Category: Burma


Stick your head out the open windows of the world’s bounciest trains and perfect the art of riding motorcycles side-saddle. Rumble down quiet back roads on ancient bullock carts or swish along by car, and chug down the Irrawaddy on stately government ferries.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Burmese transport!

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Photographer Ron Yue tells us what he’s most excited about seeing in Burma on our new photography holiday, Burma through a Lens

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Thanks to long tradition and a shaky power supply, handmade industries thrive in Burma. We take a look at – appropriately enough – a handful…

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Wherever your itinerary takes you, travel in Burma is sure to provide a wealth of new experiences – whether you’re air-kissing at your waiter in a city teahouse or witnessing your first nat ceremony.

This is our guide to ten of the country’s best experiences…


a5758d9c-5ab8-4c2f-b93f-03d3acf66a231. Breakfast in a Burmese teahouse

 

Enthusiastic tea boys dodge between the tables, slopping tea into saucers and serving up deep-fried snacks. Patrons air kiss loudly to attract the staff’s attention, their eyes on the football match on TV and their minds on teashop gossip. From Mandalay’s traffic-choked streets to dusty village lanes, Burma’s teahouses are local institutions. Stop for a bowl of mohinga – the nation’s favourite noodle soup, or refuel with a char kway (a Chinese-style doughnut) dunked in a delicious cup of sweet, milky tea.

 


98f1fee8-f36b-43e9-a90f-399e057642172. Explore Buddhism’s quirky side

 

Myanmar’s Theravada Buddhism is shot through with a thick vein of mystery and magic, with enough off-beat sights and stories to revive the interest of the most jaded temple-goer. Meet alchemist monks searching for the secret to eternal life at Hpa-An’s crag-top pagoda; explore caverns filled with thousands of gilded statues in Pindaya; and see eye-to-eye with a ten-storey tall Buddha in Pyay.

 


ec6f342f-81f8-42d1-8ea7-1fda8462f3013. Revive yourself with tea leaf salad

 

Enthusiastic tea drinkers, the Burmese are one of the few cultures to eat tea as well, in the form of lahpet thouq or tealeaf salad. Fried garlic and broad beans, chopped tomato and whole green chillies are added to piles of deep green, slightly pickled tealeaves, creating something like pesto with a strong caffeine kick, making it a popular pick-me-up for sleepy students and flagging sightseers alike.

 


b3789182-14a8-4373-beab-f7642e3d9a4d4. Get wet during Thingyan

 

While in theory, Thingyan – the week-long Burmese New Year festival – is a time to solemnly reaffirm one’s Buddhist beliefs, to the outside observer it seems more like a raucous, countrywide water fight. As temperatures soar each April, everyday life grinds to a halt and children and teenagers take to the streets to soak each other and passers-by (foreigners are singled out with particular relish) with buckets and out-sized water pistols. Festivities reach fever pitch in Mandalay, where streets are lined with makeshift stages from which revellers hose down passing motorists to a booming soundtrack of local hits.

 

 


 

d6cfd5cd-0cf3-4f82-a914-cbb6dfd291c65. Nurture a jaggery addiction

 

Irregular, caramel-coloured lumps of jaggery are one of the great pleasures of a Burmese meal. Made from boiled toddy palm sap and jokingly called “Burmese chocolate”, jaggery is exceedingly addictive whether plain or flavoured with coconut shreds and sesame seeds. However unhappy it might make your dentist back home, cultivating a serious jaggery habit is certainly healthier than Myanmar’s other great tooth-rotting pastime – chewing kwoon-ya, lip-staining little parcels of betel nut, tobacco and slaked lime.

 

 


 

c92c4e48-5857-4dfa-ac63-f090999ac17f6. Go to market

 

Barefoot porters pad down crowded aisles shouldering crates of limes, stallholders lean against sacks of onions lazily smoking cheroots, while prospective buyers prod green mangoes and examine glistening fish. Go for a stroll through any messy morning market and you’ll discover something new, from the novel (Burmese herbal shampoo) and delicious (crispy bein moun pancakes smeared with jaggery syrup), to the malodorous (shapely piles of ngapi fish paste speared with smoking incense sticks).

 


2ddd4da0-d0dd-4aeb-b3f1-519928c91b547. Join a nat ceremony

Transvestite natkadaws ply a middle-aged lady with cigarettes and whisky as she gyrates to music from a traditional orchestra. Members of the audience tuck 1,000-kyat notes into her clothing to propitiate the nat who has possessed her. Although Burma’s indigenous belief system – that the world is suffused by a collection of unruly spirits that require frequent mollification with alcohol, music and money – contrasts sharply with Buddhism’s emphasis on restraint and quiet reflection, many Burmese people happily believe in both. The best place to see ceremonies is at Mount Popa, the country’s most important centre of nat worship.

 


dd2210ba-f9a9-4fe5-a7a1-fb7450ca78cc8. Try thanaka

Each morning Burmese women and children daub their cheeks with powdery yellow swipes of thanaka, a natural sunblock and cosmetic made from the ground bark of the wood apple tree. However you feel about its beautifying abilities – that tawny shade of yellow isn’t for everyone – freshly applied thanaka is wonderfully cooling, and makes your face smell great for hours.

 

 


 
 
41232168-00cb-4181-bbfb-0082a734bf4f9. Try on a longyi

Once you’ve sorted out your thanaka, the natural next step is to get yourself a longyi – a tube of fabric worn by men and women across Burma. The male version (known as a paso) is often nattily checked or striped, and tied with a knot in front, while the female version (a htamein, as shown in the photo) is more richly patterned, and tucked into a fold around the waist. Pick out your favourite design and take it to a tailor, who will sew it up for you (though one size essentially fits all) and you’re all set – just ensure that it’s tied tightly enough to avoid any inadvertent flashing…

 


10. Take it easy

d5122575-f322-4aa7-a710-955e9cf802c4Wherever your itinerary takes you, something about a trip to Burma invites you to tackle life more slowly, whether you’re following a bullock cart down a country road or spending an afternoon lazily looking out over the Andaman Sea from a hammock. Slow travel at its most natural, and best!

 


Experience the best of Burma with us…

A BURMESE JOURNEY: From the Lanna Kingdom to the Bay of Bengal

This journey is a discovery of Burma’s beautiful scenery and traditions.
This spectacular itinerary will take you from Chiang Mai, Thailand, former capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom through Burma – the “Golden Land” – to the Bay of Bengal

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  • 12 or 17 Day-journey (Please note that while the full journey is 17 days, we also offer a shorter version. Please contact us for details.)
  • Chiang Mai – Mae Sot – Hpa An – Taungoo – Inle Lake – Pindaya – Mandalay – Bagan – Magwe – Pyay – Ngapali
  • Journey Dossier 
  • Travel Dates: Nov 3 – Nov 19, 2017 /Nov 24 – Dec 10, 2017/Jan 9 – Jan 25, 2018/Feb 8 – Feb 24, 2018
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Bagan is one of Burma’s most popular destinations.
Is it worth the hype?


Somewhere in the middle of Burma, the once-thriving kingdom of Bagan lies in ruins. Thousands of pagodas – some well-preserved, others little more than heaps of ornate bricks – cover the left bank of the Irrawaddy on the inside of a giant southward bend.

The heaps of bricks grew a little more numerous in August 2016, when a 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit Central Myanmar. 185 of Bagan’s monuments sustained major damage. However, says one architect who surveyed the site in the earthquake’s aftermath, “…the damage could have been much worse”. In many cases, the worst damaged temples were those that had been most heavily (and shoddily) reconstructed in the late 1990s, and several important pagodas – Sulamani, North Guni and That Bin Nyu – remain closed.

For all that, however, at sunrise and sunset, in the warm light of the “golden hour”, crowds are still drawn to temple terraces to see the awe-inspiring landscape below, as hot-air balloons drift lazily over the temple-littered Bagan Plain – a sight that draws many to visit Burma in the first place.

_KHL7018-Bagan

Despite being one of Burma’s top destinations, Bagan’s size (roughly 100km2) diffuses the impact of visitor numbers. It’s possible to explore – by horse and cart, bicycle or car – and to see few other visitors, save for at the most popular pagodas and attractions. The region’s small towns and villages remain sleepy, even by Burmese standards.

_KHL6942-Bagan

Peaceful though Bagan may be today, its history has featured plenty of drama. Bamar raiders from Yunnan founded a settlement here in the middle of the 9th century. By 1044, when the energetic King Anawrahta acceded the throne, Bagan had grown into a statelet that stretched as far as Mandalay and Magway. Anawrahta transformed his kingdom, uniting most of the territories that comprise modern Burma for the first time, establishing Buddhism as the Bagan’s foremost religion, and building the first pagodas.

Monk in corridor

Pagodas, or paya as they’re known in Burmese, are built to accrue merit, erasing sins and earning their sponsor an easier rebirth. Given the appalling behaviour of some of Bagan’s monarchs, the reason for the sheer numbers of paya here becomes clearer; a twelfth-century king, Narathu, constructed the vast Dhammayangyi Paya (pictured below) in the hope that it would improve his karma after murdering his father, brother and wife. (It seems doubtful that this worked, at least in that particular incarnation – he survived just two years on the throne before being assassinated by his angry father-in-law.)

Justin Vidamo Dhammayangyi Pahto

Eventually, in the late thirteenth century the Kublai Khan’s Mongol armies launched a series of attacks against the kingdom. Although they never reached Bagan itself, the last king, Narathihapate, fled south anyway, earning himself the soubriquet Tayok-pyay-min, “The King who ran away from the Chinese”, his empire ceasing to exist almost overnight.

Bagan’s heyday may have ended when the Mongols left Burma in 1303, but in contrast its builders’ and artisans’ legacy has endured for seven centuries, surviving earthquakes and monsoon floods. The sheer scale of the site, the significance of its history, and the beauty of its architecture and art rightfully give Bagan a place on most “must-see” lists, whether you’re a specialist in Asian art, or simply want a really unforgettable balloon ride.

_KHL6953-Bagan

With so many monuments, it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to exploring Bagan. Our advice is to take your time – rush and you’re likely to become rapidly templed-out. Old Bagan, with the site’s densest and most diverse collection of temples, makes a logical starting point, but thereafter you might prefer to wander at will, perhaps with one of the major temples elsewhere as an end destination. Many of the less-visited temples are locked (although caretakers often magically appear to unlock the doors when needed, for a small tip – around K500), and it’s a good idea to take a torch to appreciate the murals that decorate many pagodas.

As far as sunset and sunrise go, the Myanmar government is currently building four viewing points that will reduce the wear-and-tear on Bagan’s ancient buildings. Once the last of these is completed, the viewing sites at older temples will be closed. For now, however, you can still sit atop ancient, sun-warmed walls and watch the dying rays of the sun over beautiful Bagan. Some temples may be closed or swathed in scaffolding, and it may be one of the country’s major destinations, but yes, it is very much still worth visiting.

But beyond Bagan and its temples lies the rest of Burma. The country is changing quickly, but there is little sense of this outside of Yangon and Mandalay. In the countryside, life continues unhurriedly; women still wash clothes and wriggling children in the Irrawaddy, men still drive bullock carts down dusty country roads and sip palm wine in the shade. For many visitors – myself included – it is Burmese people and countryside life that provide the most vivid memories from a journey here. When you are planning your own Burmese journey, make sure that you, too, go beyond Bagan.

Boat on Inle Lake

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Experience the best of Burma with us…

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BURMA THROUGH A LENS

Explore Burma with your camera and professional photographer, Ron Yue.

We take you to Bagan and beyond on this special photography journey, designed to showcase Burma’s most photogenic places.

  • 10 Day-journey
  • Yangon Nay Pyi Taw Inle Lake Pindaya Mandalay Bagan
  • Travel Dates: Nov 21 – 30, 2017

118da45f-a1f9-46f5-a5ed-afa3131ddd59

A BURMESE JOURNEY: From the Lanna Kingdom to the Bay of Bengal

This journey is a discovery of Burma’s beautiful scenery and traditions.
This spectacular itinerary will take you from Chiang Mai, Thailand, former capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom through Burma – the “Golden Land” – to the Bay of Bengal

  • 12 or 17 Day-journey (Please note that while the full journey is 17 days, we also offer a shorter version. Please contact us for details.)
  • Chiang Mai – Mae Sot – Hpa An – Taungoo – Inle Lake – Pindaya – Mandalay – Bagan – Magwe – Pyay – Ngapali
  • Travel Dates: Nov 3 – Nov 19, 2017 /Nov 24 – Dec 10, 2017/Jan 9 – Jan 25, 2018/Feb 8 – Feb 24, 2018
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