Tribes and trekking
We chose atmospheric Kalaw as a
base to explore the surrounding hills.
Luckily we arrived on the morning
of the rotating market, where various
local tribes sell their wares. Bear in
mind that the nights in higher places
are cool, so pack some cosy clothes.
One evening we warmed up in a local
bar and joined in a singsong over a few
Myanmar rum sours!
Hire a local guide to lead an easy
or longer trek through scenic rolling
hills, pine trees, tribal villages and
fields. During our walk, we were
lucky enough to stop at a tiny primary
school to chat with the kids.
On the road to Mandalay …
where the flying fishes play” was a
slow boat in our case. Travelling from
Bagan to Mandalay, we chose a day
afloat the Irrawaddy River, rather
than bussing or flying. The mighty
Irrawaddy is the country’s main
river for water, transport, commerce
and fishing. Our “luxury, fast” boat
was neither in reality but made for
lazy hours on deck reading and
sunbathing whilst watching life along
the banks.
Mandalay (made famous to
Westerners by Rudyard Kipling)
was chaotically charming, with an
Indian flavour. We explored by bike,
tootling round temples and markets,
and pedalling along the river before
meandering up to Mandalay Hill
to see the sunset. The city is close to
several ancient sites if you’re keen for
more culture.
Blissful beaches
We opted to head south of Yangon to
the unspoilt village of Ngwe Suang
on the Bay of Bengal, which offers
kilometres of pristine beach. One
blissful day was spent walking along
the sand, paddling over to a tiny island
and rewarding ourselves with a king
coconut before a thorough massage.
If you (or your kids) are looking
for something more active, fly to the
more developed, but still stunning,
Ngapali Beach. This Thai-style resort
has fishing boats, seafood restaurants
and spas.
Burma bites
There is plenty to tickle your tastebuds
Pre-trip tips
First and foremost, all visitors require a visa prior to entry. The greenback
is the king of currency, so pack a stack of pristine US dollars in varying
denominations. Changing money in banks is becoming easier, but credit
card acceptance is rare and many things need to be paid for upfront in cash.
It’s also helpful to convert a bit of cash into the local
for convenience,
but don’t fall prey to the conmen who offer to change money at unbelievably
good rates: they
too good to be true!
Since tourism is starting to take off, resources are limited and prices are
rising – fast. Plan well and book transport and hotels in advance. For ultimate
convenience, book a package that includes drivers and guides. Seasoned
backpackers may brave long-distance buses to experience the “real” Burma,
but understand that those buses aren’t likely to be fast or comfortable. You’ll
definitely see another side of life, but if time is pressing or you’re a comfort
queen, fly between the main sights. The current train service is, sadly, too
slow to bother with.
When planning your trip, avoid the main monsoon season (May to
September); instead, travel in the dry season (November to February) when it
tends to be hot and sunny everywhere.
in Burma. The salads are fresh,
fragrant and often hand-mixed. Try
Shan-style tofu noodles, piquant tea
leaf salads or spicy vegetables tossed
with peanuts, chilli, chickpea powder
and lime. Other moreish Myanmar
morsels include tongue-tingling curries
a pungent fish broth.
Sweeten up with sticky rice and banana
cakes. Quench your thirst with local
beer, rum, creamy avocado shakes, and
Burmese-style coffee or tea.
My advice is to book up for
Burma, sooner rather than later,
before lattes become as commonplace
Enticing and exciting,
memories of Myanmar will linger long
and deep.
Summer 2013