The Burmese Backpacker Boom!

A brief look at Myanmar’s troubled history…

After becoming an independent nation in 1948, when Myanmar broke free from British colonial rule, the country has struggled greatly with ethnic division, brutal dictatorships and civil wars.

In 1962, Myanmar fell under a military dictatorship. In the years that followed, almost all aspects of society, (business, media, manufacturing and exports) were brought under stringent government control as part of the ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’. Living in Myanmar during this time meant strict control of your personal freedoms, what you could do, say, believe in, and where you could travel. Protests against the military rule, such as the student protests in Rangoon in 1962, where 15 students were killed, were met with violent suppression.

In 1988 unrest throughout the country became worse and thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators were killed in what was known as the 8888 Uprising. Following continuous pressure, in May 1990, the government held free elections for the first time in almost 30 years and although the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy won over 80% of the seats, the military junta refused to back down and cede power.

Yangon Burma
The beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest in 1989 and repeatedly asked tourists not to visit Burma: “People should not come to Burma because the bulk of the money from tourism goes straight into the pockets of the generals. It’s a form of moral support for them because it makes the military authorities think that the international community is not opposed to the human rights violations which they are committing all the time. They look on the influx of tourists as proof that their actions are accepted by the world.” (Aung San Suu Kyi, Jan 1999) 

In August 2007, the Myanmar government shocked the world and came under increasing international scrutiny for human rights abuses when they responded harshly to the Saffron Revolution, a peaceful demonstration by students and Buddhist monks campaigning for the government  to remove subsidies on the sales prices of fuel. Hundreds of protesters were arrested and there are estimated around 30 deaths, although the exact figure is unknown. The world responded with sanctions on trading with Myanmar and the pressure to reform grew.

Monks Burma
Monks queue for an alms giving ceremony in Yangon

Finally, under increasing world wide pressure, in 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and general elections were held. The military dictatorship was supposedly dissolved in March 2011. However, most of the former military leaders became party leaders in the new ‘Union Solidarity and Development Party’ who won an election, believed to have been rigged.

It was not until elections last year in November 2015, when the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a convincing absolute majority (86% of seats) and it seemed that after a long struggle democracy had finally arrived in Myanmar.

Trekking around Inle Lake, Myanmar
The future of Myanmar is hopeful. 

Today’s Tourism Boom!

When over 50 years of conflict that made the country a no-go zone for travellers came to an end, Southeast Asia suddenly had a new and amazing country for intrepid travellers to explore!

Myanmar was a country that had remained almost untouched by tourism in the modern years, with an incredibly rich culture, history and amazing landscapes. People wanted the chance to discover this unique and once isolated country and tourism began to boom at a phenomenal rate!

Since the fall of the dictatorship, international arrivals in Myanmar have quadrupled from only 792,000 per year in 2010. This year, the Ministry of Tourism are expecting 4.5 million foreign visitors, 46% higher than last year’s 3.08 million. Furthermore, domestic travel has increased almost five times with an expected 2.4 million Burmese flyers this year. This is a wonderful demonstration of the newfound freedom of the Burmese people who are now starting to explore amazing destinations within their own country that were out of bounds not so long ago.

For backpackers, the country offers incredible adventure opportunities.

With over 135 different ethnic minorities living in the region, each with their own traditions, language and dress, Myanmar offers incredibly rich cultural diversity, not to mention incredible landscapes to discover. (At the moment, without too many other tourists spoiling the view!)

For the spiritual traveller…

Temples pagodas and historical sites abound, with the amazing golden Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the mystical ‘Golden Rock’ or the awe-inspiring landscape of Bagan – one of the richest archaeological sites in Southeast Asia, built between the 11th – 13th centuries, with over 4,000 temples covering a dusty plain of 40 square miles!

Bagan temples myanmar
The amazing temples of Bagan, Myanmar

For the beach-goer…

beautiful and unspoiled beaches beg to be discovered; you can sample the more developed Ngapali and Thandwe with soft white sand fringed by coconut palms, the lesser known Chaung Tha and Ngwesaung or venture completely off the beaten track to make the only footprints on the sand on the deserted beaches near Dawei.

Monkey beach
Beaches near Ngapali beach, near the south of the hilltop Buddha.

For the diver

Compared to the crowded dive sites of many other parts of Southeast Asia, diving is a fairly new activity on the Andaman coast of Myanmar with untouched islands and a diverse marine life that has been largely undisturbed by humans. Islands near Ngwe Saung Beach are a paradise for snorkelers and divers with warm tropical waters and aquatic wonders

Myanmar diving
Diving at the islands off Ngwe Saung Beach.

For the outdoor adventurer…

And, did you know that Myanmar boasts the highest mountain in Southeast Asia? As well as myriad opportunity for outdoor adventure pursuits such as trekking, rock climbing, rafting and kayaking, with many adventure companies cropping up to allow travellers to explore Myanmar’s diverse beauty.

trekking myanmar
Trekking through the Shan State.

For the anthropologist…

Without doubt, a trip to Myanmar is not complete without a visit to Inle Lake, a magical, unspeakably beautiful region located in the heart of Shan State with plentiful opportunity for trekking amongst the 30 hill tribes that live in the surrounding mountains. Don’t miss the famous leg rowers!

myanmar leg rowers inle
The famous leg rowers of Inle Lake.

With a tropical climate, cheap transport, amazing food, friendly people and fascinating sights, Myanmar is unbeatable as the ideal location for an adventurous backpacker trip! Check out more information on our Myanmar destination page here.

Check out more excellent value for money trips here via

How to get around Myanmar?

Domestic Flights (What’s new? =!)

With unpaved roads, no adequate railway network and long distances between sights, as more and more travellers arrive on Myanmar’s shores, there is an increasing demand for domestic flights – which until recently were expensive and time-consuming to book.

New on the Myanmar air travel scene since June 2015, is the handy website: – a one-stop shop for domestic bookings online, from the more well-known destinations to the truly remote. 

Explore the depths of the ocean with Flymya!

FlyMya offers travellers the opportunity to book flights to over 25 destinations within the country via credit card or paypal. On the website, travellers can compare flight schedules and prices of the country’s 10 domestic airlines and make bookings with just a few clicks. Air E-tickets are delivered to customer via email.

The website is the brainchild of local entrepreneur, Mike Than Tun Win who predicted the surge of tourists to his home-country. He wants to make travel easier and more on par, in digital terms, with neighbouring Southeast Asian countries.

Says Mike: “Before FlyMya existed, you would have to be sat in a travel agent in Myanmar in order to reserve a seat on a local airline. And the travel agent would charge you high commission to do so! Now you can book from home before you even travel – we’re finally catching up to the rest of the world!”

As well as flights, FlyMya have teamed up with local tour agents to offer trips and adventure packages to travellers. You can even book rental vehicles, drivers or hotel rooms through FlyMya – meaning you can have your whole trip sorted before you even land in Myanmar! And all at the best local prices. 

Air Mandalay
The local airline, Air Mandalay.

Mike told us that customer service is a big problem in Myanmar because many travel agents are not used to working online and even if they have a website, (which many don’t) they can take a week or two to get back to you.

“With our experienced english-speaking team, we are able to offer expert travel advice to new travellers to Myanmar. For example, we can help you organise your Myanmar visa, advise on vaccinations and travel safety and give you handy tips on cultural do’s and don’ts within the country. All this can make your trip easier and more enriched. Plus, we’ll get back to you within 24 hours with answers to your questions!”

At the moment, FlyMya books over a thousand airline tickets each month for travellers from all over the world. (FlyMya makes money by charging the airlines a fee of 5-10% of the ticket price, so the traveller doesn’t pay any extra!)

Says Mike: “I am so proud to call Myanmar my home. It made me feel sad that problems with transport and customer service were preventing travellers from experiencing this amazing land. I wanted to change this. In today’s modern world, the internet connects people, creates equality and breaks down cultural barriers. I open my arms wide to people who wish to explore the incredible beauty of my country and experience the warm hospitality of the people of Myanmar!”

Book your trip now on

This is a sponsored article.

Nikki Scott - Founder South East Asia Backpacker
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker and The Backpacker Network. In her early twenties, she left her home in the North of England on a solo backpacking adventure and never returned! After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine that became legendary on the Banana Pancake Trail. The rest is history.

Find me: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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