Although I haven’t been in Asia in a while, it just so happens I have my sights on returning sometime before the end of the year. (Woo woo!)
With Asia on my mind, I’ve been unintentionally reading less Europe based blogs and a few more Asia based ones. It’s been starting to refresh my memory on the two years I spent living in Korea and the 4 and a half months traveling Southeast Asia.
While I do share my criticisms about some countries in Asia on this blog, overall, I love the region. I love the food. I love the weirdness. I love the backpacking culture there. I also love the prices.
Now here’s something a lot of people might not like to hear:
When it comes to a certain country which is somewhat new to the Southeast Asia backpacking circuit, I don’t share the same love. I’m also very confused why so many other people do. As I read about fellow bloggers’ plans for Southeast Asia, it seems like everyone is still bangin’ on about how they can’t wait to experience Myanmar and visit before “it’s too late.”
It was the same when I was planning my Southeast Asia stint, Myanmar was the new up-and-coming destination to visit. Everyone said, “everyone is so friendly” “it’s still very off-the-beaten path” and “go before it becomes the next Thailand.”
I’m not trying to bash a country for no reason. I’m not trying to stir anger in people. I’m just trying to express my feelings on traveling to the region so possibly others don’t make the same mistake I did: only go because “everyone was doing it.” I’m also hoping to understand why it is it seems like I had such a different experience than everyone else. Never have I seen or heard such contrasting opinions about traveling to a country.
Are there others who feel the same as me? Did I just get it all wrong? And controversially…could people just be talking the country up because it’s the cool thing to do?
I really don’t know, but here are my perceptions:
I didn’t love the food
While traveling, decent food is a pretty important category for me to check. Also, I’m probably the least picky person in the world, so I’m not that hard to impress.
In Myanmar, I did prior research, I tracked down Anthony Bourdain’s spots, I read tons of reviews. Overall, I put in all the effort necessary to usually get a good idea of the cuisine in a country. Sadly, in Myanmar, even with this effort, I could count the amount of really good dishes I had on one hand. Only a small few left a lasting impression. Most times things were just mediocre.
I had a tea leaf salad that was so buttery I swore it had avocado in it. I frequented the same street cart lassi stand in Yangon multiple times for the tart but refreshing drink. There were one or two curries that I did enjoy. I went to one Italian place in Inle Lake that was pretty delicious.
Other than that it seemed like things just weren’t of very good quality.
A lot of dishes were very oily, others very salty. Other times I paid triple the price as in Thailand and I felt like I was being given the cheapest rendition of a dish possible.
Especially in touristy areas like Bagan, I just felt like there was no pride in the food. For the amount of effort I put in to track down good quality stuff, I just didn’t feel like I was receiving much in return.
It took a lot of effort
Sure, travel isn’t easy. I’ve had my fair share of difficult and long journeys in places like India, Nepal and Laos. With Myanmar, traveling from place to place really does take some effort and time, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a alternative.
Unless you are flying from city to city (which is expensive), expect every bus journey to be a long overnight one. The tourist trail in Myanmar is split into a few different locations, none of which are very close to each other. And while the VIP buses can be pretty comfortable, there are still some pretty crazy highways which they tackle. Also, maybe this was just my luck, but often times multiple locals were vomiting at once.
It’s not a fun experience to be stuck inside a rectangular box with the sounds of gagging scattered throughout during the night.
If you are planning to travel Myanmar in under 10 days, expect to be on a very long bus journey every few. Now this shouldn’t be a problem for some people, but for others it can get very exhausting, especially if at this point you’ve been on the move for a while. This could have been the case for me. I could have already been exhausted from a couple months of travel and just didn’t have the energy.
If you don’t think you’re up to it, just don’t put yourself through it. Unlike other places in Southeast Asia where you can just take a bus for a couple hours and be in your next destination, expect an average of 10 hours in Myanmar.
No one was abnormally friendly
Everyone who has been to Myanmar talks about the friendly locals. Sure, people weren’t rude. Sure, people were cordial. But in my opinion, no one was more friendly than other places I’ve visited.
Did I just have bad luck? Was I not trying hard enough?
In touristy regions, many people came up to us to sell us souvenirs. Another time a guy on a bike pretended to be wanting to help us to practice his English, only to corner us on top of a temple and forcefully show us his paintings for sale. This stuff happens all over Southeast Asia, why are people saying Myanmar is different?
My high moments were few and far between
With almost two weeks in the country, I can easily count the high moments from the trip. And while the high moments, like cruising Inle Lake and sunset over the temples of Bagan were very high, the mediocre moments were plenty. If you’ve ever traveled for long periods of time maybe you can relate to that steady stream of feeling ‘blah’. This feeling can make you feel pretty guilty.
On a trip every day should be a highlight in some fashion!
Most trips I’m go-go-go to the point of exhaustion, but in Myanmar sometimes I was just bored. Usually after two days we had covered all the highlights of a city, but not wanting to hop right back on a bus, we ended up with a few extra days just wandering around.
Prices of accommodation (in comparison to the region) didn’t always equal value
Compared to the rest of the region, accommodation in Myanmar is pricey. Of course, in comparison to the rest of the world, $25 for the cost of a double room is nothing. Still, when it’s double the price of the rest of Southeast Asia and some money might be making its way to the corrupt government you start to wonder.
I stayed in some rooms that were really nice and worth the price. I stayed in others that were very dodgy and making a killing off tourists. Overall, I just sometimes deep down knew that for the fact I wasn’t having the time of my life, I could be doing that somewhere else for cheaper. That’s a feeling no traveler really likes in the back of their head.
I would never say that Myanmar is expensive overall. The prices themselves should not be a deterrent to visit. In my case, I just felt like the higher prices added to my list of travel pitfalls in the country.
You probably disagree
A lot of people probably disagree. A lot of people are probably mad. “How dare she not have glowing reviews about this country!” I get it.
But hopefully, given the experience I had you might be able to see why I came to my conclusions.
Is Myanmar Worth Visiting?
So, did I just have really bad luck? Did I get it all wrong? I really don’t know, but in my gut I don’t think so. To me, sure, traveling Myanmar was a good experience, but I found it to be pretty overrated.
If you happen to be planning a trip to Southeast Asia, all I can advice is that you choose countries for the right reasons. If you really want to see Bagan and you don’t mind some of the other hassles, by all means, go to Myanmar. If deep down in your gut you’d rather be somewhere with a more social atmosphere and shorter traveling distances, there’s no reason to feel bad about skipping the country completely. Don’t feel like you have to go because it’s still off the beaten path, or just because everyone else seems to be going.
Don’t worry, Myanmar will not turn into next Thailand. Not in the next 10 years, that’s for sure.
Want some other opinions on Myanmar?
- Here’s why Lauren of Never Ending Footsteps loved the country.
- Amanda of Farsickness gives her highlights while visiting, but states she didn’t love or hate the country particularly.
- Becki of Borders of Adventure has traveled the country pretty extensively and also loves it, here’s her comprehensive guide
So, what do you think? Have you been to Myanmar?