Shwedagon "Golden" Pagoda
in Yangon, Myanmar.
Myanmar Travel Fast Facts
Getting there: regular flights from major cities to international airports in Yangon and Mandalay
What to see: Yangon and the Shwedagon Pagoda, Mandaly Hill and the royal palace, and the new Myanmar capital, Naypyidaw Currency: kyat
Official language(s): Burmese
Nestled in between China to the north and northeast, Laos to the east, Thailand
to the east and southeast, and India to the northwest, (see map) the country was renamed by the military regime in 1989.
The nation of Myanmar is currently ruled by a military junta largely seen as oppressive and promoting human rights abuses.
For this reason,
people who have a choice have usually opted to put off travel plans in hopes of one day visiting a free and open Myanmar.
In recent years, however, things are looking a bit brighter as Myanmar flexes its democratic muscles.
The election to the Burmese parliament of famous political activist Aung San Suu Kyi has signaled (if only a little), a change for the better.
Regardless of its current power structure, Myanmar continues to hold an enduring place in the popular imagination with its storybook past, a colorful mix of dozens of different cultures, and a wide variety of stunning architectural wonders.
To many people around the world the country is still more familiar as Burma -- a fairy-tale land of Buddhist temples, gold-leaf domes and towering pagodas -- especially in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) where the famous Shwedagon Pagoda looms over the skyline of the country's largest city.
View from Mandalay Hill
Only a 45-minute drive northwest of Yangoon, Ngapali is a busy tourist town beckoning with white sandy beaches and azure waters on the Bay of Bengal. (For more pristine tropical beauty, the Mergui Archipelago islands in southern Myanmar are also just starting to be discovered by divers and sailing enthusiasts.)
Heading north -- on the road to Mandaly-- is the newly designated capital city Naypyidaw (formerly Pyinmana) which is home to its own historic charms -- especially in the three enormous golden statues of Burmese warrior kings at the Defense Services Academy.
Another must-see on any trip to Myanmar is Bagan, with its thousands of Buddist temples to be explored, best seen high atop a hot air balloon tour.
And, finally, there is Mandalay which for some travelers remains the holy grail of Asian travel experiences. Today, no visit would be complete without a visit to the Mandalay royal palace, along with a rickety trip up pagoda-covered Mandalay Hill for sweeping views of the city and environs, especially at sunset.
Despite the deeply spiritual aspect of Burmese travel, and the warmth of its people, the government remains one of the most corrupt in the world.
An antiquated road infrastructure and rail system, a lack of ATMs, arduously slow Internet, and undrinkable water (bottled is highly recommended) also adds to the sometimes challenging task of touring the country.
Therefore, Myanmar is usually suggested only for adventurous backpackers, or for more experienced (and patient) travelers who are up to the challenge.
Enjoy -- but be ready to rough it!
Burmese cover girl
in traditional makeup
DID YOU KNOW? Myanmar Travel Fun Facts
• Men, women, and even children in Myanmar apply a whitish-yellow paste from the bark of the Thanakha tree to their faces as a natural cosmetic. It acts as both an astringent and an effective sunscreen.
• While visiting Myanmar, only use your right hand when handling money or food. It's considered rude to use the left hand because that's the one designated for personal hygiene (e.g., handling the toilet paper!)
• Those red stains on the teeth of locals? Those are from chewing betel nuts, a national pasttime in Myanmar much like coffee or tea breaks in the West.
• Although Western style pants can be seen, Burmese men and women both wear Longyi (sarongs) which are more comfortable than pants.
More about Myanmar travel & tourism around the Web:
on the Web, discover more of the beauty and mystery that endures in Myanmar / Burma at expert sites covering its history, culture
and traditions, with more on what to see, where to stay and practical tips on navigating your way around ..
Tourism - The official government site with an extensive guide to top hotels, airlines & flight schedules, a list of entrance fees to top attractions, maps of Yangon, Mandaly, Bagan and Inle Lake, general travel & safety tips, downloadable travel brochures, related travel news.
Myanmar/Burma - Lonely Planet - Travel provisos and why they're in place, plus things to see and do, along with tips on avoiding travel pitfalls and restrictions, average hotel and meal costs, photo gallery.