Burma will always hold a very special place in my heart. Not only because we got engaged on a beautiful peaceful beach there, but because it was probably one of my favourite destinations in Asia and we spent a glorious 10 days travelling around this fascinating country. Obviously 10 days wasn’t quite enough to enjoy all of the splendour there, but it definitely gave us a taste.
We began in Yangon, the capital of the country up until 2006, whereby it changed to Naypidaw. Yangon was a mix of beautiful old colonial buildings, reminiscent of times past and typical Asian street scenes of children playing in lush green grass, lines of washing hanging out, adults sat on plastic chairs chatting away and playing board games. We stayed at The Strand hotel, built in 1901 by two of the Sarkies brothers whose portfolio also includes the Raffles hotel in Singapore. It went under a major renovation after it was used briefly to quarter Japanese troops in World War II. Even though it’s counted as one of the most beautiful and luxurious hotels of the East, it bares no swimming pool or other amenities that you might find in an otherwise ‘luxury’ hotel. Past guests have included George Orwell, Sir Noel Coward and Rudyard Kipling to name but a few. It was truly beautiful and we had a wonderful time celebrating my birthday at their signature restaurant and a drink in the famous Sarkies bar.
We marvelled at the Shwedagon Temple, strolled around romantic Inya Lake, and bahtered for souvenirs at the Bogyoke market. But my favourite thing was a train ride that took us around the outskirts of the city. It lasted for a good couple of hours and it was pretty hot, but we stuck our heads out of the window to feel the breeze and were able to see much more of the city rather than the touristy areas. I would highly recommend this as a way to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon.
We took a night bus up to Bagan, which I was a little nervous about. The last time I took a night bus was quite a few years ago when sleep deprivation didn’t worry me as much. I didn’t really want to waste a precious day feeling exhausted when we only had 10 days. However, I was really impressed. The bus was comfy and relatively spacious and we both managed to get a fair amount of sleep. Bagan was beautiful. Everything we expected it to be and more. We stayed at the Ruby True Hotel, which was pretty cheap and cheerful, but was well located and had friendly staff. We hired mopeds to explore the temples, which was a lot better than walking around as the temple area is vast. A lot of the time we were the only ones at certain temples, so we would zoom right up, park and explore the ancient wonders.
We were up super early the next morning for a hot air balloon ride over the temples. It was our first time in a hot air balloon and it really was amazing. Well worth the money spent. We shared a basket with a few other tourists and it was pretty tight but everyone received spectacular views of the sun coming up over the temples, the mist swirling below giving an ethereal experience. After landing, we had a glass of champers and chatted away about how incredible it all was.
After Bagan, another night bus up to Inle Lake. It was significantly cooler here and we actually had to wear our coats when we departed the bus. We got a tuk tuk in the freezing night air to our hotel and rocked up way too early for our room to be ready. We were given the staff’s quarters to crash in after not a lot of sleep for a few hours. We stayed at the Inle Princess Resort and it was beautiful. Right on the lake, our room was a tranquil wooden ‘house’ with a stunning view of the mountains from the terrace where you could swing on the hammock and breathe in all the fresh mountain air. I loved this hotel and I think it’s probably one of my favourite places I have ever stayed. The food served at the restaurant was fresh, locally farmed and sourced and the menus changed to suit the time of year. We spent a couple of wonderful days here cycling around the lake, tasting wine up in the vineyards (yes, Burma is even home to rows upon rows of vineyards, producing wine that is similar to South African due to the climate in this specific area), watching fishermen catch dinner on the lake, and generally having a very pleasant time here!
Our final destination was reachable by a very small plane. We were heading to the coast for a few days of beach and sunbathing to finish our trip. However, the coast is pretty difficult to get to, hence why we decided to fly rather than take a few buses. We stayed at Thande Beach Resort, which was nice, although I think the website made it look a bit nicer! Our room definitely needed a bit of work and there were occasionally times when the power would cut out and it would get a bit too hot for comfort! Still, it was directly on the beach, which was a beautiful stretch of sand and lovely warm sea to splash about it. We were never stuck for delicious food or drink and were able to walk along the beach to find fresh fish that was cooked up for us right there and then. We got engaged on the last evening and celebrated with some grilled fish, a weird cocktail that wasn’t too tasty whilst sat on plastic chairs that sunk into the sand. It was absolutely perfect!
Burma really surprised us and exceeded all expectations. It was diverse, culturally fascinating and had an array of activities and places to see that you would be pushed to find all in one country. It’s history is steeped with blood-shed and with the Rohingya community crisis that is happening right now, many people would choose to bypass Burma. However, in a few years, I can imagine the beaches turning in to chaotic scenes similar to Ko PhaNgan in Thailand, or Big Red Bus tours shipping snap-happy tourists around the temples in Bagan. Go now to experience the peacefulness and beauty!