At first glance, a holiday in Myanmar might sound like an off the wall idea. After all, ask most people about the country formerly known as Burma, and they'll likely remind you of headline stories about civil conflict and a military government that rose to power in 1988, but has yet to adopt democratic reforms. But whipping away the misconceptions and learning more about a country undergoing social change is one of the reasons to visit, according to Myo Chit, Consul-General of the Union of Myanmar in Hong Kong. From inside the modern, teak-trimmed consulate office in Admiralty, Mr Myo speaks readily about Myanmar's growing tourism industry, saying most first-time visitors to the country are in for a pleasant surprise. 'Most people like it so much, they don't want to leave,' said Mr Myo of the vast number of foreigners who visit the country each year. 'We want people all over to the world to learn about Myanmar. 'While it is prudent to take precautions to protect your personal belongings when travelling to any country, visitors to Myanmar will be impressed by the honesty and generosity of the local people.' Urban crime is almost non-existent and travellers are safe in any of the major urban areas as long as they apply common sense. Caution is also advisable when travelling in rural areas. There are still certain areas where travel is inadvisable owing to the presence of insurgent groups. Rarely, if ever, have tourists been caught in the political cross fire, however, it is best to follow travel advice, which is issued by the authorities, and steer clear of trouble spots. Accurate guiding advice and assistance is available as the tourist infrastructure is well developed. More than 200,000 travellers visited in 2000. Owing to Myanmar's history as a former British colony, English is widely spoken throughout the country, a welcome convenience. In this vast country, it's easy to get off the beaten track. Bordering Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand, the country boasts wide ranging geographical diversity. Most of Myanmar falls within the tropical monsoon climate, but it is possible to select a variety of climatic conditions to suit your holiday mood. If that means white-sand beaches, there's more than 2,000 miles of beachfront facing the Bay of Bengal. Or if jungle trekking strikes your fancy, there are hundreds of guide services ready to help you explore the vast wilderness. Those drawn to the allure of mountainous regions will find spectacular scenery and aerobically challenging Himalayan trekking. But without a doubt, one of the greatest attractions is the country's ethnic diversity and a cultural history that offers some of Asia's least explored ancient sites. Myanmar is home to eight major ethnic groups including the Kachin, Karen, Mon, Chin, Kayah, Shan, Rakhine and Bamar,(the group from which it is said the British formed the name Burma). Aside from these major groups, there are 135 smaller ethnic groups. Because of this diversity, there is a major cultural festival every month. Things really heat up in the cooler winter months (from September to January) with major festivals on an almost weekly basis. The population of 51 million is 80 per cent Buddhist, while Islam, Hinduism and Judaism are also practised. According to government statistics, 63 per cent of visitors are from Asia, while 26 per cent are from Western Europe and 7 per cent from North America. Of Asian visitors, Taiwan and Japan make up the largest number, accounting for 15.5 per cent and 10 per cent of all foreign visitors respectively. One of the major attractions is the rich history and vibrant arts and crafts industry that thrives throughout Myanmar. Most people are familiar with the elegant temples of Angkor Wat, but there are more than 4,000 temples dotted around the landscape, leading some to dub the country 'land of temples'. Among the most notable historical buildings is the wooden temple of Shwei Nandaw Kyaung, which was built in 1857 as a royal residence in Mandalay. Architectural historians proclaim the building a majestic example of teak construction, and one of the few structures of its kind to have survived after World War II. Another architectural treasure is the Ananda Temple. Constructed in 1077, the structure remains one of the finest monuments of Myanmar's former capital of ancient Pagan. The Shwei In Bin temple in Mandalay is one of the country's most ornate structures devoted to Buddhism. Constructed in the mid-19th century, the structure is adorned with intricate teak carvings and a multi-tiered Pyatthat style roof that can be seen in neighbouring countries. A process is motion to forge a new political future, including a full democratic government, and this is slowly taking shape in the form of a new constitution. But, according to Mr Myo, no time frame has been set for the completion of the document or the implementation of its basic principles, as discussions are ongoing.