Despite having so much to offer in terms of natural beauty, stunning beaches and vibrant culture, Burma, or Myanmar as it is now officially known, was a destination few backpackers considered visiting until relatively recently. Our Myanmar backpacker tour is part of a change with the country opening up to foreign visitors and showing off its many charms.
I remember visiting the county on a work trip in 2010, when the country was still under the rule of the military junta. Getting my visa had taken weeks and I was quite shocked at the lack of infrastructure there; So many roads were un-paved, wifi was non-existent, electricity would cut out daily, no one had a mobile phone and international sanctions meant there were zero foreign brands. (Can you imagine a land without Coca Cola?!) Compared to its neighbours like Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, it was a different world.
Two years after my first visit, the military junta passed power to a civilian government and the international sanctions were eased. A change in policy meant tourists could now get an easy visa on arrival. There was an excitement about the changes, though some worried that a sudden arrival of mass tourism could ruin the character and charm that made Burma such an appealing destination.
Since the changes, I have made regular visits back to the country and have seen firsthand that the anticipated flood of tourists and feared overdevelopment has simply not materialised. The numbers of visitors have increased, but they remain consistently about one tenth of the volume Thailand’s. The country still retains an adventurous charm, wifi is still hard to find (although you now can get a local sim card with data) and the electricity still cuts out daily!
Despite the underdevelopment (or because of it), the country remains an incredible place to visit, and we have compiled a list of the top 5 reasons why Burma should make it on your bucket list today…
1) JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF “OFF THE BEATEN TRACK”
We believe the country is now in its sweet spot for a Myanmar backpacker tour – few tourists means authentic culture and daily life greet you on every street. Yet the country is welcoming of visitors – visas are a breeze and it is getting easier and easier to travel around.
2) THE BEACHES
Myanmar has over 2,000km of coastline, most of which is white sandy beaches lapped by the clear waters of the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The coastline lies along the long Western edge of the country, meaning all beaches face West, giving them almost guaranteed golden sunsets every evening.
3) THE PEOPLE
There is an underlying relaxed, content and kind mentality that almost every person you come across in Burma embodies. Perhaps the prevalence of Buddhism (over 88% of the population is a practising Buddhist) has altered the national psyche, but whatever the reason, despite having little in material terms, most of those you will meet here are remarkably kind and generous. Before the regime changed in 2012, I remember asking a few of my Burmese colleagues what they felt about living under the military junta and most would respond that, despite their concerns with the government, they had their families who loved them and had food in their bellies and that was enough for them to feel thankful, blessed and content.
4) THE TEMPLES, STUPAS AND PAGODAS
Myanmar has an incredible number of temples, pagodas and monasteries. The Bagan Plain alone has over 10,000 of them, and cycling amougst them on our Myanmar backpacker tour is a highlight for so many. Another must-see site is Shwe Dagon, a sacred, gold covered pagoda in the heart of the country’s capital, Yangon.
5) THE JUNGLES
Almost 50% of Burma is covered in bio-diverse and carbon-dense primary forest. Sadly, this is an ever decreasing figure (down from 70% during the year of Burma’s independence in 1948). Although deforestation has slowed since 2010, it does remain an environmental issue. There is also a growing problem with where to home the elephants who have been retired from working in the logging trade in Myanmar. At The Dragon Trip, we believe that sustainable eco-tourism can be a powerful tool in raising awareness of such issues and we aim for our tour groups to form part of the solution. Our visits to the retired home for logging elephants, as well as our treks and homestays in the jungles of Shan State not only help achieve this goal, but also allow our travellers to experience the serene natural beauty of these tropical forests.
The unique and diverse landscapes and cities of Burma are a true gem for any backpacker to explore. We hope you can explore alongside us and our like-minded Dragon Trippers on our adventure tour of Burma, which departs monthly in 2021.
Still not sure where you should be exploring in 2021? Take our travel personality quiz to see which countries suit you!