Myanmar is one of the most exotic places I’ve been to. Going there in 2012 was like going back in time 20 or 30 years. I am sure that since it has opened up, many things are different now. For example when we arrived we had to make sure to bring all our money in cash. Barely any place could accept credit cards, nor were there any ATMs to withdraw from. Only very few had cellphones or internet access. If you wanted to buy a SIM card (without the phone) you had to pay $750. Yikes. A colleague of TD who was based in Yangon and our wonderful hosts for our visit said that a year or so after they were finally able to get internet access – though not fast – because it became affordable. When we went they also did not have enough hotels to accommodate the growing number of tourists. Our choices were very limited and either the prices were extraordinarily high or the hotels very old. If you decide to visit Myanmar nowadays, you are very lucky because there are more value for money options to choose from!
Here are 5 of my most unforgettable experiences in exotic Myanmar.
1. Gem Shopping in Yangon Market
As a someone who is passionate about jewelry making and design, this experienced has made it to my list of favorite travel experiences in Asia! Myanmar is so rich in gems and semi precious stones, that they are still affordable to buy, if you know where to look in the Yangon Market. Once you get past the produce rows and rows of bling await! Going with someone knowledgeable about gems and jewellery is highly recommended.
The stores in the main hall pictured below are expensive.
We were taken to a small store that was on the second floor. The priced difference was very big.
I never knew pink sapphires, yellow jade and many other unusual gem colors even existed? Spinel, which is even rarer than rubies and sapphires, are sold by the packs. The ones sold in packs are not perfect stones, but the price is so unbelievably low – if you know where to look.
2. Bagan’s Pagoda Forest
Though only 2000+ still exist of Bagan’s 10,000+ pagodas it is still A LOT. With the world’s largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas, and other ruins it is no wonder our tour guide said that Bagan is a “Pagoda Forest” because everywhere you look there is a pagoda as far as the eye can see. There are so many different varieties of pagoda interior and exterior designs – big and small. It boggles my mind to imagine how they constructed them in the 11th to 13th centuries!
#DiploTips: Make sure to bring a lot of wet wipes because in all temples you must go barefoot – not even socks are allowed.
3. Traditional Lacquer Making
I never appreciated the traditional art of lacquer making until we were shown around a workshop in Bagan. The usual lacquer items you see in cheap stalls is not the same as the “traditional lacquer,” which takes hours upon painstaking hours to create. Every step is manually and patiently labored over. Especially the colored ones, because each color layer is carved out one at a time. One small bowl can take 5 months to complete. It is no wonder that traditional Myanmar lacquer pieces are not cheap because each one is a lovingly made work of art. A traditional lacquer piece is a unique keepsake that you can treasure and pass down to your children.
The base for each item is layers upon layers of wood strips wound on top of the other.
This video will show you the traditional lacquer making process in Bagan:
#DiploTips: So if you have the chance to visit one and buy one of their beautiful works to support the remaining workshops, I would highly encourage it. There are so few of these centuries old arts that remain in their original setting today. Sadly the decline in tourists and rise of resin has caused over two-thirds of Bagan’s lacquerware workshops.
4. Sunset on top of a Pagoda
There is a pagoda in Bagan where you can witness one of the most unforgettable sunsets of your life.
#DiploTips: Go early to get a good spot and climb the pagoda – barefoot of course! And be careful climbing up.
I feel so lucky to have this once in a lifetime experience!
5. Shwedagon Pagoda
Of course no visit to Myanmar is complete without going to the Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon. The riot of colors from the flowers, lights and people’s attire will astound you. At sunset it comes alive with multi-colored lights that somehow seem fitting in such an ancient structure. It is a place where locals hang out and pray. I was surprised to learn that the locals all drank from communal cups that are attached to dispensers/watertanks containing river water. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my travels.
#DiploTips: The best time to go is before sunset so you can see it by daylight and marvel at the lights coming on as dusk descends. Midday is too hot and the direct sunlight isn’t good for photograph-taking. Bring your own bottled water and perhaps a fan to beat the heat. Oh and always make sure to take note of the entrance you came in. The Shwedagon is immense and had a hard time figuring out which gate we came from – our meeting point with our driver. At that time we had no mobile phones!
Other places in Myanmar I would love to visit
We were only able to go to the capital, Yangon, and Bagan. I would have loved to go to Inle Lake and Mandalay (especially Mogok, where the most valuable gems in the world come from). A friend of mine who gave us Myanmar travel tips highly recommended us to include it in our itinerary. Our problem was that at that time it was very hard to book a hotel if you were only booking a few months ahead. It didn’t matter how much you were willing to pay, everything was fully booked. The hotel we stayed in Yangon was not very clean but it was the only one we could find.
Nowadays visitors to Myanmar have more options, like chain hotels with international standards and reasonable prices. TD and I like to stay in international hotels because we know we can expect convenience, nice rooms and good hygiene and sanitation. If you want to travel to Myanmar (or other exotic Asia-Pacific destinations) this summer, I am happy to give you a tip! You can enjoy up to 40% off on trusted hotels like Sofitel, Pullman, Novotel, Mercure, Ibis via the AccorHotels Super Sale.
TD and I go through a lot of effort to travel comfortably on our limited budget. We always look for sales like this so that we get more bang for our buck. Imagine staying in a nice hotel for almost half the price? Be sure to check out the AccorHotels Super Sale to book the best deal. Happy summer travels!
Have you been to Myanmar? What were you most memorable experiences? Drop me a comment!