A little rain isn’t going to hurt you. Unless you’re a mogwai, of course…
Since it opened up to international tourism in the 90s, Myanmar (also known as Burma) has been on my list of countries to visit. Concerns about my tourist yen supporting the ruling junta held me back for a long time, but even opposition hero Aung San Suu Kyi is beckoning to visitors now, so when I happened upon some shockingly cheap plane tickets this summer, I snapped them up right a way.
Come to find out that the reason prices were so low was that we would be arriving smack dab in the middle of monsoon season, which lasts from May or June to early October. Never one to let the weather deter me from a bargain, I soldiered on and discovered that the wet and wild rainy season might actually be the best time to visit! Here’s why.
1. Low season prices
Not just airlines, but also hotels and other tourist facilities offer lower rates during the rainy season. I booked online before my trip and paid well under half the listed price for all of the hotels I stayed at. Plus, since the government adds a 10% tax to all hotels, getting a low rate is another way to reduce the amount of money you send their way.
For those of you that like to travel reservation free, I’m told turning up and haggling for a room isn’t done much in Myanmar. However, hotels and guesthouses seem to be quite free with the complimentary upgrades when the better rooms are free, so even if you book ahead, you might get a “suite” surprise!
2. Cloud cover keeps you from getting crispy
It did rain every day I was in Myanmar, but even in soggy Yangon, it was usually just a brief passing shower or a light rain that couldn’t even properly be called a drizzle. Neither is really enough to make sightseeing impossible or even uncomfortable. However, the near constant cloud cover kept temperatures down and the brutal southeast Asian sun off my pasty skin. Temperatures during the monsoon season range from 25-30 degrees Celsius (77-86 degrees Fahrenheit), which is still muggy, but not nearly as bad as the 40 plus days possible in the hot season.
3. Crowd control
Since it’s the low season for tourism, the number of other tourists is… well, lower, obviously. Especially at the most popular sights like Shwedagon Paya in Yangon or Shwesandaw Paya in Bagan, having a solitary stroll around the grounds to soak in the atmosphere or snapping some photos without being constantly poked in the back with a selfie stick is a rainy season luxury.
4. A different perspective in more ways than one
The monsoons might keep some tourists away, but it doesn’t stop 53 million Burmese from going about their daily lives. Getting to see how people live in a climate drastically different from your own is one of the fascinating things about travel. I loved seeing how kids played in the sudden rains, how young couples took shelter together under an umbrella both to stay dry and to share a quick canoodle, and how the monks paid absolutely no mind to precipitation as they went about their morning alms collecting, robes dripping wet.
The natural scenery is quite different as well. Coming during the rainy season lets you see Myanmar at its verdant best, particularly in the relatively arid northern plains, where the green growth complements the red ruins and grey skies.
5. Would you like to share my stoop?
Although English is still not widely spoken in Myanmar, sharing an awning during a passing squall offers a chance to make friends. I had some lovely interactions with the locals during unscheduled stops to wait out some rain. Life happens on the street in this country, and people are often sitting on stoops like the furry sentry above or ensconced at outdoor tea shops and restaurants, open to a chat. Even without a shared language, the universal communication of gestures, grimaces and laughter go a long way. Everyone is waiting out the downpour anyway, so why not do it together?
If you do decide to visit Myanmar during the monsoon, be sure to pack some sturdy or disposable flip-flops that you don’t mind getting wet, a collapsible umbrella and poncho, a small flashlight to avoid puddles and open grates at night, and a ziplock bag to keep valuables dry. Happy travels, Rocketeers!
▼Both shoes and socks must be removed before entering any temples or religious sites
▼ Many of the palatial temples on the plains of Bagan date back a millennium or more
▼About 70% of the labor force is engaged in agriculture
▼Many different styles of pagodas, all donated to earn good karma
▼One of the “floating villages” on Lake Inle, communities of stilt houses
▼A monk at Nga Hpe Kyaung Monastery
▼ Another monastery resident
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