Burma has been a special place to me, and almost definitely my favourite country in the mainland of SE Asia. Therefore, I have decided to write a little something extra now that I have left. Here are the top Five Highlights from my trip:
It is a shame that all of the longer treks were forbidden while I was there and I hope that the warring in that region ends soon, but the fact that Hsipaw was still one of my favourite places has got to mean something. The town itself was my favourite town in the whole of Burma, and there were many little attractions nearby which make great day-tripping opportunities. The surrounding scenery of rice paddies, mountains, farms and Shan villages are, quite simply, stunning. Visitors should also try and make time for visiting Fern at the Shan Palace for a history lesson.
#4 Hiking from Kalaw to Inle Lake
Okay, so we got scammed by the Singh brothers when we booked the trek, but we managed to turn it around and still have a wonderful experience. Three days of walking through a landscape of picturesque Shan hills and tribal villages is a great way to reach Inle lake, and the nicely cool climate is also a bonus.
#3 Climbing Mount Zwegabin
It was a sweat-inducing, exhausting climb, and the mosquitoes feasted on me that night when I slept at the monastery, but, Burma has many holy mountains, and this has got to be my favourite one. Not many people seem to go there either.
#2 The South
The areas around Mawlamyine and Hpa-an, where we spent our first week in Burma, still have this rawness about them which make them very rewarding for travellers. Many of the locals there are still excited to see foreigners and are keen to converse with them. Hitchhiking was easy (and often necessary, as there wasn’t much public transport) because the people were so friendly and helpful. This is definitely an area which is yet to become jaded by tourism.
It took us a while to “get” Bagan because the temples were a little bit samey, but once you manage to get up from a high vantage point and see views like this:
You’ll begin to understand. I think that visiting Burma without going to Bagan would be a bit like going to Cambodia and not seeing Angkor Wat – it’s just not done!
Here are some of my other favourite things about Burma:
Is basically free. Whenever you are having breakfast in a teahouse, dinner in a Myanmar restaurant, or just a quick spot of lunch in a café, you’ll often have a pot of hot Chinese tea and a few small cups placed in front of you. You can drink as much of it as you want and they just keep filling it up again!
Are possibly the friendliest in Asia. I spoke of this in more detail in my Bagan blog, but Burmese people are still in a place where they are generally enthusiastic about having foreigners visit them because they didn’t have much of a connection to the outside world before. So, when they approach you; don’t worry! They’re probably not trying to scam you, they just want to talk!
Whether it was a bumpy train ride to Hsipaw, seeing beautiful villages while walking to a cave temple, being driven through scenes of rural life along the Shan plateau, or maybe even just listening to some old man’s life story while hitchhiking in his truck, one of the things that I have definitely noticed about Burma is that the journey there was often just as interesting as the destination itself.
But overall, my favourite thing about Burma is that there is still much more to explore. It is a big country and there are parts of it which are currently inaccessible because of in-fighting and lack of public transport. It is also a country which is evolving, due to both its slow journey into democratisation and the coming of outside influences such as tourism. There are jungles which are home to species which are extinct in the rest of Asia, and I hope very much that they are turned into a national parks before corporate interests tear them down. There is Mrauk U; another temple complex which is supposed to rival Bagan, but at the moment it is expensive to get to. There are islands in the south which are probably even more beautiful than Thailand’s because they are still untouched.
And all of these places will probably become more and more accessible as Burma changes. I think this is definitely a country that I am going to return to one day…