For hip, globetrotting Indians, traveling to Burma may feel a little retro. It’s tempting to call Yangon a Calcutta of thirty years ago, and with the common warnings against snakes and efficiency, its easy to feel obnoxiously first-world in this land. Your purse will be full of tens of thousands of Khyat notes at any given time, but once you get past flexing the rupee – just because it’s the rare place where the currency still has a muscle –you’ll realise that this serene, magical country is in many ways, far ahead not only of the Motherland but the “enlightened” West that seems to have ditched it for a trashier time in Thailand. Big mistake, but don’t tell them.
Trust us and come soon, while everyone is elsewhere doing the Samui circuit. Burma is lush as hell, an eater’s paradise (with particular respect for vegetarians), and a country that gently shifts you from the inside when you least expect it.
Begin in Yangon; the ex-capital, but definitely the busiest, most cosmopolitan city in Myanmaar. Though one can argue that there is nothing to do after you’ve seen the silencing Shwegaddon Pagoda – which amounts to a town made of gold – there is lots. Skip the malls and make sure you visit a local bazaar; the floor-level grocery commerce is unique, and the okras are the length of an average human’s arm. If you have time, you should also check out The National and Gems museums.
If you’re up for a bit of a worthy splurge, The Governor’s Residence is lush and gorgeous. Like an Aman property, but warmer (and way cheaper!), with a God of Small Things like pond cutting through the hotel.
Rooms can be hard to get here though, and if this is the case, we’d urge you to check out the Savoy, a favourite amongst hipsters with a liberal budget. It has a great restaurant called Kiplings and a super nice pool.
If you’re up to spend but want to keep it safe, the Shang-ri-La is considered the best five star hotel. Its well located, and everything you’d expect the Shang to be.
Do not miss Rangoon Tea House, a hip restaurant with a great bar that if in in Delhi, would be in Khan market. It features a mix of globalised Burmese food and Indian dishes. The gift shop is stacked with good books, cute coffee mugs, and amazing honey.
Sharkey’s is a great local joint, and a clear favourite for family dining. Skip the one next to Rangoon Tea House though and go to the other branch. Don’t miss the handcrafted ice-cream.
999 Shan Noodle House is a must-visit, expat friendly, hole in the wall; hands down the best tea leaf salad you’ll eat while in Burma.
You can give Scott Market a skip: it's like a poor version of Istanbul’s grand bazaar. Burma is actually a good place to give the shopping a rest and instead indulge in more soulful activities; unless it’s the rubies you’re after.
Bagan is the most visited place in Burma, but thanks to the prolonged tourist famine, you’d never know. A sepia-tinted, cosmic land with more temples than people, Bagan is a precious gem that we’d rather you not tell too many people about.
We’d recommend Bagan Lodge; with eighty rooms, two pools, comfortable suites, efficient service, and great food, its excellent value for money.
Do spend two days. The first can be dedicated to a thorough temple-run, best done via tuktuk. Visit the main pagodas, take pictures, and join the sunset industry that gathers at two dedicated spots 5pm onwards.
The next day, split off on your own on a rented e-bike. Go to Lily’s for a life-altering Burmese massage. Ditch the tourists and illegally climb a pagoda at sunset. You’ll feel at least halfway enlightened.
Sharkey’s makes an appearance again, as expat heaven. Seven Sisters is great for lunch (right next to Lily’s) as is Moon, for a succulent veggie meal. You can also forego these recommendations and eat at any of the humble joints that dot the streets. There is no such thing as a bad meal here, and a dollar and a half can easily buy you a very tasty meal.
Photo Credit: Instagram.com/agramofmeher
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