The Yangon-Bagan-Mandalay route might be an increasingly well-trodden path, but as Myanmar continues to open itself up to tourism there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy an under-the-radar adventure. Check out Southeast Asia’s hottest new destination for yourself and be sure to tick off our list of essential experiences while you’re at it.
1. Take to the water
With several mighty rivers forging a course through the country, long boats and ferries are a popular mode of transport. When deciding on a route, it’s worth bearing in mind that the pace of life on the water is leisurely – for example the route from Mandalay to Bhamo, just 200km north, can take up to 48 hours! Before signing up for anything ambitious, try out your sea legs (or lake legs) with a day tip on Inle Lake. With centuries-old temples and floating gardens lining its shores, this huge body of water makes for a lazy day trip and a rare opportunity to witness the Intha technique of rowing, which sees fishermen deftly casting nets while wrapping their leg around a long oar to steady the flat-bottomed boat. Or float downstream on the Ayeyarwady River from Mandalay to the temple-strewn plains of Bagan.
2. Sample the (unofficial) national dish
Start your day the Myanmar way with a rich bowl of mohinga. This spicy fish-based broth is dished up at street stalls across the country and comes piled high with rice noodles and crunchy fried lentil or peanut fritters. Expect regional variations to include cucumber, bamboo shots, onions and beansprouts – if you’re still hungry, order a tangy salad that’s mixed up on the spot. Don’t miss out on the laphet thouq, made with fermented green tea leaves, or athouq, packed with juicy green tomatoes, chillies and roasted chickpea powder. These flavourful creations are delicious and cost less than a dollar.
3. Make time for tea
From gossiping grannies to children feasting on sponge cakes and pastries, a visit to a teashop is a daily ritual for most Myanmar locals. A million miles from the chic café scene back home, the only milk you’ll find here comes condensed in a can, adding a deliciously sweet taste and syrupy texture to the brew. Grab a seat, order a glass from one of the young ‘teaboys’ and watch as your table is slowly covered with treats to nibble on – you simply pay for whatever you eat at the end. The perfect place to wait for an early-morning bus or crowd around a TV showing an evening football match, these are prime people-watching venues. For an alfresco experience make for Mandalay’s Unison Teahouse, which sits in an oversized bandstand on the banks of a canal overlooking the city’s largest monastery with its Big Ben-style clock tower.