15 best books about Myanmar

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We wrap up our series on this extraordinary country by browsing through the best books about Myanmar and the insights offered within their pages

Before I visit a country, I like to read a book or two about the destination to get a sense of the place and culture. For Myanmar, it had to be George Orwell’s Burmese Days, a dark and fascinating insight into British colonial Burma and the disgust Orwell felt towards the system he was a part of. 

22 interesting facts about Myanmar

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We reflect on the interesting facts about Myanmar we learnt during our cycling tour through the country

As a tourist destination, Myanmar may be young, but it is rich in history and culture. After decades under oppressive military rule, the country is finally opening up. Tourist numbers are beginning to swell, exiles are returning from the wild and a wave of uncensored media is increasingly available to a newly optimistic population.

Cycling Bagan: highlights and route map

Cycling Burma

We spent our final day in Myanmar cycling around Bagan, the world’s largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins 

After cycling over 250km (155mi) across Myanmar including a 83km (52mi) slog up to Mount Popa, the final day of our cycling tour of Myanmar – a mere 25km (15mi) around the temples of Bagan – was going to a be cinch.

Despite the short distances, the Burmese sun was shining strongly and with it came the vaporous Burmese heat. Thankfully, with over 2,000 Buddhist structures spread across 104 sq km (40 sq mi) there was regular relief in the cool and airy stone temples.

A break from Buddhism on Inle Lake, Myanmar

The variety of things to do on Inle Lake provides a different look at life in Myanmar

Burma without Buddhism would be like Rome without religion: a land shorn of identity, bereaved of its most vivid colours. There’s no question that Buddhism with its extraordinary monuments and monasteries makes the country what it is: spiritual, mystical and all those other adjectives western writers apply to eastern exoticism.

Burma, now known as Myanmar, is the East of the brochures: of mists rising on tranquil lakes and berobed monks in echoing chambers. Myanmar does not disappoint. But, much like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, it can wear out all but the most avid temple goers.

With this in mind, I was pleased to have a day on Inle Lake with plenty of variety. There were stupas and monasteries (naturally), but also extraordinary locals that provided a tiny slice of life on the lake.

Pindaya Caves of Myanma: Shwe U Min

We visited Pindaya Caves – or the Shwe U Min Natural Cave Pagoda of Pinday – one of the most bizarre experiences of our trip to Myanmar

After a long, hot morning in the saddle in Myanmar, our group of nine cyclists arrived in the town of Pindaya. We’d covered around 40km (25mi) through Myanmar’s Shan State and were looking forward to some respite from the intense sun.

I knew nothing of the Pindaya Caves or the Shwe U Min Natural Cave Pagoda as it’s officially called. But, the idea of descending below ground and escaping the devilish heat sounded very appealing.

Hiking to Yazakyi Monastery in Myanmar

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We hiked to Yazakyi Monastery above the Burmese village of Pindaya and found a picturesque settlement straight from the pages of National Geographic

On my last visit to London, I asked my niece to grab a tenner from my wallet for the pizza fund. (We have a family of eight siblings and 21 nieces and nephews, so ordering pizza requires a basic level of crowdfunding.)

She rifled through my wallet, first pulling out some US dollars, then my tattered entrance card to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, then the business card of a tourism official in Malawi. She smiled cheekily and said, “Ada marayreh?”.

The Bengali phrase – which loosely translates to ‘flouncing about’ or ‘gallivanting’ – is usually used pejoratively by prim auntie-jis to chide young women for venturing outside and being seen in ‘improper’ situations (e.g. walking with a boy, entering a cinema, going on holiday).

Idyll worship: Mount Popa’s monastery on a volcano

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We visit Taung Kalat, the surreal Buddhist monastery on Myanmar’s Mount Popa

Mount Popa may as well have been Mount Doom. It loomed on our cycle itinerary, taunting me with defeat. As a newbie cyclist (and certainly the weakest in our group), I found the prospect of cycling 83km (52mi) uphill under the baking Burmese sun more than a little daunting.

Thankfully, our support vehicle was always close by, offering both solace (“I’m here if you need me”) and seduction (“you can quit right now if you want”). The latter proved too much and soon I relented, swapping two wheels for four while the group struggled on.

5 tips for your first cycle tour

I had never considered seeing the world by cycle. As a Londoner, I equated cycling with traffic-clogged lanes and smoke-choked roundabouts. After a recent ride, however, I came to see that cycling offers a unique view of the world. First, there’s the freedom. Nearly every environment is accessible by bike, from parched desert and rugged steppe to

Bicycle diaries: a cycling tour of Myanmar

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Our cycling tour of Myanmar provided the perfect insight into Burmese culture coupled with the kind of outdoor adventure we love

Readers of this blog will be well aware that I prefer my adventures on two feet rather than two wheels. Given the choice, I will usually opt for hiking instead of biking. However, when we had the chance to spend two weeks cycling Myanmar with G Adventures I wasn’t going to pass on the opportunity.