Blending the past and future in equal parts has never looked so good, and that is Myanmar today. Ethnic dress and 5 star resorts coexist to make a comfortable platform for any traveler. November to February are the best times to visit, with March to May bringing intense heat, and the summer drenching you in monsoon rains. Here are 5 good reasons to get a Burmese stamp in your passport pronto.
Tall slender men dressed handsomely in ankle length "lungyis" and women's faces brushed with yellow "thanaka" paste freshly ground from tree branches make the Burmese a visually striking bunch. Learn a few phrases of Burmese and you're in with the locals. Their laid back attitude and sense of humor will leave you in good hands, and if you present yourself as polite and well mannered, there's nothing to stand in your way of getting that much closer to the culture.
Don't Miss: Hit the local markets to buy a lungyi of your own and a piece of thanaka wood to keep your skin cool and soft.
The Dusk and Dawn
Bring extra memory cards for your camera because when the sun rises and sets, you may just feel like leaving your careers back home and become a professional photographer. Mornings are a special time in Myanmar, when sunlight pours through dusty landscapes and a world of days gone by wakes up. Farmers tend to their flocks and temples receive the days first devotees. Sunlight greets ancient pagodas as Buddhist rituals open and close each day.
Don't Miss: Be sure to catch a sunrise and sunset at the temples of Bagan. Nap in the afternoon to be up early for this moving spectacle of light. Your guides will know the best spots. Carry a flashlight and be careful climbing pagoda steps in the dark. Be sure to dress in layers to ward off the chill in the air.
All over Myanmar you'll see monks. Monks on the street, monks in the temples, these studious gentlemen young and old add burgundy-robed grace to daily life everywhere from the bustling cities to remote villages. They're usually open to chat with visitors and to practice their English, and a common visit to many monasteries includes viewing their lunch procession. The key thing to remember is to be respectful of their lifestyle and tranquility. This means don't shove your camera in their face without politely asking first. They are monks and not a tourist attraction so be respectful of them and their space.
Don't Miss: The Buddhist nunnery in Sagaing. This breathtaking town of hills and temples lies in the outskirts of Mandalay and one of the best reasons to come is a visit to the nunnery. Pink robes abound in this beautiful complex where girls of all ages come to find peace of mind and higher Buddhist education.
You wouldn't think of Myanmar being synonymous with retail therapy, nor are there glittering Singapore-style shopping malls. But when it comes to local arts and hand made goods, you can do some healthy damage to your wallet and enjoy every minute of it. From bronze statues and woodcarvings to hand woven scarves and freshly rolled cigars, silver and goldsmiths and artisans are all found here in abundance. While bargaining for multiple items is common, you'll find great prices regardless on great souvenirs while supporting people who still use traditional methods to create objects of beauty.
Don't Miss: Check out the lacquer ware in Bagan. Lacquer is found everywhere, at temples, in markets, and artisan's ateliers. Local guides will know the best shops where immaculate work in all price ranges can be found.
All the above reasons to visit Myanmar are equal to unforgettable visits to the temples. Ancient pagodas in Bagan will rank right up there with more modern temples where colorful tiles and flashing disco lights illuminate Buddha in a gaudy multi-colored celebration. Incense-filled monasteries give a meditative glimpse of a life that's equal parts tranquil and disciplined. Gold leaf dome ceilings, carved wooden doors, and mirrored facades create a myriad variety of decorative styles. While images and statues of Buddha may have similarities, the variety of the temples housing them run the full visual spectrum.
Don't Miss: Don't skip the smaller pagodas in Bagan. Many of the larger and more elaborate pagodas in the area may be impressive on the outside, but some are not that interesting on the inside. Avoid the swarms of tourists and head to the small temples near Nyaung U where painted ceilings and old statues are all yours to discover in peace and quiet. It makes a great first stop from the airport nearby.
Photo credits: All photos courtesy of Jonathan Pozniak