Unsullied beaches, ancient Pagan temples and the thrill of adventure make Burma the perfect holiday spot for curious and cash-savvy travellers, says Liz Connor
Until fairly recently, Myanmar was off limits to wanderlust Westerners. But after five decades of military rule and consequent democratic reform, Asia’s formerly Junta-controlled diamond in the rough has finally opened its crystal shores to nirvana-seekers who missed the unblemished beauty of Thailand 25 years ago.
Now tourists are flocking to the Asian country in droves, curious to explore Myanmar’s majestic temples, primeval jungle and unspoilt beaches, which have for so long remained concealed and gloriously untouched.
Here are ten reasons why you should discover the gilded “Golden Land” for yourself this year.
1. You can visit the Bagan temples
The ancient city of Bagan, nestled in the green Mandalay region of Burma, is home to a vast temple site to rival the magnificence of Machu Picchu and Hampi. From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the kingdom’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day. The result is a sprawling landscape of remote, temple-studded plains, lush with other-worldly magnificence that can be explored and experienced on foot or by bike.
2. You can go hot-air ballooning
Anyone who has visited Bagan will tell you that the best way to see Mandalay’s ancient temples is by ascending the landscape in a balloon. Australian Brett Melzer and his Yangon-born wife, Khin Omar Win, started Balloons over Bagan with a single balloon in 1999 and have been sharing the aerial beauty of rural Myanmar with visitors ever since. Acrophobics who want to keep two feet firmly on the ground will still want to make an early morning trip to the area to catch the unusual sight of these red balloons dominating the early-morning skyline.
3. It’s cheap
Unfathomably so. If you’re looking for an inexpensive international adventure, Myanmar should be top of your list. Sadly the sudden spike in tourists has inflated the cost of hanging your hat, but budget-friendly hostels are still dotted around the country and can cost as little as £14 per night. Lodgings aside, dining like a king in Myanmar is easily afforded. A traditional meal will cost you just one or two pounds, while a beer to swill it down with will set you back just 70p.
4. The cuisine is unique
London foodies who’ve exhausted the menu at Sexy Fish and Chiltern Firehouse will be able to find something they will not yet have sampled on Mayfair’s well-heeled streets.