04 Jun 4 Kid-friendly Ways to Explore Myanmar
I love adventure travel. It’s a gift from my father, who carted our family of six through Latin America in the early ‘60s and, in later years, the world beyond. It shaped me in countless ways. We slept in thatched-roof huts in the Amazon jungle, survived twelve-hour 200-mile bus trips, and explored sensory-exploding open markets, with their hanging meat carcasses, buzzing flies, and rainbow piles of ripening fruits. It taught me to appreciate differences in people and cultures, to embrace new experiences, and to live resiliently.
If you’re looking for a glorious adventure to take your children on, Myanmar is a perfect destination. It’s changing fast, though. Five years ago, you wouldn’t have spotted more than a handful of tourists. Today, the backpacker crowd has discovered it, which means the rest of the world is only a few steps behind. In spite of the nascent tourism industry, you’ll find lots to do. Most hotels (you’ll find plenty that are clean, comfortable, and cheap) can hook you up with a tour guide for the day if you’re not ready to explore on your own. Here are just a few kid-friendly ways to discover the country:
Taste the street food. The rule of thumb is that if it comes hot out of the oil or off the grill, it’s safe to eat, even if the “kitchen” wouldn’t pass the usual food safety inspector’s tests. Try the fresh potato chips or roasting ears. We took a pass on the deep fried birds. If you’re brave, buy a glass of the juice squeezed out of a sugarcane stalk. Myanmar’s borders have shifted many times over the centuries, and so their food is heavily influenced by neighboring China, India, and Thailand. You’ll find lots of fresh fruits, curries, rice, and noodle dishes, along with the familiar spices from those countries: basil, chili, coriander, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass. The English controlled Burma for over 100 years, so you’ll also find Western foods. We had a fun moment when we read the Coke can. It turns out it was manufactured “for you with Love and Passion” by the local Myanmar bottling plant. I have to tell you, I enjoyed my Coke that day even more than usual.
Explore the markets. Bogyoke Market in Yangon has over 2,000 tiny shops, which are clustered in the space of less than a city block. While it’s fascinating to just meander through the seller stalls, with their piles of goods, it’s also a great place to discover Burmese handicrafts, antiques, jade and ruby jewelry, clothes, and local food, as well as lots of trinkets. Your kids get extra points if they do their own bargaining with the vendors.
Even better, journey to Bagan, where it’s estimated that at one time the arid plains held over 10,000 temples, monasteries, and pagodas. Today over 2,000 remain in an area of about 40 square miles. You can rent bicycles or electric bikes, which are really just low-tech motor scooters. If your kids aren’t ready to ride the roads themselves, and you’re not ready to carry them on the back seat of your e-bike, you can always hire a horse cart to take you from place to place. Cars are another option, but you’ll miss the more remote temples since the interior roads are at best sandy jeep paths.
Travel by rail. If you’re truly up for an adventure, the 17-hour train trip from Yangon to Bagan is a must do. For just over $100(US), you can book a full sleeper car. When we booked our tickets, our Burmese travel agent warned us that trains in Myanmar are not up to “international standards.” It was a gentle way of saying there could be delays, wouldn’t be air conditioning, and would be slow and rather dirty. All true. The agent forgot to mention the train tracks are bad and the cars have no shocks, so we did a lot of rocking and rolling. The fabulous upside? We got a window into Myanmar that we would never have gotten otherwise. If you go, pack your own food and water. Vendors sell food and drink at the stops, but the stops are only a few minutes long. Along the way, you’ll see the smoky fields where they make bricks, sinewy farmers in their traditional pasos (long skirts) tilling the dry rice paddies with oxen, woven bamboo houses, and children joyfully waving as the train passes.
The best trip is the one that makes you want to return for more. I’m already itching to discover more in this amazing country!
Read about it first!
If you’re thinking about a trip to Southeast Asia with your kids, go on an adventure first with Jess and Nong May in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in Mystery of the Golden Temple. It’ll have your kids dreaming of jungles and temples and elephants. ~Janelle