The Big Ride

Burma: The mystery of Myanmar

Burmese People, monasteries, good food when you can find it
Heat (too hot), difficult to find food on the road, ants
Things we are loving
Friendly Burmese people, Burmese cookies, steamed dumplings


Burma also known as “The Republic of the Union of Myanmar” was always on our radar as a place we were excited to visit and explore. The country appealed to us partly because until recently it has been closed to foreigners, and mostly because now it is opening up we wanted to see the country before the inevitable change occurs when somewhere becomes a tourist destination.

In this article I have chosen to use the name Burma as opposed to Myanmar. The two names mean the same thing and both have been used for centuries. Burma was used primarily in spoken language whilst Myanmar was the more formal term used when writing. The pro-Myanmar camp argues that Myanmar is the more inclusive name as Burma only refers to the country’s largest ethnic group – the Bamar. However, Burma’s democracy movement prefers the name Burma because they do not accept the legitimacy of the unelected military regime who changed the official name of the country. Internationally, both names are recognized.

Although the country is certainly opening up to the outside world, it seems to be doing so reluctantly. If you are travelling independently overland, this ‘reluctance’ may be better described as suspicion. We required (or so we were led to believe) that a special permission was needed to cross the land border between India and Myanmar, which was a bit of a pain to arrange and expensive ($100)! However, if you are travelling with a motorized vehicle you need more than just special permission, you must travel with a Burmese guide and will receive a much shorter visa; you will essentially being shepherded out of the country as soon as you enter. We’ve written an article on Cycling in Burma that outlines the visa requirements, our experience with the ‘special permission’, where we stayed, the not so secret police, transport and some other bits and pieces which may help if you are planning a cycle tour in Burma.


Cultural shift

Crossing into Burma after months of being in India was a big change in many ways, but a very welcome one. I’m always amazed at what a difference a few kilometres can make; where life, the landscape, environment, cleanliness, architecture, religion and so many other aspects of life can be so starkly contrasted when you cross a border. Immediately we were in a much tidier environment, things seemed more organized, there were newish Japanese cars on the road everywhere, the architecture was different and people were waving at us with beaming smiles. It was great. It was also hot, really hot. For the previous few weeks we were in the hills of Manipur at a much higher elevation than the valleys of Myanmar. After a few days we had hit the highest temperatures of the trip, mid 40s, regularly our drinking water by the afternoon would be a like a bottle full of hot tea. Our routine changed to adapt to the temperatures; we were waking up at four thirty or five each morning and taking mid day naps in whatever shade we could find, the night didn’t bring much relief from the heat as we would sweat just as much when the sun went down. When we did manage to camp, we needed to find a raised platform (which are really common, they’re everywhere) to sleep on because the ground was too hot, even well after sunset. 


Eating in Myanmar was also great, when you could find food! Our first day, and first introduction to Burmese cuisine was great! A big shift from the mighty curries of India that we had been enjoying, our first burmese meal was a spectacle. Dish after dish, rivaling that of a Spanish tapas extravaganza, this cacophony of flavours and variety made for two happy cyclists. Mango salads, steamed greens, stir fried chicken and pork sticky rice, it was a delight. Generally you could get a pretty good meal for around $2 per person across the country. The diversity continued as we cycled through the country, with Chinese influences apparent often and traditional Burmese cuisine still shining through. Tasty steamed dumplings with beef, buffalo or chicken, sticky rice with coconut wrapped in a banana leaf, bbq madness with pick your own skewers of veg, meat, mushrooms, fish, the list goes on. The smell of fermented fish was often in the air, as the Burmese seemed to really go nuts for the stuff. There were also surprisingly good donuts! Filled with shredded coconut, or plain, which are dipped into some sweet milky tea; and not to forget loads of tasty fruit. Mangos, lychees, pineapples.


Candy Nguyen

Great blog and sharing useful information for most of people like to travel to Myanmar. Keep update and have nice and safe trip.


I really like the “offering us fried crickets and water regularly”! I will keep that in mind the next time I need to decide whether to trust someone or not.


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