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From idyllic beaches on the Bay of Bengal to the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayan north, Myanmar offers a wealth of scenic beauty, ancient religious monuments, bustling cities and fascinating festivals. A country rich in history and Buddhist tradition, it is also filled with warm, friendly people from an amazing variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

But Myanmar is also a fast-changing country unlike anywhere else on earth: many of the facilities and creature comforts you are used to may be difficult to find; there are ethical and political issues to consider; and it can sometimes be a confusing – even disorientating – place to navigate.

Whatever your budget and personal interests, this comprehensive and continually updated website is here to simplify the preparation for your trip, to guide you to the most stunning locations, and help you find the best places to stay. Go-Myanmar.com also offers online domestic travel booking (air, bus, train, boat and car hire) and a variety of tour packages which can be tailored to your own needs.

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Latest Myanmar travel stories
Musical traditions in remote Chin State

Remote and mountainous Chin state has a complex history that tells a great tale. According to locals in Falam, the history of the twelve clans that surrounded the old capital has always been retained orally, through songs. In a feat of human memory, each clan had singers that would retain up to five hundred years of village history in just one song! I don’t know how long that song is, but the average person can’t remember the lyrics to their favorite three minute pop song. Such skills show an impressive song writing or listening ability.

Like valuable books, singers pass important cultural information about love, wars and life events down to the younger generations. Where I went, sadly, there isn’t much traditional music left. Maybe I needed to go deeper into Chin State to get more answers, but for now no information was forthcoming; the locals didn’t know anyone left.

When missionaries arrived they rid the local population of their animist traditions. They introduced new songs about Christianity, the English language and mad . . . .

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Remote and mountainous Chin state has a complex history that tells a great tale. According to locals in Falam, the history of the twelve clans that surrounded the old capital has always been retained orally, through songs. In a feat of human memory, each clan had singers that would retain up to five hundred years of village history in just one song! I don’t know how long that song is, but the average person can’t remember the lyrics to their favorite three minute pop song. Such skills show an impressive song writing or listening ability.

Like valuable books, singers pass important cultural information about love, wars and life events down to the younger generations. Where I went, sadly, there isn’t much traditional music left. Maybe I needed to go deeper into Chin State to get more answers, but for now no information was forthcoming; the locals didn’t know anyone left.

When missionaries arrived they rid the local population of their animist traditions. They introduced new songs about Christianity, the English language and made the locals cover up with ‘modest’ clothing. Today the locals still write in a Roman script, and unlike most of Myanmar you can get by on English easily. The British colonial government can be applauded for putting an end to the plundering, slavery and rape consistent with inter-clan warfare, but sadly, how they did it was probably through violence. To a certain extent I speculate, but it’s safe to assume that there were no NGOs and aid organizations involved!

Today what’s left of local songs is the memories of just a few people, who have a couple learned by memory and some basic instruments for accompaniment. The instruments sound beautiful but they are the most simple you could make. Their modern music is like any other pop music, the local studio runs advanced software and makes pop that sells up and down Chin State.

But, like song birds, the locals sing everywhere they go. The songs draw you into friendships; I’ve never felt so welcomed anywhere.

The influx of foreign music shows that the locals’ instruments really don’t stand up to a lot of other musical technology. Their flute lacks the clarity of the Indian or western flute and their gongs and drums don’t have the range of a drum kit. Their sound and history is unique though, and that makes it well worth practicing and preserving, foremost for their identity’s sake. Their traditional instruments have been duly replaced in recordings by western sounds, but that’s ok, in music progress can be seen as simply being able to express emotion or thought better. The better you do this, the greater the music.

Some of their traditional songs will live on, albeit to the backing of a pop guitar riff and hip hop beat. But I also hope that someone from Chin will be inspired by our recordings and carry on playing just how they have in Chin throughout their history, or someone elsewhere will take what they hear and find new ways to mix it with other music. That way, Chin culture will deservedly live on.

Adam Nicholas, December 2014

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Fire in the sky – the Taunggyi balloon festival

If your idea of fun involves a blurry riot of colour and explosions, look no further than the Taunngyi Fire Balloon Festival, which takes place in the culturally diverse capital of Shan State over several days every November. This celebration is held around the Full Moon of Tazaungmon, a Myanmar national holiday that marks the end of rainy season and is also known as the Tazaungdaing Festival of Lights.

Although the releasing of balloons is nominally an offering to the heavens to ward away evil spirits, and the national holiday is rooted in Buddhist and Hindu cosomology (it is also celebrated in Thailand, where it is known as Loi Krathong), the tradition of hot air balloon competition in Taunggyi was actually begun by the British in the late 19th century.

Today you will find a spectacle that would no doubt have had its colonial originators reeling in shock. An exceptionally loud and vibrant event, it does in fact bear some similarities to today’s western music festiva . . . .

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If your idea of fun involves a blurry riot of colour and explosions, look no further than the Taunngyi Fire Balloon Festival, which takes place in the culturally diverse capital of Shan State over several days every November. This celebration is held around the Full Moon of Tazaungmon, a Myanmar national holiday that marks the end of rainy season and is also known as the Tazaungdaing Festival of Lights.

Although the releasing of balloons is nominally an offering to the heavens to ward away evil spirits, and the national holiday is rooted in Buddhist and Hindu cosomology (it is also celebrated in Thailand, where it is known as Loi Krathong), the tradition of hot air balloon competition in Taunggyi was actually begun by the British in the late 19th century.

Today you will find a spectacle that would no doubt have had its colonial originators reeling in shock. An exceptionally loud and vibrant event, it does in fact bear some similarities to today’s western music festivals: firstly, there is plenty of loud music – but there are also ferris wheels (albeit powered by young men, rather than fuel or electricity); energy drink sponsors (though just local brands – no Red Bull, yet); and plenteous beer and food served in temporary stalls, dance stages and bars until the early hours of the morning (till as late as 6am).

However, the balloons themselves mark the Taunggyi festival out as something distinct. Home made by a number of teams who are entered into the competition, they are of course the focal point for the entire event. The fun begins every day in the early afternoon; during the daylight hours the huge balloons are created in the shapes of animals, including anything from birds to elephants. If you are here with a young family or prefer a more sedate pace, this is the time to come to the festival, for it is in the evening that things get altogether more edgy – and spectacular.

After darkness falls, the balloons are released roughly between every half and hour, and come in two categories – ones that are beautifully lit up and ascend serenely into the sky, and ones laden with thousands of fireworks. The latter balloons reach an altitude of several hundred metres, after which the fireworks burst into an extraordinary, multicoloured shower – which lasts up to 15 minutes.

At least, that is the theory. All too often, there is a malfunction and either the fireworks set off too early, firing into the crowd, or the balloon itself explodes, falling to the ground in a ball of fire. Sadly, over the years this has sometimes led to injuries and even occasional deaths; to be safe, it is essential to maintain a good distance from the balloons.

If you take sufficient care, however, you will enjoy a unique and visceral experience which stands alongside the best of Myanmar’s many wonderful festivals – and where you will have the chance to immerse yourself in local culture and see few other foreigners.

For a wider selection of photos from the Fire Balloon Festival, check out our Flick photo album.

Note that accommodation prices in Taunggyi are sharply increased during the festival, but more options can be found 45 minutes drive away in Nyaung Shwe.

Marcus Allender – founder, Go-Myanmar.com. November 2014

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Yangon, Myanmar

Monday 22 December


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