It took me until my third visit to Southeast Asia to give Myanmar a chance. To be honest, it hadn’t even crossed my mind the first time. I wanted to lie on the gorgeous beaches in Thailand, Bali, and El Nido. I dreamed of experiencing the organized chaos in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The small nation formerly known as Burma only really entered my consciousness when I was in the region.

In retrospect, it’s not all that surprising. For a long time, Myanmar wasn’t really an option for tourists. Ongoing conflict made travel there dangerous. But in recent years, Myanmar has become a safe and inviting destination. All in all, you should consider making it one leg of a Southeast Asia exploration. Here’s why.

#Authentic, unspoiled

I know. When we talk about going to a place before tourists ruin it, we’re inadvertently becoming the tourists we’re so averse towards. In any case, Myanmar is one part of Southeast Asia that doesn’t have an enormous influx of visitors every year. It is far from untouched – millions of people do visit. But compared to many of the countries around it, its numbers are tiny.

The sooner you go the better. Not only will you feel like a break from the crowds in Bali or Phuket, but you’ll also have a more authentic experience. The locals will actually be happy to see you, and if you’re good at making friends, they’ll show you local culture as it’s meant to be.

#Temples and pagodas

Wherever you land in Myanmar, it’s easy to get around, whether you’re going from Yangon to Bagan, in the opposite direction, or anywhere else. Yangon has to be host to one of the most compelling reasons to visit Myanmar. In Yangon, you’ll find awe-inspiring pagodas. Some of the pagodas are up to 2,500 years old! They’ve been maintained incredibly, and retain their original beauty.

Myanmar pagodas

Furthermore, the pagodas are an extremely sacred site, and you will learn more about the faith that gave rise to them. If you’ve ever wanted to get to know more about Buddhism, Yangon is a must-see.

#Respect for your budget

Many countries in Southeast Asia are so popular because they are very affordable. However, Myanmar takes cheapness to another level. While this is in itself not a reason to visit a place, it does make experiencing the place as a whole less stressful. Instead of settling in one spot, you can go from city to city, getting to know the different cultures and enjoying the different landscapes. By the end, you’ll find you still come out having spent less than you imagined.

#Variety, variety, variety

Myanmar might be small, but that does not mean it is lacking variety. On the contrary, its landscapes are as diverse as its cultures. Its cuisines differ from place to place. And unlike a country like Indonesia, where you will have to travel long distances to experience its diverse cultures, Myanmar has it all in close proximity.

noodles Yangon

Noodles in Yangon, Myanmar

Even though most of the country is safe to visit, there is chaos in some parts of Myanmar. Rakhine State for example, home to Rohingya Muslims is hectic and not exactly tourist-friendly. Be sure to do your research in advance when visiting and stick to the beaten path.

A great Southeast Asia trip is all about seeing cultures and cities as different from your own as possible. Myanmar is the perfect place to get that experience in spades. Make it a leg of your trip. You won’t regret it.