This list is not just about the things I miss about travelling in Myanmar, the things which are good for our soul, sense of adventure, physical and mental wellbeing. Not only is travel and tourism good for the economy, as a means for people to generate an income and improve their material wellbeing, it’s also a great way to meet other people and cultures.
1. Fresh air, and vast open spaces
Aside from the material and cultural benefits of travel, fresh air and large open spaces have a positive impact on our psyche. Whilst I love living in downtown Yangon, I also miss the fresh air and panoramic views when travelling around the country. Vast, unencumbered natural vistas can invigorate the soul, creating in us a sense of wonder. Northern and southern Shan state provides these kinds of experiences, especially when trekking up a mountain or motorbiking along an open road surrounded by green rice fields and fresh streams.
2. A feeling of moving forward and not standing still
This COVID-19 period has given me the feeling that the world has slowed down, where even household chores can take us a whole day. My personality is like a shark sometimes – if I’m not moving forward, I feel like I’m not breathing or growing. I want my life to move forward, just like I enjoy seeing other peoples’ lives develop and improve. Travelling gives me that sense of movement that helps me to appreciate the transience of life.
3. Meeting friends and family
For me travelling is also about meeting family and friends, both overseas and in Myanmar. It’s always good to catch up, share a meal and listen to my friends’ perspectives on life. Like everyone nowadays, I need to use Zoom and Messenger to catch up with friends and colleagues, but they are not a patch on face-to-face meetings. Many studies show that physical contact can be healthy, reducing our levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).
4. Biking and trekking
I did quite a lot of biking after the first wave when hotels were open for domestic travel, and loved the fresh air and landscapes around Inwa and Bagan. Walking and cycling are also great physical activities, and navigating environmental barriers and can also help fine-tune our motor-neural responses.
5. Tasting new food
Travelling always offers me new ways to explore and experience new food, whether it’s a fancy dish in a restaurant or a home-cooked regional speciality. When I’m on the road I like to ask people to cook as they were cooking for their family at home, and don’t spare the vegetables! Mon and Kayin states have some very healthy vegie dishes, whilst Kayah and Shan have some of the best flavours.
6. Discovering and supporting new businesses
As I work in the travel industry, I’m always on the lookout for new places to visit, parts of the country which aren’t (yet) overrun by tourists or have any mentions on TripAdvisor. I love getting the best experience out of each area, and driving through new areas to discover the tourism potential. There is nothing more satisfying than helping someone set up their own small business, somewhere far away from my city life – socially, economically and geographically.
Local children taking the train.
7. Meeting new people
Whilst there are many beautiful landscapes to explore, travel is also about meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds. Exposing yourself to different people can help us understand our own lives from a new perspective, getting us out of our social and media bubbles. For example, visiting Iran over 10 years ago during Ramadan made me realise how generous, friendly, well-educated and open-minded ordinary Iranians were – a perspective that’s hard to understand if you just watch mainstream media. I think a similar thing is happening in Myanmar, with many overseas travellers deciding to visit the country for the first time. These people will experience the generosity and kindness of the people first-hand, and think less about fighting and political issues that dominate the news.
8. The mountains
Staying at home during the lockdowns I often dream about Myanmar’s many mountain chains. Mountains not only offer a cool respite from hotter Yangon climate, but also spectacular views that make you feel like you’re on top of the world. Climbing mountains can also be quite exhilarating, rewarding you with a sense of achievement when you reach the top (and burn a few calories on the way). A speedy descent on a mountain bike can also give you a real adrenaline rush!
9. Hotels and architecture
Spending time at a hotel with local architectural features, enjoying the views and facilities can be a great reason to travel too. Some of my favourite Myanmar hotels include the Sandoway Resort and Yoma Cherry Hotel in Ngapali, Villa Inle in Inle and the Inle Sanctuary at Samkar Lake. In Bagan there’s no better place than Villa Bagan and the Bagan Lodge, and Hpa-An has the new Zwekapin Valley Resort.
10. The sea
Swimming and jumping into the waves, walking on the beach, snorkeling or just watching the sea, are some of the most enjoyable activities for a beach-side holiday. I love being around the ocean and luckily Myanmar has plenty of beautiful spots to visit like Ngapali, Ngwe Saung and Myeik Archipelago.
What do you miss about travelling? In other words, what do you like most about travelling? Tell us what you think on our Facebook page.