Burma (or Myanmar) is a hidden gem nestled between India, Thailand and the Bay of Bengal. Years of being cut off from the outside world meaans that this newly emerging democracy appears to be lost in time; men dressed in longis stroll colonial boulevards, ancient temples punctuate city skylines and untouched countryside rolls into hilltribe villages. If you want to experience authentic Burma before the crowds descend and modern life and tourism changes the natural and economic landscape, now is the time to visit.
Burma holidays allow you to step back into a bygone era where tradition, spirituality and hospitality are all important. Experience pure Asia in the cities and towns, where the temples and pagodas are hives of activity, and in the countryside where life goes on unchanged. Roaming the streets of Yangon with its faded colonial charm and bustling markets are a must-do for every trip, but be sure to allow plenty of time to also admire the gold-leafed Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's holiest monument. Be amazed by the thousands of temples and stupas scattered across the plain on the banks of the Irrawaddy River at Bagan - the highlight of many travellers' Burma holidays.
The best time to visit Bagan is between November and March, when it’s possible to take to the skies on a hot air balloon ride. Soaring high over Bagan at sunrise, with the thousands of stupas, pagodas and temples sprawling out beneath you, is a unique and truly unforgettable experience.
Echoes of an Empire
Britain’s 120-year rule over Burma ended in 1948 but the country retains a strong sense of its colonial heritage. Yangon, formerly Rangoon, contains hundreds of colonial-era buildings such as the Pegu Club, the most famous gentlemen’s club in British Burma.
Say a little prayer
Burma is an intensely spiritual place and visitors often find themselves leaving with their eyes opened and horizons broadened. To experience Buddhism at its most powerful head to the former capital, Amarapura, which is home to the massive Mahagandayon monastery. There, you will have the chance to attend the daily meal with over a thousand monks and witness their peaceful and sacred routines.
Life on the lake
An undoubted highlight of any tour to Burma is a boat trip on serene Inle Lake. Sail past stilted villages delicately perched above the water, observe the lake’s unique leg-rowing fishermen tending to their floating gardens and join the locals shopping for fresh produce at bustling water markets.
Burma overflows with colourful pageantry during the autumn months. Make sure to catch the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival at Inle Lake, where you will see a flotilla of specially decorated, traditional leg-rowing Yar Kyaw boats transporting holy Buddha images to the pagoda backed by a cacophony of sound and dance. Almost every month a religious festival based on the lunar calendar brings the Burmese people to the country’s most revered pagodas.
Cruising the Mergui Archipelago
Truly off-the-beaten-track, a journey sailing around the remote Mergui archipelago is a Burma experience like no other. Climb aboard an intimate boat with a friendly and experienced crew to explore a pocket of traditional life which remains untouched, and beautiful island scenery.
There are few other countries in the world whose name alone provokes quite as much debate as Myanmar. Despite it being over 20 years since the military government changed the name of the country from Burma - which is an English translation - to Myanmar, there has yet to be a universal consensus on which name to adopt. The UN and several governments including those of China, Russia, Germany and Japan all recognise the name Myanmar, but many countries including the US, UK, Australia and France still refer to the country as Burma.