South East Asia has long been destination of choice for backpackers worldwide, a place to experience a range of wildly different, vibrant, and welcoming cultures with the added benefit of cheap prices and well-established travel infrastructure.
The result is that countries like Thailand and Vietnam, undoubtedly amazing in myriad ways, can be off-putting to travellers who want to avoid the crowds and well-worn trails. Thankfully there’s a new South East Asian country on the block: Myanmar, more commonly known as Burma.
Here are a few reasons why Burma is fast becoming a major player on the gap year scene.
It’s still relatively untouched
We stress relatively. A long period of political turmoil saw the country closed to the outside world for decades. As soon as it began to open up in recent years, the travel industry was keen to jump aboard.
Still, that puts it far behind its neighbours that have been catering to visitors for far longer. You’re unlikely to find too many McDonalds’ restaurants or all-night bucket parties, trading them instead for an all-too-rare sense of genuine discovery.
It’s absolutely beautiful
We’ll let pictures do the talking here.
Seriously, why wouldn’t you want to go there?
One of the joys of visiting Southeast Asia is how easy it is to move between countries. You can start by partying in Thailand and popping your travel cherry in the classic fashion, before moving on to the slightly more relaxing pace of Vietnam or Cambodia.
Burma adds a new string to Southeast Asia’s bow. It can be easily reached from any of the above, as well as Laos, China and, to a lesser extent, India. It offers a welcome change to the usual travel route around this part of the continent.
Alright, we know ‘friendly locals’ is one of the worst travel cliché offenders, but it’s a key part of Burma’s burgeoning travel reputation.
Having been closed off from the world for so long, visitors remain something of a novelty, and the locals are keen to demonstrate their hospitality so that you go away with a good impression. So far they’re doing a stellar job.
It’s safer than you think
A long history of military rule has left Burma with a bad reputation, one that is still proving stubborn to shake. The reality is a country quite safe for visitors, especially if you stick to what is fast becoming the classic Burma itinerary: Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle Lake.
The country isn’t completely free of conflict, and some areas are tightly controlled by the government, requiring special permits to access. Stick to the rules and you won’t have a problem.
It’s difficult to dethrone Thai food as the Asian cuisine of choice, but you’re probably sick of Pad Thai by now, right? Burmese food isn’t quite as bold and flavourful, but it makes up for it by blending influences from its many neighbours.
Try mohinga, a hearty bowl of fishy rice noodles with deep fried fritters, or laphet, fermented green tea leaves with sesame seeds, dried shrimp, garlic, peanuts, and other crunchy delights.
It’s getting trendy
Look, we’re hardly the first people to recognise the merits of Burma. As more people visit and plaster the internet with their photos and stories, the country’s profile is going to grow, and the interest of travellers will be piqued.
Word of mouth still goes a long way in the travel world, and people like us shamelessly banging on about it are going to send more visitors there. Maybe we should just stop talking about it?