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Thinking of Burma? My advice is don't go.

Derby, United...
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Thinking of Burma? My advice is don't go.

This advice is not because of any political considerations. The advice comes from my experiences from a recent 2 week holiday in Burma. I went on a group tour organised through a major UK tour company. There were 15 in the group with ages between 50 to 80. We visited the usual tourist hot spots in Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake. We did not do any trekking.

The hotels we stayed in were of international standard and were excellent, but pricy. The internal flights (using Asian Wings) were excellent. The other travel by coach and boat was comfortable and went largely to plan.

My advice not to go to Burma is based on my concerns for being able to have a relaxed, enjoyable holiday. I found the holiday hugely disappointing because the highlights were few and far between and not all that exciting. Most of the holiday was spent in the Ayurawaddy river basin which makes Holland seem mountainous!

The cliche says that tourists destroy the very things they come to see. This has certainly happened in Burma. Small groups of independent travellers may well find the temples and faded colonial grandeur interesting and romantic. The reality is that the major sites are horribly overcrowded and with tourist numbers set to double year-on-year for the next few years, the situation is only going to get worse. There is little evidence of any investment in tourist infrastructure.

Let me give you a few examples:

At Bagan, one of the highlights of the holiday is to see a sunset from one of the temple terraces. Due to earthquake damage, general wear and tear and little maintenance, most of the temple terraces are now closed to the public. This puts immense pressure on the few terraces remaining open. Our brochure promised seeing the sunset from one of the more serene temples. Now imagine 20 plus tour buses converging on this temple driving along dusty cart tracks designed for ox-carts. Then the 400 or so released tourists have to scramble up a single, narrow stone staircase lit by candles on the floor to get to the roof. There was then further pushing and scrambling to get to the terrace at the front. During the scramble I noticed I was next to an unprotected 40 foot drop. There is going to be a serious accident here and it certainly was not serene.

At U-Bein, many tour buses converge on the famous bridge at sunset. It is almost impossible to get onto the bridge and, if you do, it is difficult to avoid being pushed off the bridge. Again, there is going to be an accident here, unless the bridge collapses first.

At Amarapura, the group visited a monastery to observe the monks quueing up for their daily meal. Again, with a few independent travellers observing this could have been an immensely interesting experience. As it was, with the 400 plus tourists, it was more like going to a zoo. I'm not sure who were the animals and who the observers! I found the visit terribly intrusive and felt uncomfortable.

I have other general concerns. Most of the group suffered from tummy problems. One of our group suffered a serious cut on her arm and there was no-one in a 5-star hotel who could apply a bandage properly. There is a general lack of medical facilities and very few pharmacies.

I respected the custom of walking barefoot in the sacred areas of temples and monasteries. However these sacred areas often spread way beyond any clean smooth flooring. We were often walking over rough concrete, sand, gravel, puddles and piles of dog poo.

Burma is a country with all the anomalies of having the extreme rich and the extreme poor. There are temples covered with tons of gold and decorated with rubies and diamonds in a country where the majority can only get soap through charity. On the whole the Burmese people were unfailingly cheerful and welcoming although sometimes a little bemused at seeing tourists.I hope that the scramble for the tourist dollar does not change this attitude

I would not wish to deny the Burmese people the chance to earn a living from showing off its culture. However, I think that the country is struggling to support the current tourist numbers. There are not that many interesting sites to visit. Once you have seen the glorious Shwedagon in Yangon, one teak monastery and one temple in Bagan, you've pretty much got it covered.

If you are thinking of going to Burma, then at least know what to expect. I thought that I had done my homework beforehand, but ended up unpleasantly surprised and disappointed. I think that there are better ways to spend your holiday budget.

One Bagan Tours
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Hobart, Australia
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11. Re: Thinking of Burma? My advice is don't go.

So sorry you did not have the holiday you dreamed off CrispyF. So disappointing when you have planned, travelled so far and it has not met your expectations and notwithstanding the amount of money spent.

I have to repeat what others have said – if you want a great holiday without the tourist hordes or 400 of your closest “new” friends don’t go on an organised tours. You will also save a fortune going through local agents rather than agents in your home country.

We were there in June this year and never had a problem with crowds – our guides knew how to miss them – even in Bagan to see the sunset – nothing like you described. It sounded horrendous. It was the low season though.

I agree about not having our western culture of being a nanny state though – this is a poor country and things are not the same – especially not healthcare. I like the freedom to make my own decisions.

I also have the say that the variety of temples in Bagan was mind blowing – sounds like a bad guide as well.



Edited: 20 December 2012, 10:13
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12. Re: Thinking of Burma? My advice is don't go.

A further thought on Group Tours.

Before we started travelling independently we had joined Tours through such UK Agents as Cox & Kings,Kuoni , Bales and we even joined Saga for a trip to Bhutan.

All the trips were marred by crack of dawn starts,living out of a suitcase,and mass tummy troubles. This,combined with the group always having at least one moaning couple, persuaded us to plan our holidays differently.

The final clincher was when I asked Audley to quote for the exact itinerary I had costed for myself, by me going direct to the airlines and hotels.

Their quote was £1400 more each for 2 weeks in Myanmar!

I can understand the reticence of some seniors wanting the comfort of a group but by using a good local Agent you will get all that and with the flexibility you need. After all , all an overseas tour company does is use a local Agent and adds a margin!

And whilst anyone can get tummy problems whilst travelling but it is on group tours that it spreads so quickly and you haven't got the option of staying back and let it clear-the tour most go on.

Edited: 20 December 2012, 10:20
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13. Re: Thinking of Burma? My advice is don't go.

The other thing to remember about tour companies is how hard they squeeze the local suppliers! These local suppliers will then be looking for ways to reduce the cost of delivering you your holiday. So while you are paying a small fortune for your adventure the locals showing you around could just be feeling resentful about how much you have and how very little they are getting. The only upside is the employees of your travel company are getting free holidays at your expense. I, personally, would rather they paid for their holidays or at least not subsidised by me!

I also agree with Mr Swimmer that yet another disadvantage of tours is the other members of the group. You will always have someone whinging, another who is always late and another who is alway sick and always someone who thinks he should be in charge!

Please use the internet to plan your holidays. If you had done this you would have been fully aware that medical conditions are very poor and that this is a risk of holidaying in Burma.

London, England...
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14. Re: Thinking of Burma? My advice is don't go.


I am going to Myanmar in last week of Jan til 2nd week Feb...

Maybe we will bump into each other.

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15. Re: Thinking of Burma? My advice is don't go.

'fraid not,I will be back home by third week in Jan.

It sounds as if many posters and lurkers will be there in January and February.Perhaps for easy identification we could ask TA for some freebies such as T shirts and back packs. Having said that, some of us prefer to stay fairly anonymous in case advice backfires!

Edited: 20 December 2012, 12:44
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16. Re: Thinking of Burma? My advice is don't go.

Having returned on a 13 day trip in November I can see your point but have to disagree. If you have traveled to Cambodia, Africa, Tibet as I have 10 years ago and returned today you would be disappointed to recreate your experience due to heavy crowds of tourists. Each country has iconic sites that you see in travel magazines and programs that touch a sense that you must see. So that being said you have to work within those parameters when you travel... Some times you get that moment and other times you are rubbing shoulders with others. You have to do your research and book accordingly to your objectives. We went to a couple different temples for sunsets and had crowds and solace. Got on balloons over bagan at last minute after trying for months. Went on Inle lake with a boatman without tour members even though we were part of a tour. My point is we went in the heavy tourist season and experienced great moments and experiences that I will alway's treasure!

Cardiff, United...
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17. Re: Thinking of Burma? My advice is don't go.

We went to the Watchtower at Bagan for sunset and had it all to ourselves - excellent viewpoint.

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18. Re: Thinking of Burma? My advice is don't go.

Only my opinion but my advice is go but use forum advise and think if it offers your type of holiday .We visited in Oct/Nov our tour was organised by Tour Mandalay after there was a lot of research , and on here tons of help from Silverswimmer and others We had a guide and driver at each destination . We spent lots of time chatting to locals whenever we met up our guides were always happy to do what we wanted and help with translating doing extra things if we wanted or letting us go back to our hotel for a couple of hours if we asked. . The only time we saw many tourists were at the Monastery where the monks were in long lines which we did not enjoy preferring places where we talked to 1 or 2 in lesser visited places. Bagan sunset was also crowded but my husband went up with the guide I stayed at the bottom and chatted with some young women about their lives and families. We went to a small rice farm where they were so excited to meet us the first foreigners they ever met, talking through our guide they made us so welcome and the little girl sang for us.Visited a school for students learning English they were taking it turns to ask questions some very funny and unexpected , We did see a few groups but were always led to somwhere else. I can only say we had a wonderful time met delightful people and would go back as soon as we could but definitely not with a group which is something we only did once in China 25 yrs ago. .Like most people we met we ate at local restaurants and from vendors at carnivals and never had any stomach problems at all .I do worry that in time it may get spoilt the changes to come but these lovely people will never be forgotten by us.

Bow, New Hampshire
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19. Re: Thinking of Burma? My advice is don't go.

Good advise on big tour groups. May I ask what you purchased that needed the additional suitcases... we're going at the end of Jan..... just the two of us!! We can bring folding "gym" bags in our suitcases?? Thanks, Dr. and Mrs. A.R. Binder

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20. Re: Thinking of Burma? My advice is don't go.

We spent 28 days in Burma in Nov I published the start of my trip report recently. Burma is not the place to go for "big" sights as you discovered - it's really the journey, not the destination type stuff. If you fly everywhere and only hit the "big 4" I'd tend to agree, stay home. Bagan particularly underwhelmed me too. But I disagree there were lots and lots of temples, but maybe you went by bus? Fewer temples have bus-friendly roads to them, while the horse carts go everywhere. We went to a monastery - in Bago, where we were the only tourists, it was part of a tuktuk tour that we organised with a guide who found us as we arrived in town. It wasn't a zoo, and it was fascinating.

I don't understand why people worry about their feet getting dirty, I wore sandals the whole time and my feet were pretty much filthy the whole time with or without taking my shoes off. I recommend taking a nail brush with you to scrub them from time to time, but I wouldn't worry about it.

Your comment about food is shocking. Were you maybe being given "western meals" in hotels? We ate on the streets (literary), in small local restaurants, from vendors on buses and trains. We were never sick. Nor did we ever have a bad meal. Just look for places which are popular with locals and go there, there is usually an English menu - or there the curry pots are on display, or you just point and smile. I'd avoid any attempt at western food - they seriously have no experience with western food, and the cost of ingredients like cheese is prohibitive - so probably they are kept for far too long.

I must say I LOVE the fact that temples (and everywhere else) have uncontrolled "dangerous" stairs, drops etc etc It's a reminder of what real life is like without a nanny state. The thing is the locals will look out for you - and as they always say "slowly, slowly" as you pick your way up a narrow piece of wood pretending to be a gangplank and giving you a hand if you need one!