Road Trippin’ Myanmar
Visiting Myanmar has never been easier, with a more relaxed visa application process, an increased number of international flights and a general opening up of the country. The first stop on most tourists’ tour of the country is Yangon, but to really discover Myanmar, getting out of the big city and discovering small towns and villages on your own terms is the most authentic way to travel.
Yangon is a city coming into its own, and is well worth spending a few days in at the start or end of any trip to Myanmar. It is a hodgepodge mess of crumbling colonial structures and dilapidated art deco buildings intersperse by temples, churches and mosques, which makes it all the more charming and fascinating. There are now noticeable signs of investment in the air, with buildings being repaired and a whole host of new residential and commercial sites in the works.
Sule Shangri-La is a great place to base yourself when staying in the city for a few days. It is in the heart of the old town and walking distance away from many of the main tourist sites. It also offers fantastic food, safety and great Wi-Fi access, which is not always guaranteed in some of the local hotels.
Start any visit by getting your bearings, and walk around the old downtown area to take in magnificent colonial buildings, lively wet markets, monks on their daily alms rounds and all manor of humanity in between. Yangon is always hot and humid, so stop by one of the many chai stalls for refreshment and perhaps make a friend or two. Within this area, you can worship at the religious sites of multiple faiths, including the Sule Pagoda, a glittering, golden edifice in the centre of the city. Also en route is Scott Market, a large bazaar that was built during British rule and now hosts a varied selection of sellers offering antiques, art, souvenirs, clothing and gemstones.
Shwedagon Pagoda is by far the most famous, and therefore most popular, tourist destination in the city, and is an awesome sight to behold. The pagoda can become extremely busy during the daytime, with tourists and pilgrims jostling for photos and making their circuits around the massive structure. The best time to visit is early in the morning, before the hoards arrive. The pagoda opens at 4am everyday, so head over for sunrise and solo selfies.
To truly understand Myanmar, travel outside the main city to experience the daily life of the people. The World Bank reported in 2013 that 70 per cent of the population had no electricity, and even nowadays this is an on-going problem for the majority of the country.
Rent a car from a local tour operator (we used Gold Kangaroo Travel and Tours www.myanmartravelgkt.com) and head to the fishing town of Ngwe Saung (busses are also available). The drive west takes about five hours, but is rewarded by beautiful, unspoilt shoreline, which stretches as far as the eye can see for 15 kilometres.
This sleepy fishing village is just waking up to the prospect of domestic tourism, and there is an airport in the works, however, international tourism is still a very long way off. For now, you will find fishermen supplementing their income by taking visitors out on their wooden boats and offering fishing, snorkelling and meals. As these fishermen are not professional tour operators, make sure you are very specific about what you want out of the trip, otherwise you could find yourself drifting about the Bay of Bengal until nightfall.
Take your catch of the day to a local seafood restaurant and get it fried, grilledor curried and served with tealeaf, tomato and green bean salad for a traditional Burmese dinner. As the sunsets, the sleepy village rests once again, with very few bars or late night venues open and a scarcity of electricity.
To travel to Ngwe Saung is to revisit a simpler time and to appreciate the tranquillity and beauty of undisturbed nature. Even some of the fancier hotels on the beach have limited electricity and no Wi-Fi to speak of, so it is a real break from the 21-century and a chance to reconnect with reality. Visit the town market, speak to locals and enjoy the fresh air because it doesn’t get much better than this.
Where To Stay: Sule Shangri-La, Yangon
Elegant piano music fills the air as you step into the lobby of Sule Shangri-La, Yangon. The hotel is conveniently located in downtown Yangon, near major tourist attractions such as the Bogyoke Market (Scott Market), Sule Pagoda, China Town and colonial buildings. Sule Shangri-La, Yangon, has the added advantage of being only a 10-minute drive from Shwedagon Pagoda, People’s Park, the National Museum and Kandawgyi Lake, which are must-see sites for any tourist. The hotel also claims to have the fastest complimentary Wi-Fi Internet access in the country in their guestrooms and public areas.
The hotel comprises 479 expansive guestrooms and suites, each characterised by elegant contemporary décor and executive-style furnishings. Rooms come with a full array of amenities and facilities, spacious bathrooms and feature outstanding views of either the city, the pagoda or the river. For the more discerning business traveller, Horizon Club Rooms offer a host of additional privileges and an even higher level of personalised service. The fitness centre, spa and outdoor pool also allow guests some downtime in the hectic, yet vibrant, city.
Sule Shangri-La, Yangon. 223 Sule Pagoda
Road, Yangon, Myanmar. Tel: (95 1) 242 828.
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