Since the election of a democratic government in 2010, tourism in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma during British colonial times) has gathered pace at an extraordinary rate. The country was cut off from the outside world in 1962 and its borders only reopened in the mid-1990s, so many areas are little changed. Despite this, the tourism sector locally has risen impressively to the challenge of the surge in foreign visitors and you’ll find knowledgeable guides with excellent English and comfortable, often luxurious hotels.
The obvious gems are Mandalay with its 19th century art and architecture, Bagan and its thousands of temples and Inle Lake. Off the beaten track you’ll find cool British hill stations, wonderful rural villages, working elephant camps and deserted beaches. Much of life revolves around the mighty Irrawaddy and we recommend including a river voyage on your trip, staying for one to 14 nights on one of the fleet of brass and teak ex-flotilla boats that ply the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers.
Ngapali has excellent beaches, but for real escapism head to the Mergui Archipelago in the far south. Just couple of hours’ sail takes you to a true barefoot paradise with superb diving and snorkeling, hikes and kayaking. It’s not for boutique luxury seekers but it’s well worth the journey.
More than all its gilded temples, Burma’s crowning glory remains its people. In spite of all that they’ve endured, they retain their extraordinary air of peace and tranquility, always with a ready smile, a gentle bow and a helping hand.
Fiona’s travel tipsTOP TIP: Wear shoes that slip on and off easily as you’ll have to remove them every time you visit a pagoda or other sacred site.
BEST KEPT SECRET: For a superb beach drop out, visit the Mergui Archipelago. This group of 800 islands is totally unspoiled and a real barefoot experience.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: October to March with December to February the coolest months.
DO READ: The River of Lost Footsteps: A personal history by Thant Myint-U; The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh; Letters From Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi; Burmese Days by George Orwell; The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason.
JOURNEY TIME: 13.5 hours (flights not direct)
“Very useful to have planning meetings before the trip. The trip itself was well organised – a very good introduction to Myanmar and Cambodia. The overall tour was excellent.”
Mr and Mrs Patrick Johnstone and Ms Susan Matthew, Burma and Cambodia, February 2016
“It worked well having one guide throughout our time in Yangon, Kalaw and Inle. He wasn't over intrusive or under informative. Just right. We loved the Amara in Kalaw and Green Hill Elephant Camp, really instructive and hands on. We had a fantastic time on the Pandaw boat including an excellent Christmas dinner and a spectacular New Year’s Eve on a vast sandy beach lit by bamboo torches, complete with ghetto blaster, retro music and dancing chefs. We loved the Raffles Grand at Siem Reap – I’ll miss the 35m pool for a long time. Our drivers throughout were excellent. Thank you for a wonderful trip!”
Mr and Mrs Graham Bell, Myanmar and Cambodia, December 2015-January 2016
“A really good and memorable trip. It worked really well having a national guide throughout Myanmar. We particularly enjoyed the elephant washing, handicraft demonstrations, cycle trip, trek and the train journey.”
Hugh and Ann Kersey, Cambodia and Myanmar, January 2016
“I have been to Burma on four previous occasions, each time on the RV Katha. I am writing to say my last trip was, arguably, the best yet. Everything was wonderful - the food, the care of the passengers, the friendliness of the crew and our informative and hard working guide. Pandaw's attention to detail was also appreciated - provision of bananas for the elephants, the lanterns for the Full Moon Festival and everything else that helped to make the trip memorable.
After we got stuck on the sandbank I even enjoyed clambering aboard the ‘speedboat’ at 3 am in order to catch my flight from Mandalay to Yangon. Incidentally I missed it but the guide found me another and then said it would be held until I arrived!
Please pass on my sincere thanks to your crew for an entertaining trip, and for their kindness in looking after me (although, perhaps the deep-fried crickets with chilli and ginger were not such a good idea!).
Marianne Spender, Pagan and Upper Irrawaddy cruise, Burma
“You provide an easy to use customisation of our itinerary – our favourite aspects of the trip were the hill tribes, train journey, elephant camp and, of course, the people. The holiday was a delight."
Nick and Ellen Maunder, Myanmar
“Thanks for doing another excellent job in arranging such a hugely enjoyable and successful trip. It’s certainly further increased our appetite for adventurous exotic travel outside the major tourist destinations and we look forward to planning our next trip with you.”
Andrew Mounstephen and Suzanne Waterer, Myanmar
“We had a wonderful week – our guide was very knowledgeable and spoke good English.”
Mr and Mrs Andrew Roberts, Myanmar
“Thanks for the welcome home – but we wish we were still on holiday as we really enjoyed it. Everything went to plan and your local partners were a brilliant company to get us from A to B. The guides were very helpful and the drivers safe and secure.”
Steven and Ruth Parker-Davidson, Myanmar
“It was an extremely well organized holiday and gave us a thorough insight into Myanmar. The visit was enhanced by an exceptionally good guide who had a good command of English.”
Mr and Mrs Chris Johnson, Myanmar
“This trip was a unique experience, particularly Burma, and your organisation was absolutely perfect.”
Mr and Mrs Urs Brugger, Myanmar
“A great trip, with a nice range and balance and things to see and do. Thanks again it was wonderful.”
Mr and Mrs George Goulding, Myanmar