So, you’ve explored all of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, and now you’re looking for a new Southeast Asian destination to explore? Myanmar, which was until recently very inaccessible to tourists, is developing rapidly on the back of political changes that have loosened the military government’s grip on the nation.
If you’re thinking of visiting Myanmar, here are some things you should know.
Burmese cuisine has strong Chinese, Thai and Indian influences due to the location of Myanmar at the confluence of these three countries. While there are many regional variations and dishes depending on where you go in Myanmar, you’re likely to encounter rice, curries and the liberal use of condiments like fish sauce wherever you are.
One feature of a typical Burmese meal is the salad, or thoke, the most famous of all being lahpet thoke, which is made of picked tea leaves. Another popular dish is mohinga, which is a fish and noodle soup that is often consumed at breakfast. At a typical local meal, you’ll be served a variety of curries and sometimes soups together with rice.
Language and Culture of Myanmar
Burmese is the official and most widely spoken language in Myanmar, with about two-thirds of the population being able to speak it. There are also about a hundred minority languages including Shan, Karen, and Kachin.
One thing to note is that Burmese numerals are often used by small local businesses rather than the numeral system you’re used to. It’s thus a good idea to bring along a printout of the numerals and their corresponding translation.
Burmese culture is strongly influenced by Buddhism, as evidenced by the Buddhist temples that can be seen just about everywhere. Myanmar was also colonized by the British from 1886 to 1937, so you will see colonial-era buildings and evidence of British street planning, particularly in Yangon.
Myanmar is not a massive country, but the top sights will require quite a bit of moving around, so be prepared to take long-distance buses.
One of Myanmar’s most popular sights is Bagan, where you’ll find the world’s biggest and densest collection of Buddhist temple ruins. Renting an electric bicycle and exploring this vast, largely unpopulated area is unforgettable.
Another popular place to explore is Inle Lake, which has recently fallen prey to a proliferation of guesthouses and hotels. The Intha, the people who live and fish in the area bordering Inle Lake, has a unique way of piloting their boats which involves balancing on one leg while using the other to row.
Two must-see cities in Myanmar are Yangon and Mandalay. In Yangon, marvel at the blinding gold stupa of the enormous Shwedagon Pagoda, admire examples of colonial architecture such as Strand Hotel and the High Court and explore the ethnic enclaves of Chinatown and Little India.
In Mandalay, don’t miss Mandalay Hill, which is littered with monasteries and pagodas and offers stunning views over the city. Other highlights include the Royal Palace, as well as the Jade Market and Flower Market.
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