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We’ve Only Just BAGAN: Beginners Guide to Myanmar

This can easily become South East Asia’s most beautiful cultural destination!

Probably one of the most overlooked ASEAN Countries not until recently, Myanmar offers the opportunity to take you to the distant past through its millennia old architecture, temples and artifacts that can leave you mind blown. The only difference is that you don’t need a time machine or a tourist visa, just your good old Philippine Passport and a few thousands of pesos.

However, as an emerging tourist destination, tourists are often left wandering how to maximize a visit to this beautiful nation. After completing an epic visit to Yangon and Bagan, Myanmar recently, I would like to share with you tips and things to consider before and during visiting Myanmar.

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What to Bring

Myanmar is still in its raw and unadulterated form. It is fascinating that at this day and age, you’ll still find a destination this pure, with minimal influence from the outside world. With that being said, it is also very important that one must prepare for the challenges of making the trip more comfortable for regular tourists.

Before you go, make sure to bring light clothing and a jacket, for the weather can be warm/humid during daytime and cold during nighttime, specially in the city of Bagan. Also, while jeans are encouraged to show respect to the all the Buddhist temples, it is also a good idea to wear regular shorts for it will make it easier to wear the Burmese traditional clothing. The use of Burmese clothing is still very much practiced up to this day. Men wear Longyi and women wear Htamein. Both are sarong-like long skirts, the only difference is the way the sarong is tied around the waist. Wearing this will make it easier to blend in and possibly avoid being asked of a donation multiple times during temple visits.

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Getting Around

In the former capital city of Yangon, taxis are abundant, but since English is not widely used, it may be difficult to haggle and give instructions. Travellers’ best bet is to coordinate with the Myanmar Tourism Office desk, available upon arrival at Yangon International Airport. They provide reliable, English speaking taxi drivers that provide a fixed rate on Yangon City Tours, covering the major tourists destinations in the city for as low as 40,000 Kyat (Php 1477).

A tour to Myanmar is never complete without the visit to the City of Bagan, an ancient city located about 8-10 hours north of Yangon. Direct flights are available from Yangon to Bagan but Luxury sleeper buses provide a cheaper, yet equally comfortable alternative. Ticket price ranges from 27,000 to 40,000 Kyat (Php 1000- 1500). Bus departure is around 8 pm and will arrive in Myanmar around 4- 5 am, the next day.

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Communicating

Probably one of the challenges that tourists encounter is communicating effectively with the locals. The locals speak the Burmese language and very few can communicate well in English. It is very helpful to know some Burmese expressions to warm up any conversation attempt with them, especially in haggling. The most helpful expressions are “Hello” (good morning and good evening) – Min-ga-la-ba, “Thank you” – jè-zù tin-ba-deh and “I don’t understand“- nà-mǎleh-ba-bù. It is also very helpful to use a calculator in shopping, for this will allow a traveller to haggle effectively. Burmese people are very kind, patient and will do their very best to explain things to you, even in sign language.

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Temple Hopping

The country of Myanmar is home to thousands ancient temples, most of which are older than those from the neighboring country of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Some of the temples are so old, they date back from the 3rd Century. Luckily, amidst their age, these temples are still intact up to this day.

In Yangon, few notable temples have caught our eyes and attention. These are Swe Taw Myat or Buddha Tooth Relic Pagoda, home to 2500 year old tooth relic of Guatama Buddha; and Shwedagon Pagoda, home to the tallest, grandest and the most important pilgrimage site for Buddhist in Yangon. It is here where the 99 meter high gold plated stupa is located. The structure glistens all day and is considered as the most iconic structure in the city.

Up north in Bagan, it could be a challenging task to choose a handful of temples to explore from more than 2000 temples that are scattered all throughout the plains of Bagan. Given our limited time, we have chosen 4 of the best ones for you:

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Bu Lel Thi Pagoda – Best for watching Bagan’s Glorious Sunrise rising from a plain dotted with hundreds of Temples and a backdrop filled with billowing hot air balloons.

Htilominlo Temple – The only place in Bagan where the “Long Neck” or Giraffe Women of Myanmar is found.

Ananda Temple – The indian influence in the temple is evident with its resemblance to the Taj Mahal.

Shwe Gu Gyi Pagoda – Located inside the Old Bagan, this provides a sweeping view of the surrounding temples and a perfect spot for watching sunset.

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Burmese Food 101

Aside from the Ancient Temples, Burmese food is another compelling reason for a traveller to visit Burma. While a Burmese Restaurant is rarely seen in Manila, Burmese flavors would be familiar to the Filipino Taste buds. Because of its location, Burmese Food is a lovely combination of Thai, Chinese, South East Asian and India flavors, which most of us Filipinos are familiar with.

Start your day with a steamy bowl of Mohinga (Fish Noodle Soup) or Ohn No Kyawswe (Chicken Coconut Soup) with matching Burmese Samosas and Chinese donuts. For Lunch, start with Green Tea Salad and for the main course, Burmese Chicken in Biryani Rice. For Dinner, you can have Burmese Pad Thai, Burmese Butter/Garlic Naan Bread and Burmese Fish Curry. Finish it with Burmese Sticky rice or a Burmese Falooda, a Burmese/Indian counterpart to Philippines’ Halo-halo 

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Souvenir Shopping

Remember Miss Myanmar and her unforgettable Burmese Puppet National Costume Performance at Miss Universe? She was not kidding when she showcased Puppetry as a reflection of the Burmese culture. Traditional Burmese Puppets, which were once exclusive to Burmese Royalty are commonly found hanging in major tourist spots, hotels and souvenir stores. Jades are also a must-buy souvenir in Burma for it is home to the finest kind of Jade in the world, most of which are exported and sold in China. Just make sure that you’re buying from a registered seller and each gemstone is properly documented instead of supporting the illegal Jade trade that drains the country billions of dollars.

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Overall, just like a newly mined Jade, Burma is a gemstone in the rough. So much ancient temples to explore, so much Burmese food to try, it is just a matter of time that the world will discover Myanmar’s unparalleled offerings. So what are you waiting for, hop on the plane and explore Myanmar, so you can “Let the Love BAGAN” for this unpretentious, unadulterated and culture-rich ASEAN nation.

Post Author
Julius Calvin

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