Having opened its doors to international tourism in 2012, Myanmar has quickly become a hotspot, and it’s not hard to see why. The destination hits the sweet spot for offbeat travellers, hosting them with sufficient amenities while preserving most of itself in a time bubble from pre-globalisation days.
Travelling throughout Myanmar, you’ll find sacred temples and golden pagodas, as well as the world’s largest book in the Guinness Book of Records, laminated with gold and standing at 57 metres high. These may be top picks among backpackers, but Myanmar has just as much wholesome, good fun to offer families on vacation.
So forget the theme parks and fast food that the typical kids’ vacations are made of, and leave the iPads at home (or at least, at the hotel). You’ll all want to unplug for the unadulterated nature and cultural immersion that awaits you in the golden land.
1. Catch a puppet show in a communal living room
Htwe Oo Myanmar is run by a family of well-travelled puppeteers who welcome guests into their living room to appreciate a fast-vanishing trade. When you bring your kids to this intimate, award-winning performance of string puppetry, you’re not only opening their eyes to forms of entertainment before Baby Shark took the world by storm, but also supporting local artists and a dying craft.
Note: Tickets cost 10,000 kyat (S$8.90) a pop, and you’ll need a group of minimum two and maximum 20 people for a booking. The hour-long show runs at 6pm daily, but flexible arrangements can be made if your group has more than 5 people. English explanations are available.
2. Explore Yangon’s countryside on the Circular Train
For families hailing from big and modern cities, chances to ride an old-school train are few and far between. In fact, most kids have probably only ever seen one departing from Platform 9¾ in Harry Potter!
While in Yangon, do as the locals do. And the locals do it through hallmarks like aged platforms, rustic carriages, handwritten train schedules and vintage ticket stubs you’d want to keep for your scrapbooks. There’s no air-conditioning or high-speed rail to be found here, but the rickety 46km loop more than makes up for that with sceneries that transition from busy city to countryside vistas.
3. Take a day trip to tour Inle Lake on a longboat
Behold the poster boy of most Inle Lake tour packages online—the silhouette of a local fisherman against the setting sun, skillfully propelling his wooden boat forward with his nimble leg and oar. This spectacle is only the tip of the iceberg that is the quintessential Inle Lake boat trip.
A tour on the massive lake will take you through floating villages on stilts, where you’ll see the locals—or Itha (which means children of the lake)—fishing, tending to their gardens, or simply toiling away quietly on their handicrafts. You could join silversmith, silk-weaving, and paper umbrella-making workshops, and let the little ones can try their hands on making their own souvenirs.
Along the way, you’ll also spy landmarks such as Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda and the Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery for photo opportunities. And if a day trip isn’t enough, you could easily crash at a floatel and camp for sunrise the following morning. Just stash a night kit in your day pack!
4. Cruise the skies above Bagan on a hot air balloon
If there’s a sunrise experience to rival that at Inle Lake, it would have to be from a vantage point with 360-degree views. As it turns out, you don’t have to break the bank and fly to Cappadocia, Turkey, to let your kids live out their Pixar fantasies!
Right here in Bagan, you can sail up, up and away to the skies. These front row seats to the sunrise will guarantee an intimate and exclusive experience in the silence of the morning, where you can fully take in the fresh air and sprawling temple grounds below.
The best time of the year for hot air balloon flights is between mid-December and mid-January when turbulence is minimised, so you can smoothly journey your way to Parent Of The Year without a glitch.
5. Go pagoda-hopping on a pony cart at sunset
Sunsets in Bagan are equally magical, and just as you think you’ve covered all the rustic modes of transportation, this last one will transport you back in time in the style of royalty.
Bagan is touted as the Burmese equivalent of Angkor Wat, and while there’s no lack of pagodas, popular picks to seize the golden hour include Nyang U, Bulethi and Oak Kyaung Gyi. And if there’s anything to complete this pagoda-hopping experience, it would be to do so on a horse or pony cart against a backdrop of ancient ruins and purple twilight.
Note: A traditional horse cart fitting 2-3 people costs around US$15-25 (S$20-34) a day, while a private cart fitting 4 people comfortably costs around US$35 (S$47) for half a day, and US$55 (S$75) for a full day.
6. Get in touch with nature at Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp
The Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp was started by a husband and wife duo, along with their uncle who has served as an elephant vet for 35 years. The camp is situated in a lush, sleepy town in Kalaw, which makes an idyllic setting for your kids to expand their wildlife repertoire if they’ve only ever encountered these wonderful animals at the zoo.
Depending on your itinerary, you can sign up for anything from a brief walk to an overnight option at the sanctuary. Here, your family will learn to care for retired logging elephants by feeding and bathing them, and take the occasional jungle walk to bird-watch or help with reforestation. There are hill tribes residing in the vicinity too, and if you do manage a glimpse into their culture and way of life, it’ll make your time spent in nature that much more meaningful.
Things to note before visiting Myanmar
Singaporean passports do not require a visa when entering Myanmar, but as it’s not among the most popular travel destinations, it helps to read up on the do’s and don’ts when in the country. For starters, dress conservatively, as Myanmar is a Buddhist country. With religious sites at every bend and turn, it’s best to use footwear that can be removed easily.
For first-time visitors, uncharted land is often rife with uncertainties. What’s driving in Myanmar like, should you decide to rent a car? Will your kids be able to stomach the occasional, exotic street snacks?