a top trip: best of burma

initiation ceremony burma myanmarIntrepid has a legacy of bringing travellers to some of the world’s most intriguing regions and with this in mind we are very excited to recommence trips in Burma. Before opting to return it was important that we could ensure as much money as possible would go directly into the pockets of the locals and fortunately Intrepid’s grassroots trip style lends itself to targeting where tourist dollars are spent. A great deal of research has gone into planning our first Burma trip since 2003 and Intrepid’s Cathy Walken was amongst our advance party…

“Going to Burma was a tough decision. I’d been putting-off travelling here until it was considered more appropriate to do so. Recent changes in the country have meant that there’s been some ‘relaxing’ of the attitude about travelling to Burma and I’m pleased, as it was such a delight to travel here. Though there were too many highlights to mention, I wanted to share some of them here…

1) Schwedagon Paya – I’d not actually ever heard of this until I started researching Burma, but it really should be classed as one of the great monuments of the world. It’s a city of gleaming gold spires and Buddha statues that is immense, beautiful and a site of pilgrimage for Buddhists the world over.

2) Inle Lake – I honestly had limited expectations of how amazing a lake could be. Inle Lake itself is calm with clear waters, but it’s the activity on the waters’ edge that makes it so amazing. There are tributaries with floating farms – literally floating reed beds with market gardens growing on top – held in place by bamboo poles in the water so the reeds can move up and down in place. The fishermen on the lake are an attraction unto themselves as they fish using methods that are centuries old. The local markets in the north or Burma are superb with virtually no branding anywhere and all kinds of wonderful food and ethnic minorities in traditional dress completing the picture.

3) Downtown Rangoon (Yangon) – while cities are generally not my thing, walking around Rangoon was a real highlight. I spent a day zig-zagging the streets, checking out how the Burmese people live and work in the city. I saw colourful markets, old fashioned barber shops with barber chairs straight out of the past, people on the sidewalks playing checkers made with homemade boards, street-food being prepared on the footpaths – and all with the occasional monk walking into view in their burgundy robes – particular to Burma.

4) Buddhist culture – while I was there I witnessed a few initiation ceremonies where local families initiated their children to become Buddhist novices. The ceremonies are colourful events with the local community turn out to join in or watch the festivities. It was incredibly interesting to witness, see the importance placed on this right of passage and to see the fancy clothes that the ladies wear to these events. (pictured)

5) The people – you hear a lot about ‘the people’ making a destination so special. And In Burma this is definitely the case. The Burmese people are so incredibly friendly and interested in talking to you that you can barely walk down the street without striking up a conversation with someone. Their warmth and patience and smiles make simply being in Burma a complete pleasure.

There loads more highlights of Burma – too many to talk about here. You’ll just have to go. One word of advice however, is to carefully consider your cash! There are no ATMs in Burma and you should not use travellers cheques. You need to talk cash in USDs that are perfectly (I mean perfectly) crisp, clean, unfolded notes in higher denominations. Exchange into Burmese Kyat in Rangoon (definitely NOT at the airport).”

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* photo by Cathy Walken

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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17 comments

My friend and I are booking to go on the Burma tour in July – very excited!

I was in Burma Jan 2010 on a tour of approx 20 days by myself. I had a young local guide with me most of the time which made it very easy. I’ve done lots of traveling throughout Asia and I loved it so much I cannot wait to go back. There was not one thing I didn’t like – the sights and history are to die for, the food is gorgeous, I stayed in some wonderful places and the people are just wonderful. I finished my trip with 3 days at Ngapali Beach. This is a must-do if you can spare the time – its one of the most peaceful and magic beaches I have been and would be fantastic for couples. English speaking tourists are rare wherever I went.

I’m travelling there sole with a couple of others in early March 2013. It looks and sounds absolutely amazing!

Sounds absolutely fascinating place to visit. But morally and ethically not sure I wanna support regime. Mind you with Hilary Clinton’s visit, maybe change could be on the way, once the government realises how much tourism could benefit their economy.

Hi Joyce,
Thanks for your comment. Intrepid would not be returning to Burma if we didn’t feel it was safe for our travellers and staff. The people are incredibly warm and welcoming, but as applies to travelling in any unfamiliar places, it pays to be aware of your surrounds and not flaunt your wealth. Travelling with a small group is a great advantage because you have the knowledge and advice of your local guide plus the support and friendship of your group.
In regards to the physical demands of the trip for older travellers, Best of Burma is an Intrepid Original trip with a physical grading of 2 out of 5, so it’s not very strenuous and as long as you can carry your own bags, walk easily up stairs or for extended periods and are happy to sleep on deck on a boat for night, then you’ll have a great time. If you can cycle too that’s a bonus, as a wonderful bike ride is included – but you can opt out if you wish. More info can be found in the trip notes which details the daily activities: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/trips/ttsm
Best wishes,
Sue, Intrepid Express editor

Hi Becky,
To answer your query, Intrepid’s first return trip to Burma departs on 24 March, 2012. You can find more info on our website or please don’t hesitate to email info@intrepidtravel.com if you have any queries: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/trips/ttsm
Best wishes,
Sue, Intrepid Express Editor

Luckily I have been able to visit Myanmar/Burma just last year with my work including areas such as the Ayeyarwady Delta where tourists still can’t visit. I’m very lucky to have seen these areas, meet the warm people and experience so much off the beaten track. Happy that intrepid travel have decided to now go back into the country as the warm welcome of the people is something very special.

Burma sounds fantastic – how safe is it to travel around? Also would an older person be able to manage a trip to Burma?

Great news.
I was last in Burma in 1979!! Backpacking on my own and remember Schwedagon Pagoda well. Would love to go back – must find a good travelling partner.Best wishes.

Mingalaba! My travel in Burma was over New Year in 2005/6. Like others above it was a truly memorable journey, for the glories of Shwedagon and the amazing market-gardening on Inle Lake, and the temple-studded landscape at Bagan. Better still was the trekking in the Chin and Shan States to appreciate ‘behind the scenes’ rural life-styles and industries and beautiful environment. People were getting on with their lives, and it is Burmese refugee families (mostly rural people) here in New Zealand that have shown me the real risks they endured. The Movie “They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain”, illustrates urban hardships and is worth a look for background info. Small inroads to political change in recent weeks – release of Aung San Su Kyi, and H Clinton making diplomatic overtures – but I am not holding my breath.

Mingalaba.
I was in Burma earlier this year and agree that it is an interesting place to visit. Mrauk U was a 6 hour trip up river, saw children playing chinlon, visited a Chin village where the women still tattoo their faces, marvelled at the Temples of Bagan, watched with fascination the leg rowers on Inle Lake, visited Kekku, Mandalay and Mingun. One great memory is being part of the group of visitors to serve rice to over 800 monks at Mahagandhayon monastery in Mandalay.
People are gentle, food good. Just USD2 can buy a bowl of soup and a glass of fresh lime juice for lunch.

get out the longyi and GO!

I have wanted to go for years!! How soon are you going?

Hi Vivianne,
The good news is that if you travel to Burma with Intrepid you’ll have the support and friendship of a group, plus solo travellers don’t have to pay a single supplement.
Best wishes,
Sue, Intepid Express Editor

I’m very keen to go to Burma soon. I have many refugees who are students, and friends who live an work there.
It sounds fantastic. Just need to find a good travelling partner!

I, too, was in Burma in 2003. I visited Bagan, which is an amazing place with 1000 or more temples. It rivals Angkor Wat in ways but is located on an open plain, so the vistas from the top of some of the temples is incredible. I also visited Mandalay, including a day trip from there to the tiny village of Mingun. My last stop was Yangon, whose Shwedagon Pagoda alone justifies a trip to this fascinating country. I did not make it to Inle Lake but hope to in the future. When I was there all the children asked me for lipstick for their mothers, so before I return I’m going to stock up and take some with me to hand out. A few photos of Burma can be seen on my website under the Southeast Asia section.

Hi Clive,
How fantastic that you’ve experienced first-hand the wonders of Burma. If we can rely on the latest web claims, at over 70 metres long Chaukhtatgyi Buddha in Burma is the largest reclining Buddha in the world. But then of course it gets more complex and they are broken down into the largest wooden, ceramic, bronze or jade reclining Buddhas :-)
Thanks for reading our blog and wishing you many more great travel adventures,
Sue, Intrepid Express editor

Was last in Burma in 2003; fantastic country to be in and a step back in time but great people; but found English was only spoken by educated people and the elderly from Brit Empire days. Where then is the largest reclining Buddha? Schwedagon or at Chiang Mai ? Both are remarkable temples. There is a mini at Penang.

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