Unconventional Honeymoon: Myanmar (Burma)

myanmar burma adventure travel
Hot air balloon flying over Temple Pe Myint Oo in Bagan — All photos courtesy of myanmarburma.com

OK, first of all, we’re not kidding ourselves here. We know Myanmar (Burma) isn’t the typical honeymoon locale. It’s a country in transition and while conditions are improving it’s still an unstable region with a lot of problems. But it’s also a place with gorgeous scenery, friendly people and a unique opportunity to experience a place without the usual tourist-y vibe.

For anyone curious about traveling to Myanmar, we spoke with Kevin McKenzie, one of the creators of MyanmarBurma.com, the first travel website for the country, to get his take on honeymooning in this unique destination.

Destination42: What type of couple would you say a Myanmar honeymoon is right for?
Kevin: I think it would appeal to couples that like to embark on new things together and enjoy the challenges that come with new things. Traveling to Myanmar isn’t going to be like traveling to a nearby city or a thoroughly modern country. They will meet people and experience traditions that are unlike what they are used to meeting and experiencing. People who together can enjoy these fresh sights and sounds will get the most out of the experience. It will also be something of a bonding experience as they traverse a new territory together.

myanmar burma honeymoon travel
U Bein Bridge in Mandalay

D42: Myanmar is of course not as obvious of a honeymoon choice as other places, but what would you say it offers couples that other countries don’t?
Kevin: Myanmar offers the opportunity for couples to feel like they’re embarking on an adventure that’s just for them. Even though there’s much conversation about going to Myanmar, many people are, in fact, just realizing that the country is open again. Consequently, visiting couples will still be able to go to major cities like Yangon and only run into foreigners at major tourist destinations and hotels. They can cruise down the Irrawaddy River, watch the sunset over the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, or explore the scenic gardens of Pyin Oo Lwin near Mandalay without feeling like they are part of some tour group. I also should mention that the level of hospitality and service in many hotels in the major cities meet or exceed the standards of other international hotels. You can find both luxury and adventure in Myanmar, which is great for couples.

D42: What experiences or excursions would you recommend to someone planning a honeymoon in Myanmar?
Kevin: We actually have a “romance” itinerary on our website, “The Myanmar (Burma) Romantic Getaway.” In it, we recommend that couples take in Yangon. There are so many great restaurants with internationally lauded chefs that are perfect for romantic dinners. The colonial architecture gives a great backdrop for walks through the city, and all the temples can create in couples an otherworldly feeling adding to the experience. We also recommend visiting places like the U Bein Bridge at sunset in Mandalay, a cruise down the Irrawaddy River, and a hot air balloon ride over the pagoda-filled plains in and around Bagan.

D42: What hotels would you recommend for honeymooners?
Kevin: In Yangon, some great hotels are the Governor’s Residence, The Strand, Trader Hotel, and Chatrium Hotel Royal Lake. If they’re headed to Mandalay, the Sedona Hotel Mandalay, Mandalay Hill Resort, and Hotel by the Red Canal all offer wonderful accommodations. And if they go to Bagan, the Amazing Bagan Resort, The Hotel at Tharabar Gate, and Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort are the places to check out. If they visit our website, myanmarburma.com, they’ll find more information on all these hotels as well as deals and discounts from our partner, Agoda.com.

myanmar burma adenture travel couples
Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

D42: How long would you recommend staying in Myanmar? Would you suggest combining a trip to Myanmar with another country (like Thailand)?
Kevin: Well, it all depends on what you want to see. In general, three to four days should let you see the main attractions. However, if you want to see all the big cities — Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, etc, you’ll definitely need more time. If a couple likes to explore, whether while on the road between cities or in cities themselves, they can easily take a week to explore one area.

And, yes, I would definitely recommend combining the trip with a visit to another country. More often than not, a flight schedule will fly you into Bangkok before entering Myanmar. I think Thailand is a great introduction to the culture and people of Southeast Asia, especially for anyone who has never been in the region before. By visiting Thailand first, you’ll be able to compare a developed country like Thailand with an underdeveloped one like Myanmar. Now is the time couples will still be able to see the country before it becomes swamped with tourists. Another great country to visit beforehand is Singapore — they even have a “Little Burma” at Peninsula Plaza. It’s a great way to try the food, see the culture, and meet some Burmese people even before you enter the country.

D42: What important safety things do you need to know when traveling to Myanmar? Anything to keep in mind as you plan your trip?
Kevin: The best approach to traveling safely in Myanmar is the same approach to traveling anywhere else in the world: Exercise good judgment and common sense. Crime is very low in Myanmar, especially in major tourist cities such as Yangon and Mandalay. The Burmese are very friendly and would rather help you than take advantage of you. However, we have no illusions about the still evolving character of the society. There still are areas of the country that are experiencing unrest, areas where the Burmese government still imposes restrictions for travel. Such areas are off the beaten tourist trail for the most part. Just keep in mind that you’re visiting an emerging democracy with all the issues that arise from societal and political change, exercise normal caution, and enjoy the visit.

burma myanmar adventure travel
Irrawaddy River in the Magway Region

D42: Are there any local customs to be aware of when traveling through Myanmar? Any local foods or activities that are a “must-try”?
Kevin: There are customs specific to regions of the country, but most couples will encounter the longyi and thanaka. Longyi is something like a sarong, worn by both men and women. It’s great for hot weather and can be suited to different occasions. The patterns of the fabric, the type of fabric, as well as how it’s worn distinguish longyi wearers from each other. It’s something a lot of visitors like to try out and take back home. Thanaka is the name of the white cream that many women and children wear on their faces. It’s made from sap from the thanaka tree and is worn to keep cool and as a sunscreen. It also is decorative, and a fun custom!

In respect to food, there are plenty of delights not to miss! Myanmar cuisine is influenced by many cultures — Chinese, Indian, Shan, Mon, and others. But “national” dishes to try would be Laphet Thote and Mohinga. Laphet Thote is a tea leaf salad and Mohinga is a fish noodle soup. Both are eaten at all times of the day and they’re a great way to see how unique Burmese cuisine can be.

adventure travel myanmar burma
Inle Lake in Shan State

D42: When are the best and worst times of year to travel to Myanmar? Any holidays or festivals that would be fun to travel to?
Kevin: There are three seasons in Myanmar: rainy from May to October, “winter” from November to February, and summer in March and April. These seasons will vary depending where you are in the country. The coast will get more rain than farther inland. During winter in the mountainous north, it will actually get cold instead of relatively cool. So couples headed to Mandalay, Bagan, or Yangon will enjoy visiting Myanmar during its winter season.

Myanmar has many holidays and festivals that would add to a honeymoon experience. Most of these special days and events are tied to the lunar cycle, which the Burmese calendar is based on. There are national holidays like the Thingyan Festival, occurring usually in April, which rings in the Burmese New Year. At that time, the country becomes a big water fight—a reference to “washing away” the previous year and starting anew. It is fun. There also are regional festivals across the country, some celebrating local traditions and some celebrating local people. For instance, there is a hot air balloon festival in Taunggyi in Shan State in which people compete on complex balloon designs and how high the balloons can fly. The whole three-day festival becomes something like a fair.

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