What do you think about when I say Myanmar? If you say “Pagodas” then you probably know at least a little bit about one of our neighboring countries and one of the ten ASEAN member states. Well done!
If you are, like I was before moving to the ASEAN region, a bit uneducated in terms of all the states here then you might think about MacGyver fighting bad dictators (and succeeding).
So if that’s the case, lets bring us all on somehow the same page when it comes to Myanmar (Burma).
Myanmar, not Burma.
On most travel websites or even in the news you can still read things like “This and that happened in Myanmar (Burma)…”. The name of the country changed. It is Myanmar. Not Burma. As simple as that.
Military plays an important part in Myanmar
That is still true. Even though Myanmar is not a military dictatorship anymore. Elections are being held and the parliament is being elected. However the military reserves itself 25% of the seats in the parliament and in order to change laws etc. the parliament needs to agree with 75% or more…you see where this is going, right?
However you don’t necessarily see lots of Army running around Yangon (which is not the capital, but the biggest city in Myanmar btw). Unless student protests are occurring. But more on that in another article.
Aung San Suu Kyi
If you only know one name in Myanmar politics this probably is the name to know. Aung San Suu Kyi used to be the head of the party that won a landslide victory in one of the first election in the 1990s. However she was held under house arrest by the military for years and was not allowed to travel anywhere. Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, a very influential and defining former political figure of Burma (back then) who got assassinated under political motives. She still is the face of change in Myanmar and synonym to all ‘good things’ that have come to Myanmar. Despite her popularity she is still fighting to make herself more heard and gain more influence in modern day Myanmar.
Culture in Myanmar
Myanmar looks back on to a very rich and very old culture. It dates back centuries and used to be a very important kingdom in the old days. The wars over the years changed and shaped Myanmar into its current form and state. When talking about religion Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist but also sees a lot of other religions being worshipped. There is a big Christian following present (especially among the people in the ‘Shan’ state) as well as big muslim group (who sees itself persecuted in some parts of the country).
In the main tourist areas you will see a very open culture in terms of religion though. Lots of muslims, christians and buddhists around Yangon or Mandalay who all live peaceful together.
Interesting fact here: More than 50% of Myanmar’s monks live in and around the area of Mandalay.
Tourism & Travel
With Myanmar opening up more and more over the past few years, naturally tourism started to increase. The country is home to some of the most amazing mountainous areas in the region, incredibly stunning temple constructs and even hosts amazing beaches that aren’t as much travelled as the likes in Thailand.
The ‘standard’ travel destinations right now usually include Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake.
Yangon is the biggest city of Myanmar and hosts and impressive amount of colonial style houses back from when the British occupied the country. Lots of those houses are still in tact and while you can certainly see their age, still look impressive.
Bagan is famous for it’s stunning khmer style temples and often dubbed a smaller ‘Angkor Wat’. If think Myanmar and a picture of flying hot air balloons over old temples pops to your head, Bagan is where this happens (for 200 USD / head you can join one of those balloon rides btw).
Mandalay (city) is famous for being a former capital of Myanmar, being the second biggest city in the country and having another more or less well travelled airport. The city itself is not that beautiful but when you take a trip around to the outer districts you can still see a lot of cool stuff (e.g. Pagodas, U Bein Bridge)
Inle Lake then is the place to chill and relax. Beautiful clear and deep blue water meet amazing beach.
Traveling within Myanmar becomes easier as well. Nowadays there are lots of Greyhound like busses running just like you are used to from other countries in Southeast Asia. The most convenient way is probably to take a night bus to your next destination. Those so called “VIP” are comfortable indeed and provide a stress-free way of reaching ones next destination.
Staying in Myanmar isn’t as cheap as one would think. Guesthouses prices are over prices here in Thailand and you have to be prepared to pay 20$ and more for a single room with shared amenities. Dorms might be priced around 11-12 $ while hotels start way higher on the scale.
Land of Pagodas
If you google Myanmar right now you will likely come across the sub title ‘Land of Pagodas’ in many articles. That has one simple reason: The land has many Pagodas. It’s crazy. Beautifully crazy though. When you get the chance to look on to a city (Yangon or Mandalay for example) from a hill or from above you will see an incredible amount of Pagodas. The most famous pagoda is probably Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon but there are others that are stunning as well.
People of Myanmar
It is always difficult to generalize the people of country since there are good and bad ones everywhere. During my time in Myanmar however I mostly met very friendly, polite and helpful people. The English fluency seems to be higher than here in Thailand and the smile of most people seems to be more genuine. But that might be subjective of course.
For more details on destinations in Myanmar check our other articles that feature more specific tips and tricks on the Land of Pagodas.
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