Its varied landscapes, peculiar traditions and the warm welcome you'll invariably receive from its inhabitants mean that Burma can and should be explored slowly. Now more and more accessible to tourists, this country offers all the beauty you could ask for, with splendid beaches, flamboyant wildlife and snow-capped mountains. Those in need of new horizons and a fresh outlook on travel should put Myanmar at the top of their list.Waterways
Sharing borders with Thailand, India and China, you'll find that Myanmar has for many centuries been in close cultural exchange with its neighbours. To see it, one of the best ways is to jump on a river cruise and sail your way luxuriously down the Irrawaddy. The entire country, particularly to the south, is covered with rivers which offer a novel way to explore its varied landscapes and rich wildlife.Temples and pagodas
Burma may not be the most accessible country but once you're there the effort all feels worth it. From the temples of Bagan to the floating tomato gardens of Inle Lake, the country will open your eyes to a unique way of life. Mandalay, with its numerous monasteries and pagodas, is home to half of the country's population of monks, as well as enough bicycles to equip an army. Yangon, the charming colonial capital and biggest city in Myanmar, still has a touch of the British about it, along with myriad Chinese, Burmese and Indian influences.Beaches to jungles
There aren't many places in Asia which can boast Burma's insane variety of landscapes. With relatively short distances between them, especially for those making use of the country's domestic flight network, you can be relaxing on the southern beaches of Ngapali one day and exploring the jungles of the coastal regions the next. From here, it's not too long a stretch up the Irrawaddy to reach the snowy peaks of the northern Himalayas.Pilgrimage sites
It's not just the well-known sites of Yangon and Mandalay, Lake Inle and the Bagan temples that Burma offers up for explorers. Hidden amongst them you'll find the curious Mount Popa, central Burma's volcano which stands an impressive 1,500m above sea level and possibly best known as a pilgrimage site, with nat (Burmese spirit) temples and ancient relic sites at its summit. Further south and not far from Yangon, you'll find the important Buddhist pilgrimage site of Kyaiktiyo Pagoda - a giant, golden rock perched dangerously on the edge of cliff which is believed to turn all who see it to the path of Buddhism.
Surface area : 676578.0 km2
Population : 4834000 inhabitants
Time difference : UTC/GMT +6:30 hours
Burmese subsoil is rich in ruby, sapphire and opal. You will find very beautiful and affordable sets in jewellery shops, though be on the lookout for fake gems! Handicraft objects are beautiful and varied: pieces of lacquerware, bronze buddhas or musicians, silver objects such as boxes, vases or goblets.
Taking antiques and ancient religious objects out of the country is prohibited. Don't leave without a few cheerots - hand-made Burmese cigars. Shop opening times: 9 am to 6 pm, from Monday to Friday, 9 am to 1 pm on Saturdays.
Burmese food is based on fish, served with rice or vegetables. One of the most popular dishes is called mohinga, a soup with fish, noodles, coriander and onion. There are also many different prawn and seafood dishes. The Burmese are big on seasonings: curry, coconut, garlic and chilli are the principal ingredients you'll find in the local dishes. Vegetables are the basic ingredient of most soups.
As far as desserts are concerned, the country has an abundant supply of fresh fruit, including green melons, pineapples, bananas and papayas. You'll also find coconut flavoured semolina puddings, or banana cakes.
Local beer can be found almost everywhere, along with wine in very select areas - there's even a vineyard at Aythay, not far from Lake Inle and run by a Frenchman since 2004.
Burmese traditions and customs are closely linked to Buddhism. You must dress conventionally and avoid any provocative clothing. Don't shout or speak too loudly, or point at someone or something with your foot. You should also avoid touching children's heads, as well as monks' heads - a grave offence for Buddhists - and remember to take your shoes off in temples.
In general, be yourself, don't try to imitate local customs and don't do anything you wouldn't do at home! That said, why not adopt the longhi or sarong (the Thai version of it), which is the skirt worn by both men and women in Burma. This type of clothing allows you to cope with extreme heat while remaining "decent" !
In order to have enough time to really enjoy the country's main sites, we'd recommend a trip of at least ten days, if not longer. Burma's roads are often in poor condition and not suitable for driving from place to place quickly. Many visitors choose to make the longer journeys by plane, which can often be pricey.
There are no direct flights to Burma from the UK, with most routes going via Bangkok, Singapore or Doha. On arrival, tourists must pay a 10 USD entry fee.
The best period to visit Myanmar is from October to April, in other words the country's dry, sunny season. The monsoon rains arrive from May to the beginning of October, with particularly high temperatures throughout July and August. November is something of a transition month between the two periods, and often said to be the best period for taking photos.
Credit cards are not widely accepted throughout the country - only a few luxury hotels and boutiques in Yangon, Mandalay and Ngapali have the facilities to accept payment this way. There are also very few cash machines so make sure you arrive with plenty of cash in dollars, in perfect conditions with no tears, writing, creases or folds - locals will often not accept notes if they have been ruined in any way.
If you're travelling to Burma, be prepared to go without a phone. Mobile networks and non-existent and whilst internet is more accessible than it used to be, especially in hotels and airports, you won't find great connections everywhere.
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