If you have tried Shan Valley Tea, perhaps you have dreamed of making a trip to Myanmar (Burma) yourself to tour the country and try the tea first hand. You’re in luck. For many years, this was impossible due to politics, but ever since the country became democratic in 2016, tourism is slowly starting to open up.
In this month’s article, we’re going to discuss the major geographic features, cultural must-knows, and tourist areas of this country so you can plan a trip, as well as some important travel information you should know before your visit. In America, the name Myanmar is used for getting visas so we will use this name here. Myanmar used to be known as Burma and both names are still common.
Myanmar is a country in Southeast Asia a little smaller than the state of Missouri in the United States. It’s bordered by five countries: China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh, and India. If you can find India on a map, Myanmar is located just to the west of its furthest point.
The Chinese border is very mountainous, with foothills extending along the eastern side of the country. It is in these foothills that our tea is harvested in the Shan state. There is another mountain range extending from India down the west side of the country. The center of the state is a low valley with many rivers, the largest being the Irrawaddy.
Myanmar’s climate is mostly tropical, consisting of two main seasons, a very wet and hot monsoon season from May through October and a much drier and cooler season from the end of October to May. It is most recommended to tour Myanmar during the dry season as travel during the monsoons is treacherous without experience.
There are fourteen states in Myanmar, the largest being Shan where we source our teas from. Every state has tourism opportunities. After being isolated for so long, Myanmar has opened its doors to adventurous travelers who are willing to go off the beaten path and brave undeveloped countryside in order to see sights that few outside of Myanmar have seen in decades.
However, not all of the states are safe for travel. Before you plan a trip to Myanmar, you must be aware of the local situation. Your country’s visa authority will be able to tell you which areas are safe for travel and which need to be avoided. That said, tourists getting caught up in local trouble in Myanmar is rare so long as they don’t try to get involved.
The country is overwhelmingly Theravada Buddhist, though there are areas with strong religious minorities and the major cities do have smaller enclaves of other religions. It is against the law to malign Buddhism or images of the Buddha. If you plan on visiting any of the temples, reading a bit about how to interact with monks will go a long way. At a minimum, be respectful and, if you are female, avoid touching them.
If you have an interest in Buddhism or in Eastern religions, you will be spoiled for choice for destinations to visit. One example is the Shwemawdaw Pagoda, the tallest pagoda in Myanmar at 374 feet in height. It is located in Bago, a city in Southern Myanmar.
For sheer variety, the pagoda fields of Bagan has over 2,000 pagodas and temples to see and thousands more in various states of ruin. The field is very popular with hot air balloon tourists. From the higher vantage point, you can see the huge scale of the project. Bagan’s archaeological zones are perfect for tourists with a desire to experience ancient history. Bagan is also in Myanmar’s dry zone, so if your travel plans take you here during the wet season this makes an attractive stop.
A pagoda, in case you’re not familiar with the term, is a large structure often containing a chamber to hold Buddhist relics. Similar to how parts of saints are interred at some cathedrals, these chambers may also contain parts of individuals believed to be enlightened. Shwemawdaw Pagoda is said to contain two hairs and two teeth of the Buddha.
Several towns have embraced the chance at tourism and have started development. One such example is Thandwe in West Myanmar. It is the home of Ngapali Beach, a two-mile beach that is a popular tourist destination for locals and foreigners alike, though more expensive than other locations due to its isolation. Other beach destinations include Ngwe Saung, Chuang Tha, and Kanthaya Beach. One thing to note is that the Burmese swim in t-shirts and jeans. While you can wear Western swimwear, choose modest fashions.
Inle Lake in Shan State and the surrounding area is also a major tourist attraction. While not a beach town, it is home to some of the most spectacular vistas in Myanmar. The Kakku Pagodas, not far from here, are a set of thousands of pagodas tucked away in the hills. You must have a local guide take you there by law, so if you are staying at Inle Lake, ask the front desk to arrange a visit.
Finally, we can’t forget talking about Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar and where you are most likely to fly into or through during your time there. It is here that you can experience Burmese tea culture in full force. It is quite common for locals to while the weekend away at a tea shop. If you are learning the Burmese language, this would give you a great chance to practice your conversation skills. Yangon also has a very well-preserved colonial center from when Britain ruled the country, another great place for history buffs to tour.
We hope that if you like our tea, you may one day take a trip to experience the culture and sites of Myanmar first-hand. It is truly a get-away-from-it-all destination for the adventurous traveler. While many tourist sites are still undergoing development compared to neighboring countries, if you’re willing to handle that then Myanmar has much to offer.