Maureen Santucci, originally from the U.S., has made Peru her home for the past five years. She writes for Fodor's Travel Guide as well as various travel blogs when she isn't escaping off to the mountains to hike, teaching Tai Chi, or treating patients in her acupuncture clinic.
If you're looking for a different sort of vacation, a spiritual journey to Myanmar is something to consider. It doesn't matter if you are already Buddhist or even have an interest in it specifically—visiting the temples, and perhaps, taking part in a retreat at a meditation center, can help you to tap into your own personal spirituality.
Although you may think of Thailand, China, or Japan first with regard to Buddhism, Myanmar is approximately 90% Buddhist. The main form practiced is Theravada and the most common form of meditation is Vipassana, something that has become quite popular worldwide. There are several meditation centers in the country that welcome foreigners to their courses. Before taking short classes or courses, you must complete at least 10 days of a residential class, and during these retreats, silent meditation is observed for the entire day during the course schedule.
No fees are charged for the courses, accommodations, or for food and donations are accepted at the end of the course that will help foot the bill for future students. If you're taking a shorter course, a tourist visa is sufficient, however if you wish to study for more than 28 days, you'll want to apply for a 90-day meditation visa which must be accompanied by an invitation from the center where you will be meditating.
Among the many places you can study are the Dhamma Joti Vipassana Centre, the Chanmyay Yeiktha Meditation Centre, and the Mahasi Sasana Yeiktha Meditation Centre—all popular schools in Yangon that have branches in other areas as well. There are also a variety of universities, monasteries, and institutions that provide instruction in the history and practice of Buddhism.
If you decide to engage in a course of meditation here, you may want to tour some of the country's many temples before and after as part of your experience. Bagan, one of the main tourist areas (although the country does not yet have a huge amount of tourism) has more than 2,000 temples on its plains, an excellent way to get yourself into the spirit of the journey you are about to begin.
Afterward, you might want to take a trip to Mrauk U, a more remote region that is home to hundreds of religious sites in a very small area. Actually, anywhere you travel in Myanmar, you are bound to find temples, monasteries, and other religious sites dedicated to the teachings of Buddha.
Although we refer to Buddhism as a religion, Buddha is technically not worshipped, and it is possible to belong to another religion and yet be Buddhist as well. There's no need to feel conflicted if you have a different faith but wish to study Vipassana or any other form of Buddhist meditation. For some, studying meditation is a way of renewing and strengthening a sense of spirituality in their lives. For others, it's a much needed escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. In either case, taking time for a meditation retreat, especially in a country so dedicated to it, is a great way to establish a daily practice that can help you with stress when you return home.