of course, we got lost on the way, and ended up walking through a tiny village, but this was a great experience in itself. It seemed as though everyone we met had never seen a tourist before, and they were really happy to help us get to the top. We also stumbled across a monk football match, which was unexpected!
In amongst these beautiful religious sites, there are some oddities in Burma. Firstly, the ‘disco Buddhas’ – intricate and old Buddhas surrounded by flashing neon lights. Secondly, the drug museum (more of that here). Thirdly, and slightly unpleasantly, is their love of paan (betel chewing) – I saw this throughout Burma. It’s a leaf that is chewed as a stimulant (much like tobacco in a cigarette) and spat out on to the floor.
But this was a small thing in comparison to everything I loved about the people and the place. Unlike in other countries, we weren’t hassled or followed – even when strolling through the market. People seemed genuinely interested to meet us, and not just to sell us things. It was also so colourful, with gold everywhere, markets full of exotic fruit and vegetables, and brightly-coloured clothes.
Nyaungshwe and Inle Lake
We saw the most tourists in Nyaungshwe – in total contrast to Loikaw where we’d come from. Most tourists travel to the area by car or plane, but we decided to travel from Loikaw in the way that locals would. We took a short drive from Loikaw to a little place called Pekon, before boarding a 6-hour tiny taxi boat all the way up to Inle Lake.
This video gives you a bit of an idea:
I knew that there were a lot of pagodas in Bagan – I’ve spent many days in the IAT office looking at them longingly – but it is different being there in person. They really do cover the landscape as far as the eye can see! That was when I really felt the benefits of travelling in the low season; having the place to ourselves was magical.
Just a short journey away from Bagan is Mount Popa, and Taung Kalat – a famous pagoda perched on top of a volcanic plug. The pagoda is impressive, but I may have been more excited about all of the monkeys on the way up! No-one else was quite as excited, but I love that this monkey is taking in the views from the top.
It’s can be tricky to be a travelling vegetarian, and it’s often misunderstood. Luckily, with Burma being a Buddhist country, there was vegetarian food aplenty! I ate lots (and lots) of tofu, vegetables, noodles, and yummy salads!
Yangon: The Strand
If you visit the city of Yangon, be sure to drop into The Strand. It’s a very grand colonial hotel, with photos of it in the Victorian times on many of the walls. There are high airy ceilings, and swish furnishings throughout, and it’s a lovely respite from the heat – even if it is for high tea!
Monywa is most famous for having the second largest standing Buddha in the world. Adorned in gold leaf – like much of the religious sites in Burma. Unfortunately we didn’t get to go in, as we were late, but it was still amazing. I mentioned before that it is pretty hot in Burma in May; in Monywa it was so hot that my phone and camera stopped working…
Just as special was Po Win Taung, also dubbed ‘Burma’s Petra’. Luckily, we had this little guy to help show us around.
For more information, tips, and advice about going on holiday to Burma, get in touch with our team.