Despite tourism skyrocketing since the release of democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi in 2010, Myanmar has managed to stay on the fringes of the beaten tourist path that winds its way through the rest of Southeast Asia. But that path is ever creeping closer, and in a few short years the country is likely to be a very different place – so more than ever, we recommend getting there now.
Known as Rangoon during colonial times, the former capital is often the starting off point on your itinerary. While it may not be overly popular with the little ones, a quick visit to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda is a must, and we have a few tricks up our sleeves to help keep the kiddies entertained. One excursion that families love is riding Yangon’s Circular Railway. This local commuter rail network circles the city and its suburbs and is a great way to see a cross section of daily life in Yangon. A client recently returned claiming, “I thought it would be touristy, but no, I loved it so much! It was so local; you see the life on the train, people buying and selling, you see the scenery go by – first it’s a city and suddenly you’re staring at vegetable gardens!”
Where to stay: Sule Shangri-La, Yangon
The Shangri-La has interconnecting rooms and a good-sized pool, and is one of the larger hotels in the city so better for families who tend to cause a bit of noise! It’s located downtown which means minimal time in the car stuck in the city’s traffic, which can be very bad at times.
With over 2,000 temples and pagodas dotting the countryside, Bagan is one of Myanmar’s most iconic sites. A fun way to tour this magical region is by bicycle, discovering nooks and crannies and exploring as a family. Mini treasure hunts around the local markets are also a big hit, and kids are tasked with picking out local foods and items from a shopping list and then learning about each one. Enjoy a lunchtime picnic set amidst the pagodas, where children can run in an around the temples without having to necessarily ‘visit’ each one. A sunset cruise down the Ayerwaddy River is also a must, but make sure to stop along the way so the kids can take up a game of soccer or dodgeball with the local children – a surefire way to keep their interest peaked while parents enjoy the beautiful scenery. Lastly, kids adore the pony cart rides that are available in the area, although they may not provide the most comfortable of drives for taller parents!
Where to stay: Aureum Palace Hotel
Villas are spacious and the infinity pool overlooks the temples, so that it feels as if you’re actually swimming out to them – something that is sure to delight both parents and kids!
Located in central Myanmar, Inle Lake is surrounded by hills and ringed by quaint villages and giant banyan trees. There are about 25 different villages on the lake itself, and kid’s love travelling around from village to village in the small boats as well as the picnics that can be enjoyed onboard. Fishermen on the lake have developed a unique style of leg rowing that evolved from them not being able to see over the tall reeds while sitting down, so instead they stand on their boats and use one leg to control the oar – another facet that children find fascinating. Around the lake there are interactive ‘cooking classes’ where families can learn to make a meal in a local home. Lastly, the Inthar Heritage Burmese Cat House, a structure built in the traditional style of the lake, also scores big points. With the goal of reintroducing the near-extinct Burmese cat back into the country, kids can pet and interact with the cats in the house – very cute!
Where to stay: Novotel Inle Lake
While it won’t win any awards for style, the rooms are really big with huge bathrooms, and it’s one of the few properties in the area with a pool. It is also very modern and a bit less stuffy than some of the others. While it is very un-Inle in terms of design, the more traditional resorts just don’t have the extra space for children or the added benefit of the pool.
Gateway to some of the best trekking trails in the country, Kalaw started life as a backcountry hill station during British colonial times, and is set over 1,000m above sea level enjoying much welcomed cooler temperatures. While there, Lightfoot highly recommends the elephant experience for families at Green Hill Valley, essentially a small family set-up fueled by a passion for caring for the elephants and creating a safe and sustainable environment for them. It’s not as slick as similar places in Thailand, but it’s all the better for it as it’s far more authentic and not touristy at all. The seven elephants are all rescued, and guests can see the ledgers which tell you about their history, ailments and treatments, which is really educational for the kids. The elephants can be ridden bareback (safe and comfortable for the animals), and guests are able to get into the river to help wash them – prepare to get very wet! Wrap your day up with tree planting, which will help to ensure these gentle creatures have a better home in the future.
Where to stay: Amara Mountain Resort
A charming colonial residence originally built in 1909; the resort features a pool, plenty of space for kids to run around, and is set in an area renowned for walking and trekking.
Located on Myanmar’s southwest coast, Ngapali Beach is the most well-known spot in the area, despite it still being largely off-the-beaten-track. A large beach with swimmable waters, it’s a great place to spend a few days at the end of a trip through the country. A wonderfully peaceful area, relax by the beach, cycle along the shore or spend a day exploring the region’s fishing villages by boat.
Where to stay: Ngapali Bay Villas & Spa
With spacious beachfront rooms, Ngapali Bay is the best hotel in the area. While not overly kiddie friendly, it’s safe and a step up from its competitors.