After decades of seclusion Burma has opened its doors to not only international business but for tourist visitors who enjoy exotic surroundings and resorts. The growth in the tourism sector for Burma continues to rise and with a lack of hotels particularly in the five star range, Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. has announced that it will build five new hotels in the next three years.
Burma is becoming an alternative destination especially now with the political unrest next door in Thailand. Construction of new hotels will hopefully help bring down the current costs of accommodations as they can be quite pricey due to the current lack of hotels. Many visitors use organised tour planners when visiting that are not only helpful in getting around but also for language translation. The people of Burma are courteous and warm and seem to enjoy the visitors that they meet. For anyone who is curious about Buddhism this is the best place to learn about it and visiting the monasteries is quite interesting.
My first stop was in Yangon. Making your way into the city from the airport you are likely to encounter traffic delays as new roads are being constructed to accommodate the influx of new business and visitors. Automobile ownership is relatively new to the average Yangon citizen and popular. Construction is widely seen around the city especially for high rise apartment and offices, as foreign companies especially from Britain and United States begin to establish a foothold in one of Asia’s potentially most wealthy countries thanks to its abundance of natural resources. Electrical outages still occur on occasion and many establishments have gone to having their own generators to cope with the problem. Whilst Yangon makes great strides in updating their banking and financial system cash (USD) is still the best way to pay for purchases as foreign credit and debit cards are not widely accepted in the majority of establishments in Yangon and elsewhere in Burma. Many businesses and ordinary citizens do not have computers but the internet is available at most hotels and resorts.
Yangon has numerous derelict colonial buildings but many will get a new life as redeveloped properties. One that is quite popular is The Strand Hotel built in 1901 (www.hotelthestrand.com). The hotels bar has become popular for expats for after hours socializing and for tourists. For many years during the military rule the property was unused and became run down. Eventually it was restored in the 1990’s by local developers. Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham were regular visitors to The Strand. The rooms are comfortable and spacious and the hotels location makes it an ideal choice for seeing the local area and well known Buddhist shrines such as the 2,500 year old Shwedegon Pagoda. When visiting the shrines dress conservatively, shoes and socks must be removed. Cameras and video can be used at most pagodas and shrines although some may have signs not allowing it. In the city and other parts of the country filming is not a problem which is great as the country is a photographer’s paradise.
The Strand Hotel Yancon
Burmese dishes are a mixture of Chinese, Indian and Thai cuisines. Seafood, fresh water fish as well as meat and poultry are common. Burmese cuisine also includes salads along with other ingredients, including ginger, rice and noodles.
Traveling around Burma is made easy and quick with a variety of domestic air carriers that can take you to locations including Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay. Flying over Burma can be quite interesting as you can see the lush green hills, valleys, pagodas and rice farms below. There are new roads, some with tolls, linking other towns and cities but in other areas caution should be exercised especially after heavy rains as the roads can be quickly flooded or washed out. It’s best to hire a guide and driver with four wheel drive or minivan to go into the countryside to see the archaeological sites. Also becoming popular are river cruises on the infamous Irrawaddy River.
The Irrawaddy River
One of the most popular locations for visitors are the numerous archaeological shrines that are an abundance known as the Bagan Archaeological Zone. Thousands of brick and stucco stupas, monasteries, temples, palaces and pagodas are what is left from this former city from the 11th through 13th centuries. Near Bagan is the hilltop monastery Mt. Popa with its 777 steps to the top of Taung Kala. Hot air balloon rides are available for amazing views over the shrines. I stayed at the Aye Yar River View Resort in Old Bagan. Built in the 1950s the property has undergone a major renovation and is in close proximity to the main sites for visitors. (www.baganayeyarhotel.com)
This is the cultural heart of Myanmar and has a variety of sites to visit including to Royal Palace, the Mahamuni Buddha and the amazing Kuthodaw Pagoda known as the “world’s largest book.” It is here that the words of Buddha are transcribed page by page in stone with each one in its own small shrine. There numerous markets and the sunsets from Mandalay Hill are also worth visiting. Also, the U Bein Bridge the world’s longest teak bridge which runs three-quarters of a mile over Taungthaman Lake in Amarapura, was once Burma’s capital and became part of Mandalay. More than 1,000 teak poles were used to construct the bridge. One popular hotel for visitors is the Mandalay Hill Resort located at the base of Mandalay Hill and near the main sites has good amenities featuring a very large pool area and Wi-Fi. (www.mandalayhillresorthotel.com)
No visit to Burma would be complete without visiting Burmas second largest lake in the Shan State. Long wooden canoes with motors can take you throughout the waterways that break off from the lake in all directions. Numerous old wooden homes and small businesses on stilts line the lake in this lush setting. Plenty of good places to eat and to also observe where cheroots or Burmese style cigarsare are rolled and made by hand. This is another very good place to visit to learn about Burmese culture. One place to consider for your stay is the Inle Princess Resort. On the water and quiet featuring individual bungalows, good dining and bar. (www.inleprincessresort.net)
Inle Princess Resort
Book well in advance and whilst getting there will require some long flights and transfers in destinations like Bangkok and Singapore it is well worth the effort to go and do not hesitate to take your children as those I saw on holiday there did seem to really enjoy it as well.
Citizens of Australia, Britain, Canada, EU and the USA are required to have visas to enter Burma.
Article by Kevin Murphy of www.eclipseaf.com