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After opening up to the world, Burma (Myanmar) is now one of the hottest destinations in Southeast Asia. A wonderland of Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries, it can be toured by land or by the Irrawaddy River, which runs through the country from Yangon (Rangoon) to Mandalay. Burma hasn't changed much for decades -- yet -- so now is a great time to go.
You think you’ve seen it all in Southeast Asia, until you hear of a country called Burma. The crowds and global restaurant conglomerates haven’t yet arrived, and it is still largely untouched by tourism.
Burma is rooted in the Theravada Buddhist philosophy of metta: benevolence, friendship, goodwill, and kindness. Its cultural atmosphere embodies this essence, with overflowing smiles, and generous invitations. You may find yourself walking alone, or with a group, when suddenly, you are asked to coffee, or tea, in at thatched bamboo home. Wondering how you ended up sitting cross-legged and exchanging grateful gestures, you are unaware of a language barrier that just minutes earlier seemed a thousand miles long. Trust your instincts, and welcome this national devotion to kindness toward strangers.
These temples recognized throughout South Asia for their multi-tiered rooftops, are painted in gold, or pure white, throughout Burma. Shwedagaon Pagoda in Yangon, Golden Rock on Mount Kyaiktiyo, and the more than 10,000 pagodas dotting the landscape of Bagan, are among the most visited. However, you may also see small golden pagodas almost anywhere in Burma, even in the most remote areas. Dress modestly, and remove your shoes before entering these sacred Buddhist temples.
Especially when visiting pagodas, or even just walking down the buzzing streets of Yangon, you may be struck by the effortlessness of monks and nuns passing by with their long, flowing robes. Monks of all ages wear saffron-colored robes, while nuns’ robes are pink. Embrace the serenity offered by their presence, and only take photographs if granted permission, or with extreme discretion.
The shallow waters and canals of Inle Lake, near the town of Nyaung Shwe, provide the ideal setting for fishermen to cast their wide cone-shaped nets. Homes rest on stilts, farmers tend to floating gardens anchored by large bamboo poles, and all is tranquil. You may never want to leave.
Know the season before you go. Like the rest of South East Asia, Burma is affected by the monsoon season in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months. Dry season may be a more favorable time to sightsee, but expect heat, and more crowds.
Burma is rooted in tradition, and modest clothing is the norm. Women and men wear a traditional sarong, called a longhi, and you will rarely see bare shoulders, even in major cities. Follow this modest dress, and pack loose-fitting long pants and/or skirts for women, instead of shorts. Pick thin fabrics to keep you cool.
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