Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a country of some 55 million people and has rapidly become a popular tourist destination over the last few years. Most tourists start their visit in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) the largest city in the country, with its array of wonderful gold-leafed pagodas stretching into the sky.
At the centre of downtown Yangon is the Sule Pagoda where you remove your shoes before entering and then pour water on the Buddha who represents the day of the week that you were born; this is a local Buddhist tradition. Outside Sule Pagoda, fortune tellers will read your palm, or you can buy a dove – waiting in a small cage - for its freedom. It is a Buddhist tradition to set free a captive bird.
Bogyoke Market, built in 1920, is a place of hustle and bustle. You can buy fish, poultry, chillies, green vegetables, herbs and spices, and watermelon and papaya. Also on offer are exquisite fabrics and materials to take home and turn into garments or chair coverings.
Shwedagon Pagoda is another not to be missed. It has bright marble floors, colourful spinning wheels and a wide range of Bhuddas in gold. Looking up you will see a 325’ high stupa – the path to enlightenment. Pop into the Strand Hotel for a drink – Pimms, or Dragon lager, perhaps – while you meditate on previous guests from years gone by, such as Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham and George Orwell.
In Yangon there are no motorbikes – they are illegal – so you walk, drive a car, or take a bus. As an alternative, taxis are really cheap; you can go from one side of the city to the other for less than NZ$4. You need to take cash as not many places accept credit cards. Yangon, of course, is not the only place to visit in Myanmar. There is Mandalay, where the people ride bikes in preference to any other mode of transport.
In Monywa, you can visit the mountain caves and enjoy the incredible murals and stone carvings covering the walls. Ngwe Saung Beach is one of the longest in South East Asia, measuring some nine miles long. There is an amazing view over the Bay of Bengal, especially in the evening when the sun goes down.
The food in Myanmar borders on Thai food, but without so much of the spices. Rice is a staple but the meals are served with one dish following another. Seafood and vegetables are staple, but the succession of side dishes may be par-boiled vegetables, or fresh, served with various dips. Noodles are also popular and you will get all the green tea you can drink.
If you don’t like rain, the best months to visit are from November through to February. Between March and May the weather becomes very hot (40° C and more), and from mid-May come the monsoons, which can carry on until October.
Festivals are held on almost every day of the year somewhere in the country. The people always seem to have something to celebrate. Street theatre is popular and may take the form of acting out Buddhist legends, or might be light-hearted with slapstick comedy. For your holiday to Myanmar we have guided tours and also packages for small groups available.