Back to Burma: A changing country

Back to Burma: A changing country

Unspoilt is a word bandied around rather too regularly when describing tourist destinations.

The truth is, there really aren’t many places left that are untouched by globalisation, mass tourism and commercialisation. Burma, or as it is now officially known, Myanmar, is one of the few.

However, if your clients want to experience the country in this rare state, you’ll need to book their trip sooner rather than later. After years of isolation the country is rapidly emerging as an up-and-coming tourist destination.

You may have seen Burma’s pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, released from house arrest on the news last year. It’s a sign that the country is changing. Andrea Godfrey, general manager at Regent Holidays, says: “Interest always increases following positive moves towards democracy.”

Suu Kyi is now advocating small-scale tourism to her country, as long as it is bought through private enterprises that don’t have links to the military regime.

Interest in Burma is rising. Page views on TripAdvisor from the UK have rocketed by 245% for the year up to October, and the trade is echoing the same trend, with a rash of operators starting to feature the country. Most tours are designed specifically for cultural travellers, focusing on temples, religion, people and ways of life.

Imaginative Traveller started selling tours online 18 months ago, and its capacity has gone from zero to 130 people in this time. Product manager Liddy Pleasants says: “This is an extraordinary number of sales considering it was only sold online – it wasn’t even advertised or promoted in our brochure.”

Those who started selling the destination this year – including KE Adventure and Explore – also report good sales. Explore product executive James Adkin says: “We started in July, and demand is so high that we’ve already added extra departure dates.” Travelsphere is reporting a similar situation, and G Adventures sold out its 2011 tours.

Yaow Butwisate-Lok, product manager at Cox & Kings, adds: “It has become the best-selling tour for the Far East brochure for 2011. Now is definitely the time to visit, while you can see the exquisite temples and other sites with very few others around.”

One reason for high enquiry levels and bookings is the strong historical links – Burma was a UK colony before World War Two.

Lesley Wright, marketing manager of Travel Indochina, explains: “The country is a big draw with some clients referencing family who were stationed in Mandalay.”

The Golden Triangle

Clients will want to see the main highlights of Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan, known as the Golden Triangle.

The city of Yangon, or colonial Rangoon, is beautiful and reminiscent of a bygone era. It is home to the country’s most important Buddhist structure, the golden-spired Shwedagon Pagoda.

The royal capital of Mandalay is important to British tourists since it was heavily fought over during World War Two, and Inle Lake is a scenic highlight.

Boating and hiking are popular at the latter, a beautiful body of water nestled among stunning mountains and home to floating gardens and fisherman famed for their extraordinary balance – standing on one leg while rowing their boats with the other.

Inle Lake, Burma

Bagan is home to hundreds of Buddhist temples and pagodas, and sunset views from the temple tops are breathtaking.

Tim Greening, director at KE Adventure Travel, says: “Most operators follow the Golden Triangle route, but some clients are keen to get off the beaten track and hike through the forests and farmland in the hill country north of Inle Lake.”

For 2012, Abercrombie & Kent are also offering photographic trips to Burma, which are generating a lot of interest. Managing director Justin Wateridge reports that enquiries are growing for more out-of-the-way spots such as the far eastern city of Kengtung and Mrauk U, a city in the west famed for its ancient pagodas.

Whether you’re taking an Irrawaddy River cruise from Mandalay to Bagan or relaxing on the pristine sands of Ngapali Beach, the overriding highlight is the friendly Burmese people.


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