This fascinating country, once a part of British colonial India, is slowly opening its doors to visitors. So, what can you expect from a gap year in Myanmar? A fiercely traditional way of life is now vying to maintain its hold as western culture becomes more widespread and the Burmese embrace the change. Traditions remain at the forefront, however, and coupled with Myanmar’s stunning natural landscape and a cuisine and culture that reflect the country where India meets South East Asia, a gap year in Myanmar will be one you’ll never forget.
In the largest city, Yangon, no gap year in Myanmar would be complete without visiting Shwedagon Paya, the enormous golden stupa where the Burmese come to pray and give offerings. Wandering round the city you’ll see markets, very few shops, and locals wearing traditional longyi (sarongs). The other city to visit is Mandalay, which, while rather industrial, is home to Mandalay Hill. Walking up it for half an hour will bring you out in a beautiful temple, with even more incredible views across the landscape.
Whichever parts of the country you visit, you’re bound to come across burgundy clad monks of all ages, collecting offerings for their temple (and their breakfast)! Inle Lake, in the centre of Myanmar, is perfect for blissful boat trips on its tranquil waters, sliding past fishermen, impressive water gardens, and houses and schools built on stilts. During your gap year in Myanmar it’s worth devoting some time to visiting Bagan, a plain of over 2,000 temples. As you gaze out over the misty plain and watch the sun set over the horizon, you’ll feel like you’re in another world.
Working in Myanmar
Unfortunately, visa and government restrictions mean that working during your gap year in Myanmar is unlikely to be a possibility. The government is so strict that foreigners are even prohibited from certain parts of the country. The opportunities for volunteering are also pretty slim, unless you are have skills and are willing to commit to some time with an NGO. Teaching English on a casual basis (unpaid), however, is certainly an option. Simply ask around once you’re there!
Whilst Myanmar straddles South East Asia and India, as well as China to the northeast, travel is not terribly simple, and land borders are often closed. Air travel from Yangon or Mandalay are best to get to and from the country, or crossing by land to Thailand or Laos is likely to be easier than getting into India or China. Inland, privately owned overnight buses are more efficient than any other transport options, or government run trains.