Good news is starting to trickle out of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. In August 2009, influential pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi and her party reversed their stance on tourism (it’s no longer discouraged); elections—albeit contested—were held for the first time in decades; and the long-repressive regime has begun loosing its grip. Meanwhile, the number of travelers has surged about 60 percent since 2008, and more than a dozen guide services plan to debut trips this year. Still, the place saw only 310,688 travelers in 2010. (By comparison, Nepal brought in more than 600,000.) That may be due to the ethnic conflict with the Kachin Independence Army in the northern region of Kachin. But the fighting is far from the areas of the country most travelers see. So should you go? The pro-tourism argument holds that avoiding government hotels and patronizing small businesses funnels money to locals, who need it. And the appeal is undeniable. A long-standing trade embargo with the West has insulated the country—for better or worse—from modernization. Men still wear traditional skirtlike lungis, horse carts trot dirt roads, and golden stupas and Buddhas are preserved as if in a time warp. Though independent travel is possible—Lonely Planet has a guidebook—getting permits to trek or raft is difficult, and public transportation is poor. Asian-travel specialist Effie Fletcher, of Himalayan High Treks, organizes custom trips with local guides ($100–$200 per person per day), including hiking through tiny Buddhist villages in the Shan Plateau mountains, rafting the Malikha River, shopping at a colorful floating market, soaking in hot springs, staying in monasteries few foreigners have ever seen, and visiting the 4,000-plus temples that have stood on the plains of Bagan for more than 800 years.
Slovenia packs Mediterranean beaches, more than 87 hot springs, rugged peaks in the 9,000-foot Julian Alps, 6,000 miles of trails, and 40-plus ski resorts into an area about the size of New Jersey. Yet it gets a mere three million visitors a year, compared with neighboring Croatia’s 10.6 million. Our bet? Not for long. It’s easy to get to: drive 3.5 hours from Vienna or fly from a number of European cities into Ljubljana. Slovenia is well organized and locals are friendly, making independent travel easy. Fish for marble trout, Europe’s second-fattest species, in the Soca River with Lustrik Fishing Adventures, or explore some of the country’s 8,000 caves and mountain-bike alpine valleys with outfitter Pac Sports. BikeHike Adventures’ new eight-day trip ($3,299) includes kayaking the Krka River with a Slovenian Olympic medalist, biking through Swiss-like villages, and trekking to a vista above seven alpine lakes in Triglav National Park.