From 1044 until 1287 the Bagan Empire ruled Burma. This was a period of creativity with the building of thousands of temples. By the 13th century Bagan was in decline and collapsed around the 13th century. The second empire was ruled from Inwa which developed in the 14th and 15th centuries and became the capital in 1636. Its isolation from the sea led to it being defeated by the Thai army, and the empire then reformed in Mandalay.
From the mid 1800’s Burma’s natural resources came to the attention of colonial nations and in 1886 the country was annexed as a territory of India by the British. This impacted heavily on Burmese culture and very little resource was invested in local economies. By the onset of World War Two there was a growing independence movement in Burma led by General Aung San. By 1948 Burma had been granted independence but there followed several years of unrest and military coups. In 1958, following the assassination of General Aung San, General Ne Win took over the country. Burma began to isolate itself from the world.
During the 1990’s Burma changed its name to Myanmar and faced increasing trade embargoes from the rest of the world. In 2010 Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest by the military government and democratic elections were held. Myanmar is now entering a new era of development as it welcomes visitors to this intriguing country.
With diverse flavours, food in Myanmar is one attraction that should not be missed. For those in the know it is one of Myanmar’s best kept secrets. You can enjoy the culinary delights of Burma and learn more about culture and the way of life in this fascinating country. Here are just a few of the many highlights.
There are several places in Mandalay, Yangon and other regions where visitors can learn to cook a typical Burmese meal. Some include a visit to the market to get all those super fresh ingredients, and some will still be alive. This is a great way to get immersed in the culture and to impress your friends and family back home.
Mohinga is a noodle soup that is considered the stable food in Myanmar, so much so that it is the national dish. You will notice the locals see this as a light snack or breakfast item. It is a cheap dish for those on a budget found everywhere and is just the thing for those who enjoy trying something new.
Walking through a local market is a compelling way of seeing fresh food at its best. Look at the colours, the people, and the goods on sale. Tomatoes on blankets, spices, peppers, dried fish and more are just some of the colour here. This is also a great place to see street food being prepared and served, including sticky rice in banana leaves and various meats on skewers.
Many visitors are surprised by the vineyards just outside Nyaungshwe on Lake Inle but this is good wine growing country. The varieties of grape include Pinot noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and more. Vineyard tours are popular as is the tasting.
Tea rooms are a hidden highlight in Myanmar and are the places where people once came to avoid being overheard. Here, tea with condensed milk is an acquired taste. You can also get green tea for free in most places and they are wonderful for people watching.
Myanmar has some interesting desserts to try which are unique. Pickled tealeaves are a signature dish in Myanmar and quite a tasty treat. Tamarind flakes are a sweet tasting dessert and served after a meal whilst Jaggery or lumps of palm sugar are ideal for those with a sweet tooth.
Do taste the food in Myanmar. It really will give you lots of lasting memories.
One of the top things to do in Myanmar is to go shopping as the handicrafts are of excellent quality. Here are a few items to check out.
Famed for Burmese rubies and jade, Myanmar is a great place to buy interesting items of jewellery. There are the silver smithing and gem workshops on Lake Inle, and the Jade Market in Mandalay. Wherever you go you’ll find some lovely pieces to buy.
Using special techniques the coloured sand paintings seen for sale around the temples are a delight. Do spend time at one of the workshops observing how these designs are created.
Myanmar has some excellent lacquer ware which makes a lovely gift for someone. Some of the best places to go for detailed work are in Bagan and where the workshops making these items are also open to the public.
In Myanmar the woven silk is high quality and in a range of rainbow colours. Look out for lotus silk as well which can only be crafted in the monsoon. You’ll find scarves, bags and many more beautiful ideas for gifts as you shop here.
Used in the temples, gold leaf is big business in Myanmar. There are workshops in Mandalay that produce gold leaf and it is also used to decorate lacquer ware items. Trays, pots and other decorative items make lovely gifts.
Wherever you go in Myanmar the handicrafts are of such good quality that you will be tempted to buy. Just remember to take more money than you think you need on a vacation here. Do ensure you take cash dollars in pristine condition and remember that credit cards are not generally accepted in Myanmar and ATMs are not currently available. As Myanmar develops more infrastructure this is bound to change.