Until a few years ago, most of us hadn’t heard anything about Myanmar or it’s dictatorial leadership. However, Myanmar is now welcoming tourists to bring about the much needed economic revival. Depending on your luck and timing, visiting Myanmar can range from a thought-provoking to an overwhelming experience. For me, visiting Myanmar was certainly a gripping experience.
My learning curve
My trip to Myanmar was inspired by a experiencing the rich Buddhist culture that prevails in South East Asia. Earlier I had been to Thailand, China, Taiwan, and Cambodia. This time I chose Myanmar. Before I visited Myanmar, I didn’t fully realize the effects of decades of dictatorship. I learned soon enough. Without going into my personal opinion about country’s political situation.
Here is what I observed and experienced:
- The food is amazing especially the samosas on the stall are to die for. It cheap as well. I didn’t expect to keep my hunger pangs satisfied under $25. But it actually came to half of that.
- The people are poor, really poor. There hasn’t been much development over the past few decades. Myanmar has a long way to go. Even the World Bank proclaims it amongst the poorest countries of the world.
- I decided to stay in a cheaper hotel owned by locals rather than a 5-star multinational corporation. My intent was to help out local business while I was there.
- There are lots of amazing temples and heritage sites. The sites aren’t very well maintained by the government and tourist rules are still in the making. I tried to abide by the rules I had seen levied by tourism industries in China, and elsewhere.
- The country is primarily Buddhist and there are rules for entering the temples – no shoes, covered head if you are a female and clothes covering shoulders to knees.
Things to be careful about
- Heat – The weather is extremely hot. No wonder you find people wearing some sort of white powder as sun block. Be mentally and physically prepared when visiting Myanmar. Make sure you carry water and stay hydrated.
- Internet services – Get used to the idea of slow and intermittent internet services. You will have interrupted internet sessions that might just test your patience.
- ATMs – You won’t find easy access to ATMs, so make sure you carry enough cash in your pockets. There are several ATMs in larger cities, however, they are sparsely located. So rather than wasting time looking for ATMs, its much simpler to carry money in hand. Where you do find ATMs, running your Master or Visa card won’t be a problem, although you might be charged some fees for using ATMs in another country.
- Conversations – Given the sensitive history of the country it’s probably not a good idea to have a discussion about history or politics. Myanmar people are not very open to these topics and as a foreigner, it is impolite to instigate people.
- Black market – since most historical sites and temples are poorly guarded, you might come across people selling national treasures. Be careful and don’t buy things that look historic.
Overall, it is heartening to see that despite the impoverished life and lack or resources, the Myanmar people are very friendly, honest and helpful. It was an amazing trip both culturally enlightening and inspiring.