Only since 2012 has Burma become accessible to backpackers, A few friends and I are traveling there over summer,these are but a few of the reasons we chose this relatively unknown place to the rest South East Asia has to offer.
Under the rule of a military junta since the early 1960’s, recent government reforms towards a mixed economy and liberal democracy led the international community into removing sanctions on the country, slowly opening it up to the rest of the world. A country the size of Italy and Germany combined, this massively diverse nation is the last in South-East Asia to be touched by globalisation and has swathes of untouched pristine wilderness.
Visitors do not enjoy entirely free passage however. The government is still authoritarian in controlling where a tourist can travel, often for good reason. Myanmar (Burma) is still a poor country, with a diverse history that has left a melting pot of ethnicities and culture. Regions of the country are still in perpetual civil war with the government and violent clashes still happen in areas, linked in part to Burma being the world’s second largest producer of opium. This is true of Shan state, to the west of the country. At the heart of Asia’s infamous golden triangle, the Shan is essentially lawless, with powerful, money rich interests resisting any Government attempts to tame it.
You may well be asking why in god’s name I would want to go there as I haven’t exactly sold Burma so far, but what really excites me is that few destinations seem to have the same potential for the boundary pushing experiences a backpacker craves as Burma. I look forward to immersing myself in the culture – largely Buddhist – to see the world from a different point of view. Burma’s rich cultural history has manifested itself into some incredible sights, like the largest and densest expanse of Buddhist temples in the world, Bagan, with many of the temples occupying this site nearly 1000 years old. The natural beauty alone is reason enough to go. A huge, coastline on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea means great diving, whilst inland there is the opportunity to hike in untouched jungle.
Burma was under British colonial rule for generations and seeing the role this had on the countries modern history adds an intriguing dimension to the trip for me. Travellers can visit colonial hill stations like Pyin U Lwin, a physical reminder of the indelible mark one culture left on another. In this way, I guess by going to Burma I can learn more about the history of where I call home too.
Me and my two friends will be going for as long as the 28 day tourist visa allows, from early August to early September. This is in the middle of monsoon season, but for money-strapped students that is no bad thing. If you’re happy to endure a couple hours of intense rainfall that can be almost daily in the South, with less further north, backpackers can enjoy low season prices that are a fraction of the high season equivalent, with fewer tourists around to boot. Flights to Bangkok can be found for under £300 return on low-cost airlines like Norwegian and from there Burma is a captivating and surprisingly accessible destination for a student traveller.