How to Make the Most of Your Trip to Myanmar
In just a few years, Myanmar has gone from having virtually no international tourists to welcoming several million annually. If you’re in search of the latest emerging destination, look no further. Development is brisk, but there’s still time to see this culturally rich nation in all of its pristine pagoda-laden glory. Though comprehensive democratic reform has yet to arrive, locals are hopeful that the country is on the brink of positive change. After years of censorship and isolation, curious nationals are encouraging foreigner visitors with open arms, minds, and hearts.
The number of indie travelers journeying here is growing, but the destination is not the domain of backpackers alone. Trafalgar has just started offering guided trips to this spiritual stalwart. As part of their Hidden Journeys collection, the 11-day Secrets of Myanmar tour gives you an insider’s view featuring authentic local experiences, and groups are small—you’ll travel with 26 or fewer guests. During my trip, I enjoyed a tasty dinner with a family in their home, visited children at a school run by monks, and had lunch with nuns in a nunnery. Our travel director was an English-speaking Burmese who gave us an in-depth window into what life is really like in this fast-changing country. No subject was off limits; we discussed a range of topics from dating rituals to voting habits, and I was privy to the sort of cultural insights and human connections that I could have only gained from spending several months in Myanmar, not 11 days.
Of course, the sites and attractions in this exotic land are showstoppers as well. Here's what you shouldn't miss during your time in Myanmar and some of my tips for making the most of your trip.
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon
Buddhism is a way of life in Myanmar and there are literally tens of thousands of pagodas gracing the landscape. Capital city Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda is one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites. Adorned with 27 metric tons of detailed gold leaf, its massive size makes it visible from nearly anywhere in the city. Visit in the early morning to see locals worship before work or at dusk for a traditional oil lamp ceremony.
Take a ride on a motorized long-tail boat and you’ll see the ‘leg rowers,' graceful Intha fishermen who row standing up on one leg with the other leg wrapped around a single oar, leaving their hands free to manipulate their conical fishing nets. It’s an unforgettable feat of balance and grace. As you glide through the lush floating gardens where farmers grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers, you’ll have the perfect vantage point to glimpse the still-untouched rural lifestyle of this remote lake’s people. Animal lovers will want to spend some time at the Inthar Heritage House, a foundation that offers valuable career training to local youth and allows visitors to romp with kitties in their Burmese cat sanctuary.
The sacred city of Bagan is a packed with several thousand pagodas. If you have no fear of heights, a ride in a hot-air balloon provides a bird’s-eye perch to view the temples. When you start experiencing pagoda overload, lacquerware is a specialty product of the area—visit a workshop and watch the highly detailed, painstaking process before you purchase a decorative hand-made object with a shiny glaze.
Stroll the U Bein Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world. Visit the imposing royal palace. If you see just one pagoda in Mandalay, make it the Kuthodaw Pagoda—it’s where you’ll find the Thravada Buddhist scriptures individually inscribed on 729 marble slabs, earning the nickname of the world’s largest book. Sip tea with locals at one of the city’s many teahouses. Purchase artisanal souvenirs such as hand-woven tapestries, marionettes, and gold leaf at one of the bustling markets.
Remember these six important tips
• Though credit cards are accepted in major hotels, U.S. dollars are the sure way to pay. Keep in mind that only bills in mint condition are accepted, so watch out for notes with even tiny imperfections.
• The Internet is no longer censored, but it is slow. You won’t be subject to a complete digital detox, but remember, patience is a virtue.
• Myanmar is a very safe country. Travelers will want to take normal precautions, but petty crime is virtually non-existent.
• Dress code is on the conservative side here—shoulders and knees must be covered when you enter temples, and female visitors might want to bring a scarf or shawl for quick cover-ups. Shoes need to be removed before entering temples, so get your tootsies in shape with a pre-trip pedi.
• You’ll need a visa. Citizens of 67 countries can apply for an online e-Visa. It costs $70 and takes about five business days to process.
• For a deeper understanding of this complicated nation, read one of Myanmar’s literary treasures before you depart. Aung San Suu Kyi’s Letters From Burma is a good place to start.
The Secrets of Myanmar tour by Trafalgar took me to these and many more unforgettable places. Top-notch hotels with spectacular swimming pools, activities, and most meals are also included in the tour. Their next Myanmar departure is in January 2016. From $3,507 per person; based on double occupancy. International airfare is not included in the package price.
This article was written by Allison Tibaldi, a native New Yorker who has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Toronto, and Los Angeles. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish and laughably adequate in French. When she's not traveling, she's scouring NYC for delectable eats. As a freelance travel writer, she focuses on family, culinary, and car-free travel. She's also a senior travel writer at offMetro.com.
Don't Miss These Fall Travel Sales!
Hotels, tour packages, and flights are all on sale this fall. Here's what you need to know. HOTELS • Marriott Hotels & Resorts want you to enjoy a special fall break this season. Book your stay at one of 35 participating properties on the east coast, west coast, Hawaii, or in the central U.S. by Oct. 31st and enjoy room rates from $99 a night and up to $100 in resort credit per night that can be used towards dining, golf, spa services, and other on-property perks. Valid on stays from Oct. 1st thru Nov. 22nd when you use promo code ZX0. AAA members can also use promo code AAZ to save an additional 5 percent. • Half Moon, A RockResort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, wants you to save big on a Caribbean getaway with their Jamaican Escape package. Rates start at $289 per night when you book a stay of at least four nights, but you'll get one night free and a $150 resort credit that can be used towards spa treatments at the Fern Tree Spa or dining under the stars at the resort's Beach BBQ. Valid thru Dec. 18th. • Celebrate the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort, Spa & Casino's 25th birthday with their Enjoy Something Extra, On Us promotion—book a stay of at least five nights during the birthday and receive a special $25 starting rate on Oct. 23rd, complimentary room upgrades, a $50 resort credit per night ($250 for your five-night stay, yes please!), a special 25 percent discount on services at the ZoiA Spa, $25 match play credit at the casino, a $2.50 daily buffet breakfast for two at the resort's Ruinas del Mar restaurant, a $2.50 signature cocktail called the Aruba Ariba at all resort bars, and a special 25th anniversary welcome gift. Valid thru Dec. 18th. Book via the link above. • Save on a stay at the Orlando World Center Marriott with rates from $135 available now thru Dec. 31st for stays between Oct. 1, 2015, and Mar. 31, 2016. You'll save 20 percent and receive a $25 daily resort credit when you use promo code P91. • Frank Sinatra fans everywhere will appreciate this one: In honor of his 100th birthday, the Triada Palm Springs is offering a special two-night package available Sundays thru Thursdays between Oct. 15th and Dec. 15th featuring straw fedoras for the guys, a pair of bobby socks for the dolls, two Jack Daniels specialty cocktails in the lobby lounge, and a Classic Sinatra CD including favorites like Come Fly With Me, Witchcraft, The Lady Is A Tramp, and My Funny Valentine. Please refer to the Classic Sinatra Package when booking this deal. • The Hotel Zamora in St. Pete Beach, Florida, is offering rates from $169 per night when you stay Fridays through Nov. 20th. Another sale lets you stay one night and get the second night half off on stays through Nov. 30th. Visit their "Specials" page to learn more. • Don't miss the fall sale at Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, where you can save up to 45 percent. Rates start at $199 per night when you book and stay by Dec. 22nd. • Attention Staycationers: Residents of the Hawaiian Islands with a valid ID can save 15 percent on rates at Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach with promo code KAMAA on stays now thru Mar. 31, 2016 (rates start at $189 per night and include complimentary breakfast and Wi-Fi before the discount is calculated). Florida residents can save 20 percent on weekend stays now thru Dec. 23rd at the Hyatt Regency Orlando (rates range from $127-$159 per night after the discount). If you have a valid Massachusetts ID or can prove that you work in the Downtown Boston area, you can save 15 percent on stays at The Godfrey Hotel, Boston, between Nov. 16, 2015, and Feb. 29, 2016, when you use promo code Element 617 (rates start at $199 per night before the discount). Guests who live or work in the downtown River North area can save 15 percent on rates at The Godfrey Hotel, Chicago, now until May 2016 (rates start at $150 per night before the discount. Please refer to the Element 54 package when booking). • You can save $250 instantly this summer when you book an air-inclusive vacation to Nassau Paradise Island in the Bahamas for at least four nights. Participating hotels include Atlantis, Paradise Island, Best Western Bay View Suites, British Colonial Hilton Nassau, Comfort Suites Paradise Island, The Cove Atlantis, Graycliff Hotel, Harborside Resort at Atlantis, Meliá Nassau Beach Resort, One & Only Ocean Club, Paradise Harbour Club & Marina, Paradise Island Beach Club, The Reef Atlantis, Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort & Offshore Island, and Sunrise Beach Club & Villas. Book your beach getaway by Nov. 10th for travel by Jun. 5, 2016. Blackout dates do apply between Nov. 22-27, 2015, Dec. 20, 2015 thru Jan. 2, 2016, and Mar. 19 to Apr. 2, 2016. Click the link above for more details. TOUR PACKAGES • Attention 18-35 year-olds: Contiki is offering several sales this season—save 10 percent on Europe trips that are more than seven days by using promo code LEGENDS2016 when you book and pay the $200 non-refundable deposit by Nov. 18th (valid on trips between Mar. 23, 2016, and Mar. 31, 2017). Another sale lets you save $250 per person when you book your flight to Europe with American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, or Finnair through Contiki and use promo code AP2016TAKEOFF (book by Nov. 6th for travel between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016. Must pay the $200 non-refundable deposit and $350 air deposit by Nov. 6th in order to score this deal). Keep an eye on their Last Minute Deals page if you're looking to have an unforgettable adventure for less. • Embrace your inner Indiana Jones and save 20 percent on Intrepid Travel's Exploring the Mayan World tour now thru Oct. 31st—you'll travel Nov. 14-28 and two weeks exploring little-known Mayan ruins, visiting Teotihuacan, roaming the colorful markets of Oaxaca, and tasting traditional delicacies in San Cristobal de las Casas. Not your cup of tea? Check the latest deals page often, and don't miss Intrepid Travel's last minute deals page for further discounts of up to 25 percent off last-minute getaways. • G Adventures has several specials this fall, including 15 percent off select trips to the Himalayas when you book by Oct. 25th. You'll also save 20 percent on select trips to Western Australia and the British Virgin Islands, and 15 percent off select trips to East Africa, India, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Peru, North America, South America, Australia, and South Africa, when you book by Oct. 30th. Check this page to see their current promotions. • Attention people who serve our country: Active members of the military, veterans, police, firefighters, and EMTs can save $100 per person with this Mexican beach vacation deal from CheapCaribbean.com that includes round-trip airfare between Fort Lauderdale and Cancun, with four nights' accommodations at Oasis Cancun. Book this deal by Dec. 7th for travel between now and Dec. 23rd. Rates start at $629 per person for a four-night trip with airfare before the $100 discount is calculated. Request your military discount within 48 hours of making your reservation. Valid ID and proof of service required. FLIGHTS • Flights to the Guadeloupe Islands start at just $99 one way and are going fast! Fly from New York City (JFK), Boston and Baltimore on Norwegian starting Dec. 3rd. The airline is also offering vacation packages to go along with the initial sale: enjoy a seven-night stay at Auberge de La Vieille Tour including airfare from $885 per person, a seven-night stay with airfare and 20 percent off rates at La Creole Beach Hotel & Spa from $975 per person, or a seven-night stay at La Toubana Hotel & Spa with airfare from $1,675 per person. • This amazing sale from Qantas ends Sunday, Oct. 18th so don't wait! Round-trip flights to Sydney from L.A. start at $1,299 when you travel between Feb. 9th and Apr. 5th, 2016, or between May 1st and Jun. 21st, 2016. Flights from San Francisco also start at $1,299 when you fly between Jan. 20th and Apr. 5th or May 1st and Jun. 21st. Flights from New York City (JFK) start at $1,399 when you travel Feb. 1st to Apr. 5th or May 1st to Jun. 21st. Flights from Dallas/Fort Worth start at $1,399 when you travel between Feb. 7th and Apr. 5th or May 1st to Jun. 21st. • In a special promotion with Tourism Australia, Air New Zealand is offering an incredible sale on flights from the U.S. to eight Aussie bucket-list worthy cities—Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, Adelaide, Perth, Coolangatta (on The Gold Coast), and the Sunshine Coast. Round-trip flights from L.A. and San Francisco start at $1,225 when you book now thru Oct. 25th for travel between May 1st and Jun. 21st or July 24th and Sept. 21st, 2016. Flights from Houston start at $1,525.
Fall Festivals Worth Traveling To
Celebrating America’s best food, wine, beer, and music, amazing fall festivals are happening over the next few weeks. Here, a look at some of the best! NEW YORK CITY WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL happens next weekend, October 15 through 18, with a wide variety of price points from downright indulgent to stylish steals. All proceeds benefitting Food Bank for New York City and No Kid Hungry. Amazing demonstrations and food and wine tastings at NYC’s Piers 92 and 94, with celebs like Giada De Laurentiis, Rachael Ray, Mario Batali, and Emeril Lagasse hosting events. You have never tasted anything like this concentration of culinary talent all in one place! It’s a foodie convention like no other! We’re especially excited about the “under $100” events, starting at just $20, which include panel discussions and hands-on classes on Italian cooking, making jam, wine-tasting, home-brewing beer, and cocktail mixology. ARKANSAS STATE FAIR Two-foot hot dogs! Bacon bombs (filled with peanut butter and chocolate)! Fried red velvet Oreos! Those are just some of the jaw-dropping culinary concoctions being served up at the Arkansas State Fair, which happens October 9 through 18 at the Arkansas State Fair Complex in the state capital, Little Rock. There will be rides, animals (including the Exotic Animal Petting Zoo), decadently delicious fried foods, a motorcycle stunt show, high diving, and musical performances by country music giants Montgomery Gentry, rock favorite Eddie Money, and the classic band Styx. And if you love Arkansas as much as we do, check out Budget Travel’s #LoveArkansas contest for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to become our “Local Guide” to all things Arkansas! CRESCENT CITY BLUES & BBQ FESTIVAL happens next weekend in New Orleans’s Lafayette Square Park, October 16 through 18, and it’s FREE! Hear New Orleans’s finest blues musicians, including The Funky Meters, Allen Toussaint, and Irma Thomas (the Soul Queen of New Orleans). New Orleans is America’s music capital, and this event brings the best of the city’s musicians together for one amazing weekend. BBQ will span a variety of regional styles, including 6-Hour St. Louis Spare Ribs, Jerk Chicken, the “Drunk Pig” – roast pork marinated in dark beer! – Chargrilled Oysters, and Smoked Salmon Sliders! WELLFLEET OYSTERFEST happens October 17 & 18 in Wellfleet, Cape Cod. If you’re a fan of shellfish like oysters and clams, this weekend event is a must, spotlighting local cuisine, arts, cooking demonstrations, educational programs, children’s activities, walking tours of the beautiful town, live music, crafts, and the legendary “Shuck-Off” competition! In addition, proceeds benefit the educational mission, college scholarship program, and community grant awards and initiatives of Wellfleet Shellfish Promotion and Tasting (SPAT), a nonprofit devoted to sustaining Wellfleet’s shellfishing and other aquaculture industries. MENDOCINO MUSHROOM, WINE & BEER FESTIVAL happens November 6 through 15 and one of the things we love about this unique festival is that is is COUNTYWIDE, with restaurants, hotels, and special events all over beautiful Mendocino County, California, for 10 days! Mushrooms flourish in Northern California in late October and early November, and Mendocino County is home to more than 3,000 types of mushrooms, including chanterelles, porcinis, morels, and the rare candy-cap mushroom (which tastes like maple syrup – they even make ice cream out of it!). The festival includes mushroom dinners, winemaker dinners, brewmaster dinners, horseback riding adventures, cycling, kayaking, and, of course, the backdrop of Mondocino County’s rugged coastline (with popular destinations like Fort Bragg, Mendocino, and Gualala), redwood forests, and welcoming little towns.
Want to Fly to Europe for $69?
Whoa. Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA announced its intention to offer one-way tickets to Europe for $69, possibly as early as 2017. I know, this raises some questions: How can they offer fares this low? And why do we have to wait more than a year to nab one? The airline’s CEO, Bjorn Kjos, explained that Norwegian (one of Europe’s biggest budget carriers) hopes to offer flights to Edinburgh and Bergen, Norway, from small U.S. airports, such as Westchester County Airport in New York and Bradley International Airport in Connecticut, because those airports have much lower fees than popular transatlantic airports like JFK. What would a Norwegian flight to Europe be like? The airline has ordered 100 Boeing 737 MAX jets, powerful enough to cross the Atlantic but small enough to work in smaller international airports. It’s too soon to say how this plan will be accommodated by U.S. customs at regional airports that at present do not handle international traffic. It seems that budget carriers are grabbing lots of attention lately. Wow Air, based in Iceland, offered one-way fares from Boston to Paris for $99 earlier this year and sure got our attention. Norwegian already offers lower-than-average airfare from the U.S. to Europe, and its use of the smaller jets may make it an even bigger player in the transatlantic flight game. We’re looking forward to hearing more!
How to Do Grand Cayman Like a Local
This article was written by Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel. You’ve soaked up the sun on Seven Mile Beach; swum with the rays at Stingray City; and dived the island’s famous North Wall. So now you think know Grand Cayman. Think again. Beyond George Town’s duty-free shops and the swanky resorts of the Seven Mile strip, there’s a side of this 75-square-mile territory that islanders have been keeping to themselves. Until now. Here are eight fun and unexpected ways to experience Grand Cayman like a local, no snorkel gear required. Related: Hurricane-Proof Caribbean Vacations Flip out with the flip flop tree A flip-flop tree grows in Grand Cayman. And it has more than 2,600 followers on Facebook. Really. So peel yourself off that chaise and hop in a cab to see the (dead) casuarina tree along the South Sound coast road that’s embellished with hundreds of sandals, shoes, sneakers, and thongs nailed to its trunk. The ever-evolving installation was started back in 2008 by two residents who wanted to draw attention to the garbage discarded on the island’s shores by displaying stray sandals they found on the sand. Now islanders are memorializing their own flip-flops on the tree, and the footwear fiesta has reached heights of more than 15 feet and has begun migrating to a neighboring trunk. Bring your worn-out skimmers and add a shoe to the collection. Just remember to dispose of the other foot responsibly. See the stars—starfish that is Let the cruise-ship hordes head for Stingray City; Caymanians cruise instead to Starfish Point, on the northeast tip of the island, where, depending on the season and tide, scores of red cushion starfish sit in gin-clear, knee-deep water. They gather here to feed on micro-organisms found on the white-sand seabed, presenting the perfect opportunity for you to snap a photo with the sea stars. Just don’t lift them out of the water; they can’t breathe properly unless submerged. And don’t even think about taking one home as a souvenir—that’ll get you a $500,000 fine or 10 years in the slammer. Related: Cayman Islands to Build Cruise Port That Could Destroy the Environment Take the best foodie tour You’ll never go hungry on an island with more than 200 restaurants. But you might just go broke. Grand Cayman is one of the Caribbean’s priciest destinations (its currency is worth even more than the U.S. dollar) and dining out is no exception. But if you’re in town on a Wednesday night you can save as you savor by joining local foodies on the Flavour Tour at Camana Bay. For just $89 a person you’ll enjoy a tasty four-course progressive dinner (each course served at a different restaurant in the retail village) as well as pre- and post-dinner drinks at West Indies Wine Company. Four not-so-small plates plus six cocktails for less than 100 bucks? Sold. Relax on a gem of a beach Stroll the Seven Mile Beach strip on any given day and you’ll see conventioneers escaping air-conditioned conference rooms and well-oiled tourists basking in curtained cabanas. What you won’t see is hotel employees hanging out on their day off. That’s because they’re all soaking up the rays at Smith Cove, a petite beach that’s just 10 minutes’ drive away yet feels a world apart. This South Sound gem has absolutely no “scene,” so you can really relax. Restrooms and a few picnic tables are the only amenities, so bring your own beach chair, umbrella, and refreshments. Visit on a weekday and apart from a few locals, your only company will be a flock of vocal chickens pecking their way across the sugary sands. Shop like a local Sure, you can pick up a shot glass, T-shirt, or baseball cap as souvenir but wouldn’t you rather buy something lovingly handcrafted and unique to the islands? The only answer to that question is yes, and the only choice for one-stop local shopping is Pure Art Gallery & Gifts, a South Sound souvenir store that features Caymanian and Caribbean art and craft items. Must-buys include: straw hats and baskets woven from the dried fronds of the national tree, the Silver Thatch palm, and jewelry made from Caymanite, a semi-precious stone only found here. Explore underwater—at night Recreational diving got its start in the Cayman Islands, but you don’t have to be a diver or snorkeler to explore its fish- and coral-filled depths. Atlantis Submarines takes adventurers 100 feet below the surface, no breathing apparatus required, and Grand Cayman is the only Caribbean island where you can take a nighttime tour. During 45-minute dives you’ll witness all the ocean’s after-dark attractions, including silvery tarpon, which hunt for prey using the sub’s high-wattage lights. And with excursions timed for pre- and post-dinner hours, you won’t even have to miss a meal. Related: Crazy Cool Night Activities at Hotels Around the World Take a cooking class Maybe it’s raining. Maybe you’re sunburned. Or maybe you just love air-conditioning. Either way, here’s an indoor idea: Take a cooking class at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman’s culinary studio (launching this month), where resort chefs lead one- to two-hour classes that range from traditional island cuisine to macaron-making and tutorials on carving a cake in the shape of your favorite designer handbag. Kids from four to 12-years-old can get in on the foodie fun at Bon Vivant, a cookware showroom at Camana Bay, where little ones join hour-long cooking demos and leave with a recipe and their own culinary creations. Have a Funday Sunday On Sundays Caymanian boaters (and their friends) navigate north to Rum Point, the island’s quintessential Funday spot. There, the day is well spent anchored off the famous Wreck Bar & Grill. Take a dip in the warm waters; swim ashore for a Mudslide (the vodka-, Kahlua- and Bailey’s-laced Mudslide invented here back in the ‘70s); and get to know the locals as you stand in the shallows and chat over a frosty Caybrew beer (or three). See your hotel’s tour desk for boat rental info or hop one of Cayman Luxury Charters’ yachts. WATCH: Going Full Local in Puerto Rico