Top 5 reasons to visit Burma
Burma is back on every ethical traveller’s must-visit list and Burmese Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to London this week reminds us vividly of how far the country has come in such a short space of time.
Her four-day visit is part of a two-week long tour, which includes visits to Ireland, Switzerland, France and Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize that she won over 20 years ago. She did not accept at the time due to fears that she would not be allowed return to Burma if she left.
The pro-democracy leader spent much of the last 24 years under house arrest in Burma –She was freed in late 2010. This tour is seen a milestone for Burma’s political progress and as a sign of confidence in the government of President Thein Sein, who came to power last year after Burma’s first elections in 20 years.
Ampersand Travel, who began selling tours to the magical land of Burma when Ms Suu Kyi softened her stance on tourism sanctions last year, are experts in the country and have picked out their top 5 reasons to go:
1. The idyllic beaches of Ngapali
Burma has one of the longest coastlines in Asia and it is a treasure trove of beautiful, unexplored beaches – many of which offer fantastic diving and snorkeling. Ngapali is one of most spectacular sweeps of beach, a 3km stretch of palm-backed sand on the turquoise Bay of Bengal and the location of Sandoway Resort, one of Ampersand’s favourite hotels in Burma. This beach retreat has 56 rooms, villas and cottages scattered through 6 acres of tropical gardens, a picture-perfect pool, its own Art Deco-esque luxury cinema and a restaurant serving freshly caught local seafood.
2. Ballooning over Bagan
A sunrise balloon trip over Bagan is one of Asia’s most awe-inspiring experiences. Ballooning over Bagan offers extraordinary views over hundreds of ancient temples and pagodas, which peek out from the remote jungle. This experience is perfect for those who have done Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and are looking for something more adventurous and arguably even more wondrous.
3. Yangon’s giant golden Shwedagon Pagoda
This is a magical site, especially during Thingyan, the annual water festival held in April this year, when hundreds and thousands of worshippers surrounds the magnificent golden Pagoda to pay their respects. The air is heavy with the scent of flowers and incense, and the shuffling crowds flowed as one around the shrine. It is a wonderful experience to see families of all sizes, spanning 4 (perhaps 5) generations, spending time and praying together.
4. Inle Lake
Nearly 200 miles southeast of Mandalay lies Inle Lake – a place of heart-stopping beauty where no electricity flows. Here the water, mountain and sky seem to merge with one another and the colours wash into shades of blue and grey. It is cool – almost cold – and whole villages live on the water and crops are grown on small strips of floating islands. Rarely does reality feel more distant.?Several indigenous groups live in this area: the Taungyo, the Pa-O and the Intha, whose fishermen are famous for their gymnastic style of rowing, the stand on one leg and paddle with an oar braced against the other.
5. Meeting the Moken
Set sail on the Sea Gypsy, which departs from the homeport of Kaw Thaung, and guests can live like a genuine sea gypsy for a week aboard a rustic yet comfortable boat – with nothing to do but sail, dive and swim like a true Moken. The Moken are among the last of the world’s sea gypsies – they live off the bounty of the Andaman Sea, navigating their boats from island to island in the Mergui Archipelago – 850 undiscovered, paradise islands.
Ampersand Travel’s Burma itineraries start at £2,485 per person and range from 11 to 22-day tours. Visit ampersandtravel.com for further information.