Myanmar may have been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent times but looking beyond politics, this small-yet-mighty country has so much to offer. Not to mention that boycotting all travel to a country that relies so heavily on tourism would be disastrous for the vast majority of the innocent population.
Creating itineraries is a major part of my job at Original Travel and I'll often find myself getting seriously wanderlust-y writing about all of the amazing things our clients will experience on their trips. When it came to designing my own itinerary for my recent trip to Myanmar, I thoroughly enjoyed researching and putting together holiday plans for myself, and my colleagues in our Asia team had to suffer many months of my intense planning and enthusiasm (probably getting pretty wanderlust-y themselves in the process).
Finally, the big day arrived and started off as smoothly as possible as we found ourselves fast-tracked through Gatwick security - courtesy of Original Travel's fantastic additional service - to the lounge. Our holiday had finally begun. Our route followed a relatively typical loop for many first time visitors of Myanmar - starting in Yangon in the south (full of great restaurants and interesting, British-inspired architecture) and travelling north to Bagan then Mandalay, looping down to Inle Lake and back to Yangon, before heading to the incredible beaches of the Mergui Archipelago and back to Yangon to fly back. That said, it felt anything but touristy and the only time where we were with other tourists was on the domestic flights. In Bagan we did come across some local Burmese tourists who asked to have photos with us but generally it felt like it was very easy to get off the beaten track and explore deserted pagodas and quiet, sleepy villages.
We experienced Bagan in a few different ways while we were there, including a guided tour of some of the well-known temples, a horse and cart ride, and a walk up Mount Popa. We also loved - and highly recommend - borrowing bicycles to explore a small proportion of the staggering 2,200 pagodas dotted around the ancient city - you don't need to venture far to find a deserted pagoda waiting to be admired. Another highlight was seeing Bagan from a bird's eye view onboard a hot air balloon. Although I am usually afraid of heights, the views were so spectacular my fears soon dissipated (especially when coupled with the comfort of having an experienced balloonist looking after us).
Mandalay and Inle Lake
From Bagan we flew north to Mandalay where we spent the night. Although the British weather decided to join us for this part of the trip, we still made sure to visit the iconic U-Bein Bridge which spans across the Taungthaman Lake, armed with umbrellas and cameras. After venturing out in the rain, we tucked ourselves up indoors and had our first taste of sweet Myanmar tea to warm us up, made with delicious condensed milk tea. Afterwards, a short domestic flight took us to Inle Lake which we were happy (and somewhat surprised) to find beautifully unspoilt. The only tourists we came across here were in the restaurant onboard our boat, but the food was so delicious and the views so captifying that we were far to distracted to notice the other people eating around us; I was more interested in taking wonderful photos of the one-legged fishermen out on the lake. While we were in this area we also did a day's hike to a monastery and had the opportunity to meet some friendly, energetic children and although communication was a challenge our guide translated and it was a very special experience.
Throughout our time in Myanmar we found the local people friendly, kind and very respectful. We never felt they were being pushy, and we always felt incredibly safe.
The final stop of our adventure was the Mergui Archipelago, specifically to a new tropical island hotel in called Wa Ale, nestled in the Lampi Marine National Park and surrounded by a pristine underwater ecosystem and dense jungle habitat. Although not the easiest place to get to - involving a domestic flight and a yacht ride -, it is paradise and worth every second of the journey. Everything about this intimate island retreat is heavenly and if you enjoy a property with a conscience (which we absolutely do) this really is for you. This is barefoot luxury at its absolute best.
Myanmar has to be one of my favourite countries that I have visited and I would recommend it to anyone who wants an authentic adventure with some relaxation included. If you're after something a little different, and you love exploring then I can't recommend Myanmar more for your next holiday.