There are many reasons why you should visit Myanmar in 2020
Myanmar opened up to foreign visitors a few years ago, but the country is seeing a decline in tourists in recent years. This is mainly due to the humanitarian crisis that is currently unfolding for the the Rohingya people who live in the North on the border with Bangladesh.
These events leave an ugly black stain on an otherwise magical country. I hope a solution is soon found and the Rohingya people can live peacefully in Myanmar for the years to come. However, there are still 6 compelling reasons why you SHOULD visit Myanmar in 2020.
First: some background information about Myanmar
A little bit of history
The history of Myanmar is shaped by the rule of kings, starting from the 11th century. The 3rd and last ruling king was Thipaw, who was later exiled by the invading British army. The capital city was moved many times to places such as Pagan, Inwa, Pegu, Ava, Amarapura, Mandalay and finally Yangon. In 2005 the government chose to use the newly erected city of Nay Pyi Daw as the new capital.
After the invasion of in 1885, the British ruled Myanmar until 1948.They changed the name to Burma. Burma became a military dictatorship after its Independence in 1948. In 1989 the military junta changed the country's name to Myanmar. And in 2015, after the general elections, the first democratic reforms started taking shape. Aung San Suu Kyi's party NLD booked a landslide victory and is currently in parliament.
There are 135 different ethnic groups in Myanmar, with 8 major ethnic races such as Shan, Mon and Bamar. The Bamar group is by far the largest with 68% of the total population. Although Myanmar is divided into regions, these are often not based on language or ethnic affiliation. There are many regions where people from wildly different backgrounds have to live together. This creates tensions in many areas. Some ethnic groups are not even officially recognized, such as Burmese Chinese and Burmese Indians.
There are occasional skirmishes between local factions and the government military, but foreign tourists are kept far from these areas. The Myanmar government does not want any foreign interference.
The Rohingya people
The Rohingya are an ethnic group, consisting of several millions of people. They mainly live in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand and Malaysia. The majority of Rohingya people are Muslims.
There is dispute about the origins of the Rohingya people. Whether they originated from Rakhine state (originally called Arakan) or have migrated there in a later stage. The fact is that nowadays about 800.000 Rohingya people live in Myanmar and are subject to ethnic cleansing. May have been driven across the border to Bangladesh and are living in dire circumstances.
We should definitely not close our eyes to any form of human rights violations and I condemn what is happening to the Rohigha people. I hope that a solution will be found with the assistance of the United Nations and the Rohingya people will have a safe haven.
That said, I encourage you to go to Myanmar to form your own opinions and keep the discussion open. If you travel to Myanmar, you will not support the government. You will support the people of Myanmar, who depend on our tourism, and who need our presence now more than ever.
6 Reasons why you should visit Myanmar in 2020
1. The people of Myanmar
The main reason why you should visit Myanmar in 2020 is the people of Myanmar. You will meet the most friendly and wonderful people you have ever met. People are smiling all around and they are very welcoming to tourists. Many love to practice English with you.
They have been cut off from the world for decades and are desperate to catch up. Since the country has opened up people are no longer afraid to talk to foreigners. You can even talk about politics and other sensitive issues.
You can support the local communities by eating in local restaurants and by buying handmade souvenirs.
2. Major tourist attractions
When you visit Myanmar, there are a few things you have to include in your itinerary:
- The temples of Bagan > The Bagan Archaeological Zone is equally as impressive as Angkor Wat in Cambodia, with over 2.200 temples and pagodas still standing of over 10.000 that were constructed in this area.
- Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon > the most impressive of all Buddhist pagodas in Myanmar. A magnificent golden mount in the center of Yangon.
- Inle Lake > The largest lake in Myanmar, where entire villages, gardens, schools, restaurants, markets and temples float on the water.
- The town of Pyin Oo Lwin > British colonialists built this lovely town to get away from the heat in Mandalay in the summer months. It has a lot of culture to offer and a huge tranquil botanical garden.
- Pindaya Caves > an impressive display of more than 8000 Buddha statues in a cave near Kalaw.
- Kyaiktiyo Pagoda > An impressive golden rock precariously positioned, as if by magic, on the edge of a cliff. Worshippers come from far to pray and bring offerings.
3. The food
It is a feast to explore the traditional cuisine of Myanmar. Burmese cuisine is a mixture of cuisines from various regions of Myanmar and heavily influenced by the cuisines of neighboring countries such as China, India and Thailand.
Salads are a big part of Burmese cuisine and the Burmese have come up with the most wonderful creations. Most salads typically center around one major ingredient, ranging from starches like rice, wheat and rice noodles, glass noodles and vermicelli, to potato, ginger, tomato, kaffir lime, long bean and lahpet (pickled tea leaves).
Many recipes are not set in stone and ingredients may vary per region. Dishes may be roasted, stewed, boiled, fried, steamed, baked or grilled, or any combination of techniques. Burmese curries are light on the amount of spices, compared to Indian ones, and rely more on garlic and ginger. Most Burmese dishes are prepared with plenty of oil.
In general it is very easy to make Burmese dishes vegan. A lot of them already are!
4. Cultural heritage
The British invaded and colonize Myanmar in the 19th century. They exiled the then ruling king Thibaw to India. Untill its independence in 1948 the British ruled the country and called it Burma. You can still see many architectural marvels of the British, especially in Yangon, the capital city at that time (called Rangoon).
You can discover many traces of the British presence in other towns such as Pyin Oo Lwin and Kalaw, which they used to get away from the stifling heat in Yangon and Mandalay.
Less memorable evidence from the past is also still there. For instance the Burma railway that was constructed by the Japanese in the second world war. And the Burma road, constructed by the United States military and allies, also during the second world war.
The city of Bagan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar. From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom. It was the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the kingdom's height between the 11th and 13th centuries, 4,446 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone. Today 3822 temples and pagodas still survive. The Bagan Archaeological Zone is the largest archaeological site in the world and an area filled with cultural heritage.
There are so many wonderful places in Myanmar, where you can learn about Burmese history.
5. Natural beauty
Myanmar is the largest country in south-east Asia and has a very diverse landscape. To the North, you will find the mountain peaks of the Himalaya and rugged jungles. In the east you will find rolling hills in the east and in the south you will find a vast river delta. The plains surrounding Bagan are again very different with dry land and little vegetation.
The lifeline of the country is the majestic Ayeyarwady river (formerly known as Irrawaddy). It is 2170 km in length and runs from the Himalayan mountains to the Andaman Sea. It is the main transport line for goods and people. Many towns and cities are situated on the river edge, including Mandalay and Yangon.
6. Still unspoiled by tourism
In 2011, Myanmar opened up to international tourists. However, the number of tourists remains very modest compared to neighboring countries like Thailand and Malaysia. The facilities for tourists are developing fast. New hotels are being built all the time. This also means you can see an increase in quality of, for instance, bus connections.
This means that most tourist attractions will have no lines or very short lines. You will not see endless coaches in huge parking sites. More often than not you will have the place to yourself and I personally find that extremely refreshing.
A lot of people in Myanmar speak English, due to the British colonial rule. But even if they don't, most people are always willing to help you and accommodate you in any way they can. They are not yet bored by large number of tourists, as you might see in some neighboring countries, and will welcome you with their enthusiasm.