In early September, a truly historic event took place. Russia and Myanmar re-established air links after 30 years. What does this do for our travelling enthusiasts? Should we expect a tourism boom to this exotic country? How promising is Myanmar for the Russian tourism industry today? Maya Kotlyar, the founder and head of MAYEL Travel, one of the most quoted public experts in tourism, will help us to understand these issues.
– Dear Maya, Although Myanmar is quite an exotic tourist destination, you have a lot of experience in sending tourists there.
– Yes, we have been working with this country for a long time and, frankly speaking, I was a bit surprised at how superficially information is presented today in many mass media with the promise of “Maldivian” beaches, the launch of “block” flights with a connection in Novosibirsk and so on.
So, flights flew to Yangon and Mandalay from Novosibirsk twice a week. Why from there? Myanmar Airways has no long-haul aircraft and simply cannot fly to the center of Russia. We are told that if the demand is high, if there are planes available, our planes may be allowed there, but right now, it’s a questionable endeavor. The exception may be low-frequency flights from Moscow.
– What are the reasons for your doubts about the possibility of expanding air travel?
– It is more convenient for residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg to fly to Myanmar by transit through South-East Asian countries. Because few people will go to Myanmar only for the sake of Myanmar; it is pure combined tourism – Myanmar plus Thailand, China, Laos, Cambodia, or Vietnam. These countries are a perfect combination. Myanmar, on the other hand, is associated with certain security concerns at the moment – too little information, and frankly too little hype.
– I agree about the hype. Not everyone has seen the stunning views of golden temples, statues, Bagan era pagodas, and hot air balloons.
– Indeed, they are very beautiful! And there are also floating markets, ascetic monks, interesting local cuisine, natural beauty, jungles, rivers, lakes, caves, Himalayas. Yes, there will definitely be more unusual exoticism with the discovery of Myanmar! But, it’s worth paying attention to some nuances.
– Are you talking about the fact that the country has been isolated for many years under Western sanctions because of numerous military coups?
– This point will have to be taken into account by our tourists. Undoubtedly, golden temples, locations mesmerize, have a “wow-effect,” but (!) you should be ready to see poverty and devastation around you. Besides, the country is big, and it is impossible to cover everything in a couple of days. There can be thousands of kilometers between cities, so, it’s important to travel only in an organized way and know the places. Lakes, temples, caves – to see it all, you’ll have to prepare for many kilometers of travelling.
In general, Myanmar is very reminiscent of Nepal, India and North Korea, Thai Chiang Mai at the same time. This is a journey for wanderers who love everything unusual and are mentally prepared to see poverty and devastation around them, to dive into local life, charm and Buddhism.
– And what do you think about cruise tourism in Myanmar?
– I would recommend taking lake and river cruises. You can’t go wrong here. And this is because they will “detach” you from poverty, devastation, low-grade hotels, barracks and other things. It’s quite convenient travelling around the country, capturing the right locations.
Even the most sophisticated traveler will be satisfied: teak wood floors, wooden and wicker furniture, fine fabrics in the interior, and excellent personal service. The spirit of colonial style hovers over the ship. Nothing will distract you from enjoying the country.
– Which itinerary would you recommend for those who want to get to know Myanmar better?
– Yangon – Bago – Mandalay – Inwa – Bagan – Mount Popa – Inle Lake. In this case, you will be able to say that you have seen almost everything in this country.
As for the beaches… Well, no. Despite being 2,000 kilometers long, I would not recommend them. Most of them are completely wild places. There’s no point going to Myanmar for a purely beach holiday. This is absurd when there is neighboring and affordable Thailand. But after the excursions, you’re welcome. But you have to know places. Choose Ngapali resort, it is the best beach in Myanmar.
One thing I can say is that the sunsets there are simply artistic!
Interviewed by Yuliya NOVITSKAYA, writer, journalist-interviewer, correspondent of the “New Eastern Outlook”.