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When you are traveling around Myanmar it is quite common to be asked: ”Why did you choose to come to Burma?”. And the answer is always the same: ”Because I believe that now it’s the right moment to come”. The country has massively improved in tourism infrastructure since the relative democratic transition started. Traveling around has gotten easier than ever, and definitely, this is the country where you can easily experience South East Asian culture without having to deal with the tourist crowds existing in Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam.

Nevertheless, a lot of foreign people who come to Myanmar get disappointed when they get into Bagan region or Inle Lake and discover that they are not alone since dozens of buses stuffed with hundreds of tourists are arriving every day. They get disappointed because the amount of tourists is way over their expectations. Yes, my dear friends. Burma is not a tourist-free country anymore. However, experiencing unique Myanmar is fairly easier than any other neighboring country. The objective of this post is to show you how to easily enjoy Myanmar off the beaten track.

Myanmar off the beaten track

 

How to experience Myanmar off the beaten track?

You might think that the only way to enjoy Myanmar off the beaten path is by going to these called ”forbidden areas”  where you need to get a special permit which you need to apply for a long time in advance. In fact, the forbidden area is literally almost half of the country. Can you imagine how many opportunities to get off the beaten path?

24 April 2013.psd

I am pretty sure that most of these areas have never been visited by any tourist. However, going there implies having a lot of time and also a big quantity of money. Do you have it? If you do then that is awesome! If you don’t, then don’t worry at all! There are so many opportunities and activities to enjoy Myanmar off the beaten track. Yes, the number of tourists is considerably high in all key touristy sites, but you just need to get slightly further away than the average of people and suddenly you will find yourself immersed into the actual Myanmar culture and local life. You will notice that people laugh when they see you. They point you out and you get a feeling of being a rock star.

Having said that, based on my personal experience I am going to list you the top 14 non-touristy activities to enjoy Myanmar of the beaten path.

Go to see the sunset from a solitary temple in Bagan

Avoid the most popular temples and don’t even dare to go to Shwe San Daw temple. Even though it is the tallest one, your experience will be interrupted by a massive number of tourists. To avoid them, just head to the temples located in the South or South East part of the region. If you don’t feel like going too far, between Mya Zedi and Shwe San Daw there are a couple of temples relatively tall and free of crowds.

Watching the sunset from a solitary temple away from tourists in Bagan
Beautiful Bagan sunset

Visiting the tattooed face women villages of Mindat, Chin State

In Chin State, one of the least visited states in Myanmar, you can find a few villages where the last tattooed face women live. The origin of the tattoos is uncertain but there are a bunch of theories that explain it, the most interesting being that it made the local women look ugly and it would prevent the British colonists from assaulting them.

Read more: Tattooed face women villages of Mindat

Photo by 7 Continents 1 Passport

Visit peanut plantations outside Bagan

Go to see peanut plantations and discover that they grow like potatoes do! Directly from the ground!! You will find them along the road from Bagan to Mount Popa (10-15km from Bagan).

Peanuts plantation may be found along the road between Bagan and Mount Popa
Peanuts plantation

Get out of the city and discover the rural life of Burmese people

80% of Myanmar population live in rural areas. Rent a bicycle and start riding towards the fields to get a glimpse of unique Myanmar.

Campesino sonriente
Smiley peasant

Follow the little Buddhist monks

Wake up extremely early in the morning and follow the little Buddhist monks collecting rice around their village for awesome picture opportunities.

Little Myanmar Buddhist monks collecting their rice
Following little monks to collect their rice

Discover remote and authentic long neck women villages

In Loikaw there are plenty of remote Kayan people villages. Don’t go to the typical ones where all tourists go. For more information check out this post: The authentic long neck women villages

Kayan woman with her kid
Kayan woman with her kid

Spot elephants randomly

Myanmar is the country with the biggest population of domestic elephants. They are used to collect wood from the forest. Most of them live in Loikaw and the surrounding regions.

Domestic elephants coming from collecting wood in the forest, Loikaw
Elephants!

Do you feel like going to Nay Pyi Taw?

Have you ever been to Dubai? Nay Pyi Taw is like Dubai but without sky-crappers. It is the former capital one of the fakest cities to which I have ever been. Can you imagine a city in Myanmar with 24/7 electricity and empty roads with 4 lanes per direction? Only if you have the time, I encourage you to spend a day (no more) in Nay Pyi Taw. If you are like me you will find it sort of interesting.

Nay Pyi Taw ridiculously big road which uses to be always empty
Nay Pyi Taw ridiculously big empty road

Chew betel nut with the locals

Most Burmese people look as though their gums were bleeding. It is not blood but they are continuously chewing one substance called betel nut which is believed to have some anti-infection properties.

Chewing betel nut in Myanmar with my Burmese friend
Chewing betel nut with my friend Phyoe Gyi

Go to a school

Burma is one of those places where locals don’t care about where you go. You can freely enter anywhere you want and no one will complain. One day I entered a school and I just spent some time walking around and I even sat down in the middle of a class.

School classroom in Hsipaw, Myanmar
School in Hsipaw

Go trekking and explore villages & tribes in Hsipaw by yourself

Around Hsipaw, there are plenty of villages where people from different tribes live. Many of them receive only a few bunch of visitors every year. In my opinion, (together with Loikaw) the most accessible off the beaten track place in Myanmar.

For an awesome off the beaten track trek, check out the article of my fellow travel blogger TravelsauroHow to Hike from Namhsan to Hsipaw on your own

Palaung woman at her house nearby Hsipaw, which is one of the best places to enjoy Myanmar off the beaten track
Palaung woman

Travel in a minivan with the locals

There is nothing more rewarding than traveling by bus with the locals, especially if you are traveling to remote spots. They are very happy to meet foreigners in the bus because they don’t get to see them very often. Yes, the trip will be longer and harder. But you will get to know and see many interesting things by only talking to the person next to you.

Read: 7 Off the beaten track places in Egypt 

Talk to the locals and meet them

If you have decided to go to Myanmar you already know that the country has opened their borders internationally only some years back. Before that, it was strictly forbidden for locals to have any kind of contact with foreigners. Therefore, Burmese people still are very curious to meet foreigners. Just approach them. Talk to them. Ask questions. They will be very happy. You will learn so many things about the country and most likely you will be invited to their place for an awesome meal.

Me sharing a meal with my friend at his place in Loikaw
Enjoying food with Sae Reh

Trek to the top of the Golden Rock

If you decide to go to Kyaiktiyo Pagoda you need to know that there are 2 ways to reach it from the base village Kinpun. You can go either by bus (like most of the foreigners) or you can take the 4h trek and enjoy not only the magnificent views and nature but also get in contact with pilgrims. I say for sure that this mini trekking is pretty much off the beaten path.

Local Buddhist pilgrim hiking in barefoot to the holy Golden Rock
Local Buddhist pilgrim hiking in barefoot

 

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12 comments

  1. You say because no one told you to leave the school class they dont care? Well I think this is more a misunderstanding of Asian culture and explains why in front of the school in Hsipaw is now a sign “No forreigners. No pictures”. How can someone just enter a school class and disturb the lessons because he seems it is fun and so authentic?

    1. Hi Oliver, the school I went to was not the one in Hsipaw but a school in a remote village in the mountains. Hsipaw (the town) is becoming quite a touristic destination so, I believe they are fed up with having to deal every single day with dozens of tourists who want to come in. At the one I visited, I was more than welcome and I didn’t interrupt any lesson. I was observing what were they doing quietly and, by the way, it was not a history or maths class but, they were children who were singing songs, painting and learning the alphabet. It’s very difficult to disturb when you find 40 kids singing and yelling.

  2. Thank you so much, this was great! I was looking for less touristic places and now I hope the loikaw and the villages around will be nice.

  3. love this post. traveling to myanmar earlier this year was like nothing i have ever experienced. in fact i am planning a return visit this winter. the most amazing people anywhere.

    i am loving your website, too, joan. great stuff!

    hope all is well.

      1. oh yeah? whereabouts? i’m going to visit rakhine–sittwe, mrauk u. maybe go south and see a few places.

        look into yenangyuang and the lei thar gone guesthouse. it’s a great charitable place with a school, etc. provides for the needy locals. couple hours south of bagan. no tourists except for people staying there. like zero. when i was there i was alone with the owner (a local guy) and two of his swiss supporters. amazing experience down in the desperately poor villages by the irrawaddy river..

        enjoy your return visit

  4. Hi Joan. I traveled through Myanmar in 2004/05, it was certainly a different place then and thankfully I saw all of the now very touristy areas with virtually no tourists at all, even Bagan! I’m now thinking of traveling though the regions of Mon and Taninthayi (from Kawthoung to Yangon) as those regions were closed to tourists when I was there. Have you been there? If so do you have any info regarding places not to miss etc? Thanks. Sally

    1. Hi Sally, I haven’t been mostly to where you say… I visited the Mon State briefly, when I went to the Golden Rock, which is quite touristic… Try to go to Putao, in the most northern part of the country!

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