It's almost impossible to count the number of pagodas in Burma. Ninety percent of the population belongs to the Buddhist religion. Every town and village has its own stupa and almost every Burmese person spends time as a monk or nun at some point in their life, whether for a period of just a few months, or for several years. So everywhere you go, from Bagan to Shewadagon, and including Pindaya and other, less well known sites, you will have the opportunity to explore and discover more about this religion.
This labyrinthine cave, with its 8,000 Buddhas, has managed to retain a certain aura of mystery, despite being popular with tourists. It's a place where it is always possible to find somewhere to be alone and meditate for a few minutes. To reach the older statues, you do have to crawl on all fours or clamber over rocks on occasion.
If there's one essential photo to take when in Burma, it's that of the fishermen at Inle Lake : men, standing and using one leg to control their paddle, against a backdrop of blue. it's extraordinary, traditionally authentic and magical. And then there are the hotels on stilts at the edge of the water, extraordinary places to spend the night. Finally, there's the floating market and its traders, selling unique local arts and craft products. Though very (perhaps too) popular with tourists, Inle Lake is worth visiting for a short break and for the chance to meet the local inhabitants and learn about their customs.
Despite recently opening up more to tourists, Burma still feels frozen in time in some places. But for how much longer? Nobody can really say. Burma's development was held back by the military dictatorship, causing the country to remain largely unchanged for several decades. There are no fast-food chains here, but rather little villages of wooden houses to visit on foot. However, everything is changing in Asia at breakneck speed. There is no guarantee that things will still be as they are know in a few years' time. Tip: be quick Go now.
The Burmese people are extremely hospitable and will always try their very best to help you without asking anything in return. A smile in exchange for a smile, that's what you can expect in Burma. With tourists becoming ever more numerous, there are some street vendors who may try to get you to buy something and there are people who may ask you for a little money in exchange for providing help. But a simple smile will be enough to stop them. In Burma you also have the opportunity to travel out to meet one of the 135 ethnic groups that reside in the country.
There are no less than three to four thousand pagodas distributed over an area of 100 km² in Bagan. The temples here, be they small, large, dilapidated or in perfect condition, make this one of Southeast Asia's most beautiful sites, and it is a good place to tour by bicycle. Bagan can even be on a par with Angkor Wat in Cambodia at times. Early risers can take a flight in a hot-air balloon and admire views of Bagan's plains from a completely different perspective.
If seeing unusual landscapes/scenery and meeting genuine local people are things you dream of doing, a trip to Burma may be just what you're looking for!
Top places to discover.
Practical advise and useful things to know when planning a trip to Burma, a country not yet much visited by tourists and still little known to the outside world.
Europeans must have a passport valid for at least six months after the date of return from Burma. A tourist visa allowing a stay of up to 28 consecutive days is required for all trips to Burma. You can apply for one of these through the Burmese embassy in your country. Depending on where you arrive from, you may be able to apply for a visa at the airport in Burma, though this is not advised.
Before visiting Burma, consider taking out insurance to cover medical expenses and repatriation costs. Various illnesses can be transmitted by insect bites, e.g. dengue fever, malaria and Japanese encephalitis, so consider using repellents and wearing long clothing to protect yourself. Check that your vaccinations against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus are up to date. Vaccinations against hepatitis A and B and yellow fever are also recommended.
It is advised not to drink water from faucets and you should avoid eating raw or lightly cooked food. You should also avoid walking around in bare feet, bathing in standing water and petting animals. For more information, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre in the UK.
The official language is Burmese. However, there are more than 200 dialects spoken in the country. English is also very widely spoken in the large cities.
Burma is 5 hours and 30 minutes ahead of British Summer Time. When it is 12:00 pm in London it will therefore be 5:30 pm or 6:30 pm in Burma (depending on the season).
The international dialing code for Burma is +95.
Most of the hotels now have Wi-Fi, though you'll need to be patient as the network is often very slow! Communication services can be difficult if not impossible to access everywhere outside Rangoon.
The mains voltage is 220-240 volts, which is the same as the UK. So you will not need a transformer, but you will require plug adapters for appliances. You should be careful when using electrical devices, however, as there are no standards in place for electrical systems and there have been a number of electrocutions recorded in hotels, including some of the best ones.
British embassy in Burma
80 Strand Road (Box No 638)
(95) (1) 370865
Burmese embassy in the United Kingdom
19A Charles St
London W1J 5DX