What Myanmar taught me about the road less travelled
For travel lovers, Myanmar is essentially travel porn. Having been pretty much inaccessible to tourists for as long as we can remember thanks to political turmoil. In recent years however, it has begun to open up - which is perfect for those of us who want to travel off the beaten track.
Said to be a bit like Thailand 30 years ago, the landscapes, the colours and the culture of Myanmar have yet to be colonised by Starbucks. For even the most seasoned traveller though, a new frontier means a little experienced knowledge goes a long way, and for our friend Jen there were lessons learned in Myanmar that have added value to other walks on the wild(er) side. Here’s what she had to say...
Swat up on local infrastructure to understand the best way to travel
Travelling in Myanmar by plane, boat or car is wholly different to travelling in Europe. The planes run a bit like buses and allow for a quick transfer from one area to the next, but if you have more time, then getting around by boat and car gives you access to the smaller communities and corners of the rivers and lakes. My partner and I were fully committed to travelling by bus pretty much everywhere. We do it everywhere else, so why not here?
The thing is there was so much we wanted to see and do, and I had completely underestimated how bumpy those journeys could be. At the same time, I couldn’t have really understood the difference in flight culture compared to Europe. After a few journeys, we decided to splash out a bit and exchange some of the coach trips for internal flights. It’s not the most environmentally friendly way to travel, but it did allow us to see more on our once in a lifetime trip. Otherwise I would have probably limited our destination hopping a bit.
Think about what you want to do on your holiday to ascertain the best time to visit
The best time to go is between November and March when the weather is warm and dry and temperatures are in the mid twenties. In April it’s stifling, from May to October it’s the green season which is hot with the odd rain shower, but that said the vegetation is lush and the water is high for those boat journeys.
In July and August it pisses it down with rain. We were given some excellent advice by friends before we left on holiday and I’m really pleased we did because so much that’s amazing about Myanmar is outdoors and it would be a shame to see less because of the weather.
Make time to watch the world go by
The beaches in Myanmar are incredible, but don’t expect your average beach holiday. For example, Ngapali has all the credentials of white sand and clear blue waters, but it’s still a working beach where you can see fishermen preparing their nets first thing in the morning and women taking produce to market in ox carts.
There is a bustling market and clifftop pagodas, but it’s kept its unspoiled charm. Increasingly there are luxury hotels and resorts popping up, but for me, watching the world go by was perfect and sometimes you can be in such a mad rush when you’re discovering a new place that you forget to take the time to do that.
It’s important to make the effort to do your bit for the environment
In this amazing part of the world, the gut instinct is to want to protect it. Annoyingly, the water isn’t really suitable to drink. There also isn’t much by way of recycling protocol in Myanmar yet and it’s not unusual to see people dumping rubbish out of bus windows. That means the onus is on you to think about how you’re going to take responsibility for your own impact before you go.
If I had fully understood before going I might have had a better thought about how to handle it. It didn't sit well to have to keep buying bottles of water, so the best thing I came up with on the hoof was to take my reusable bottle and try to buy really big multi litre bottles that I could keep in our room and decant from whenever possible. Some guesthouses and hotels have top-up stations for water bottles, which are also helpful.
Don’t dismiss getting a guide
I think if you’re used to travelling to more popular cities in particular, the idea of getting a guide can be a bit gimmicky. However, in places where understanding local culture is everything, I think it can make a big difference.
For example, in Mandalay we enjoyed all the major tourist things, but we also had a guide who took us to the industrial side of the city and the jade markets. Here you can buy amazing precious stones that you can later set into jewellery as a reminder of your holiday. You can barter on price yourself but a guide is the best chance of getting a fair deal. That in itself is not the reason to take a guide, but it’s all part of understanding the area and getting involved in the experience.
As a community of travellers we would love to hear your travel stories and the things you learned along the way that will help other people to make the most of their trip. Know something that’s not on the internet - share it with us on Instagram @pluto__travel.