Men in skirt-like longyi. Women covered in thanakha, traditional make-up from ground bark. Side-street vendors. Thousands of history-rich pagodas and monuments. This is Myanmar, also known as the “Golden Land.” Nestled in between India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand, it is one of the most mysterious countries of Southeast Asia. Also known as Burma, travel in Myanmar had been made famous by the likes of Rudyard Kipling’s and George Orwell’s writings since the colonial times. Centuries later, Myanmar still is as Rudyard Kipling described in 1880’s, “it is quite unlike any place you know about”. Besides being home to thousands of monuments preserved from centuries-old civilizations, Myanmar is also rich in culture and tradition. In fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of traveling in Myanmar is the opportunity to interact with the welcoming locals and learn about their culture and way of life. So when you travel to Myanmar, be sure to try their mouth-watering national dishes such as mohinga, rice noodles in fish soup, and laphet thote, the famous pickled green tea leaf salad!
Myanmar is the 40th largest country in the world and the largest country in Southeast Asia with a total land area of 676,577 square kilometers – about the size of Texas. It lies on the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea coast, and is surrounded by countries such as Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand. Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) river is the lifeline of the country and rushes down through beautiful mountains and into one of the largest river deltas in Asia. In fact, two of Myanmar’s biggest cities – Yangon and Mandalay – are situated along this river. It is culturally diverse with 135 ethnic groups, each with its own uniqueness in language and tradition. Seven states are represented by major ethnic groups – Kachin, Kayah , Kayin, Chin, Mon, and Rakkhine, Shan State. Seven divisions – Yangon, Bago, Magway, Sagaing, Mandalay, Tanintharyi, and Ayeyarwaddy – are mostly represented by Burman (Bamar). Those who would like travel in Myanmar by water can navigate through almost two thirds of its length (1,600 km/1,000 mi) and witness the stunning sceneries Myanmar has to offer.
Myanmar has a rich history, starting with first-known human settlements 13,000 years ago. In 2nd century BC, the Phyu people became the first settlers in Myanmar. They founded several city states such as Prome (Pyay) and adopted Buddhism as their religion by the 4th century. By the early 9th century, the Mon people entered the country and established city states of their own along the lower Myanmar coastline. Around the same time, the Mranma (Bamar) people of the Nanzhao Kingdom entered the upper Irrawaddy valley and established the Pagan Empire. Slowly, the Myanmar language and culture replaced the Phyu and Mon after Pagan’s fall in 1287. Small kingdoms, such as Ava, Hanthawaddy, Arakan, and Shan states, were in constant struggle for power and warring for control of the land. In the late16th century, the country was unified by Toungoo Dynasty (1510–1752) and became the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia. In the 17th and early 18th century, the kingdom, peaceful and prosperous, albeit smaller, was ruled by Toungoo kings. The Konbaung Dynasty (1752–1885) restored the kingdom successfully, producing the most literate states in Asia in the second half of the 18th century.
Myanmar is a diverse country with 135 ethnic groups, the main ones being Mons, Burmans, Kachins, Chins, Shans, Rakhine, and Karens. For generations, each racial group has resided in distinct parts of the country. Although there are over a hundred different languages, the main language spoken is Myanmar (Burmese). The population of Myanmar is estimated to be around 60millions – last time census taken was in 1983. The country is most sparsely populated in East Asia with density of 67 persons per sq km. There are diverse religious groups in Myanmar ranging from Buddhists, Muslims to Christians. A good example of Myanmar’s diversity can be seen in center of Yangon, where a mosque is situated next to a pagoda with a church across the street. The majority of people follow Buddhism with estimated 89% of population. Culturally, elders and teachers are given much respect and people have generosity towards one another. Buddhists put a high value on pagodas and monasteries, treating them as holy, sacred places. Whether there is a language barrier or not, Myanmar people are generally very courteous and polite. When you tour in Myanmar, you will find that they will assist you in any way they can to make you feel welcome in their country.
Myanmar is an all year round destination for tourists, although rain could be heavy during some months. Myanmar's climate is divided into three seasons: Summer season (February to May), Rainy season (June to September) and Winter season (October to January). The average temperature in Myanmar ranges from 19°C to 38°C, or 66°F to 100°F. During the hottest days, the temperature could be around 43°C or 110°F. Generally, rainfall is expected every day during rainy season. The central Myanmar, such as Bagan and Mandalay, does not get much rain during the rainy season and is a good place to visit to stay dry if you want to travel to Myanmar from June to September. The best time to visit Myanmar is between November and February. During these months, it rains the least and the weather is at its coolest.
The currency of Myanmar is in Kyats (MMK), which is available in notes of K 10,000, K 5,000, K 1,000, K 500, K 200, K 100, K 50, K 20 and K 10. It is quite rare to find smaller notes, such as 20 and 10 kyats notes, and you will notice that cashiers will sometimes round up or down to accommodate the shortage. The most used notes are in 1,000 and 5,000 denominations, however, you will find that it is useful to carry 500 and 200 kyat notes when travelling the rural areas in Myanmar. The coins are a thing of the past since inflation pushed the prices high.
Do you like Chinese food? Indian food? How about Thai food? Myanmar cuisine is influenced by a mixture of all these. Walk out onto the street and you will be greeted by the mouthwatering smell of all kinds of traditional food from the vendors. Food plays a big role in the culture as Myanmar people build friendships and connections during meal times. Myanmar cuisine is known for its extensive use of fish products such as ngapi (fish paste) and ngan pyar yay (fish sauce). Rice dishes will often be accompanied by ngapi yay (condiment made from salted, fermented fish and dry chilli), which you will dip with fresh or steamed vegetables. Mohinga (rice vermicelli soup made with fish broth), and laphet thote (pickled green tea leaf salad) are typically most popular type of foods in Myanmar. A traditional Myanmar meal consists of a bowl of soup, rice, several meat curries, vegetable dish, ngapi yay and toesaya (boiled or raw vegetables used for dipping with ngapi yay).
Myanmar is a host of beautiful monuments, fascinating pagodas, eye-catching sceneries, and rich culture. Whether you want to explore the ancient site with over two thousand pagoda or relax on beautiful Ngapali beach with a drink in your hand, you can always find something to be fascinated with in this country. Since the transition to a new democratic government in August 2011, Myanmar has opened up the door for more tourists and is becoming more tourist-friendly. Travel to Myanmar is now made easy by major international airlines offering direct flights from Europe to Yangon, and also international flights to Mandalay were added in 2013. Due to its high-demand, hotels in Myanmar are booked months ahead and they tend to be relatively more expensive compared to other countries in the Region. Travel and tours in Myanmar are also on the expensive end as the tourist industry is still developing to try to meet the demand. Once in Myanmar, it is not uncommon for locals to smile at you and offer you drinks or gifts as a way of welcoming you to their country.
There are several direct international flights to Yangon and Mandalay. The most frequent flights to Yangon are from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Bangkok to Yangon flight is only about 1 hour and 20 minutes long with more than nine daily flights to choose from; the airlines offering direct flights to Yangon are: Bangkok Airways, Golden Myanmar Airlines, Myanmar Airways International, Thai Airways and Thai AirAsia (Don Mueang Int’l – DMK flights only). There are also several daily flights from Bangkok to Mandalay which takes about 1 hour and 50 minutes; airlines that offer direct lights are: Bangkok Airways, Golden Myanmar Airlines, Myanmar Airways International, Thai Airways and Thai AirAsia (Don Mueang Int’l – DMK flights only).
Kuala Lumpur to Yangon flight is about 2 hours and 45 minutes and there are four flights daily; airlines offering direct flights between Kuala Lumpur (KUL) and Yangon (RGN) are: Air Asia, Malaysia Airlines and Myanmar Airways International.
Singapore to Yangon flight is 3 hours long and there are more than seven direct flights daily; airlines offering direct flights are: Golden Myanmar Airlines, Jetstar Asia, Myanmar Airways International, Silkair and Singapore Airlines. There are also direct daily flights between Singapore and Mandalay which takes about 4 hours, operated by Golden Myanmar Airlines.
Other international direct flights to Myanmar are:
Chiang Mai (CNX) to Yangon (RGN) flight time is about 1 hour 20 minute, flights are twice a week operated by Air Bagan
Inle Lake Shan Hills (TaungGyi) Heho
Ngwe Saung Beach
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