05 Thursday November, 2015
By Chloe Goolden, PR & Marketing
Burma’s burgeoning tourism industry is going from strength to strength, and over the last few years there has been extraordinary demand for tailor-made holidays to the country. Recent investment has meant that some wonderful new luxury products have opened up, with further planned development spreading across the country. But this has caused concern amongst travellers that Burma’s most enchanting attractions will become diluted. Rosie and I have just returned from an extensive 3-week recce to fine-tune Ampersand’s existing expertise, and with frontline experience can confirm that the country’s celebrated charm and character are still very much alive. But there is certainly a window and we can’t imagine how anyone would want to delay a visit to this magnificent country, so here are our reasons for you to go, right now:
1). Mrauk U
Nestled within the depths of the far west of the country, Mrauk U is one of Burma’s finest gems. It is approximately 40 miles from Sittwe, which means a five hour boat ride up the Kaladan River, through the stunning Rakhine landscape, and after legendary Bagan, it is the country's second most renowned archaeological site; the temples are smaller and younger, but no less remarkable or impressive. Mrauk U is completely off the beaten track, and with only about 4,000 visitors each year, it remains unspoilt and undiscovered to the masses which makes the area all the more special. We absolutely fell in love with the small town vibe where a traditional way of life still endures, the friendly faces and stunning pagodas. We stayed at the Mrauk U Princess which is a charming hotel, and sister to Ampersand favourite Inle Princess Resort, which is a delightful place. However, with imminent plans afoot to build an airport, it won’t be long before this hidden treasure becomes part of the well-trodden tourist trail.
2). The people of Burma
There is absolutely no denying that the people of Burma are some of the kindest and friendliest in all of Southeast Asia. This was apparent from the minute we landed and all the way through our trip as we dotted around the country. A deep routed belief in Buddhism means that by their very nature, the Burmese are calm and respectful people. Not once were we hassled by the locals for money as you so often are in other parts of Southeast Asia, and children are taught from an early age not to beg but to earn their money. From our wonderful and most knowledgeable guide May (who puts the ‘May’ in ‘amazing’), to the young children selling their enchanting handmade postcards in Bagan, the people we met were nothing short of delightful, gentle, humorous, engaging and considerate. Infinite smiles, warmth and friendliness is what truly makes this country a golden land.
3). The Mergui Archipelago
Some people say that the Mergui Archipelago is what the Thai islands were like 20 years ago. Uninhabited and remote, the 800 sparsely populated islands are scattered along the Burmese coast in the Andaman Sea. Unlike the rest of Burma there isn’t a solid tourism infrastructure and (so far) there aren’t any luxury resorts in the region. The best way to experience these beautiful islands is by luxury sailing yacht, and we were lucky enough to hop on board a couple of them. The classic sailing yacht Meta IV and the sexy, sporty catamaran, Meltemi offer a unique new experience for luxury explorers. The staff aboard these yachts were second to none as they demonstrated their acute attention to detail and their genuine passion for sailing – for the short time we were with them, we felt like royalty! You can sail for days without meeting another soul, and with only a handful of visitors to the area each month, the Mergui Archipelago remains one of Earth’s most unspoilt destinations.
4). The Food
Burmese food is unlike anything you will find elsewhere in Southeast Asia, and how would anyone know when there aren’t any Burmese restaurants outside of Burma? Burmese cuisine combines elements from their Thai, Chinese and Indian neighbours, so you can expect a variety of noodle and curry dishes, spicy soups and of course rice which is farmed in abundance. On the coast fresh fish and seafood is on every menu, in Mrauk U you can find fresh water river prawns, and wherever you are there will always be a traditional green tea salad (lahpet) on the table, accompanied by a flask of green tea. Food markets are brimming with produce that often cannot be found anywhere else, and thanks to the tropical climate, Burma boasts a plentiful crop of fruits including mangosteen, papaya, pomelo, custard apples, tomatoes, bananas, aubergine, durian and jackfruit to name a few. We were spoilt for choice with the fresh fruit which was on offer. And what’s more you won’t find a single McDonalds or Starbucks in Burma! Ok, there is a KFC in Yangon, but for now, the streets remain thankfully free from Ronald McDonald and skinny Frappuccinos.
5). Ngapali Beach
Mile upon mile of pristine white sands lapped by the cerulean waters of the Bay of Bengal, Ngapali Beach is the perfect spot to ‘get away from it all’. Although it is no longer as secluded as it once was, Ngapali is certainly no Phuket as it holds tight to its fishing village roots. Hotels are popping up along the coastline with further development in the pipeline, but for now it remains fairly sheltered and largely free from the hordes of sun worshippers.
6). Bagan, Inle Lake & the Irrawaddy River
The magical Bagan with over two thousand pagodas, the long and tapering Inle Lake with its floating villages, the cultural artery of the Irrawaddy River which runs through the heart of the country; the classic sites of Burma are still the stuff of legend. And with emerging boutique hotels and luxury river vessels these areas are improving considerably. Notably, the flourishing river cruises which have taken to the waters of the Irrawaddy; the ultra-luxurious Road to Mandalay and Sanctuary Ananda or the quaint and classic Amara I and the Pandaw, these are undoubtedly the most indulgent ways to see the country at a leisurely pace. We were also the very first agents to see the brand new Strand Cruise which oozes colonial style, mirroring that of her sister counterpart, the Strand Hotel. In Bagan, numerous hotels are making exciting improvements, including Bagan Lodge which are building new suites and another swimming pool. The stunning and elegant Sanctum Inle Resort is the newest luxury addition to Inle Lake’s eastern shore, whilst the imminent arrival of swimming pools are planned for Villa Inle Resort & Spa and Inle Lake View Resort.
For more information or to start planning your tailor-made holiday to Burma, please get in touch with Rosie:
firstname.lastname@example.org / +44 (0) 207 819 9770