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Myanmar is a Southeast Asian treasure, a destination somewhat off the beaten path. Thailand and Cambodia get a lot more attention, but those who venture into the shimmering former Kingdom of Burma immediately realize that they have uncovered a rare, wonderful jewel. Political isolationism kept the Burmese under wraps for years. Nowadays, the regime is a lot more easygoing and Myanmar has really “opened up” to visitors and the influence of the rest of the world. Consequently, this is a land that is excited, curious, and highly optimistic.

The beaches are tops here… some of the best in Asia. Over a thousand miles of coastline over the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal are graced by beaches quieter, more secluded, and prettier than elsewhere. The north is rife with mountainous topography, the peaks of which are adorned with picturesque shrines and temples. The delta of the mighty Irrawaddy River is verdant and fertile, perfect for acres of scenic rice paddies and miles of countryside begging to be explored by bike, rickshaw, or carriage.

Burmese culture is closely tied to the customs of Buddhism, the country’s primary faith. The lavish pagodas and stupas honoring Buddha are some of Myanmar’s most outstanding sights. Don’t hesitate to check out the Burmese cuisine, another high point. Meals tend towards plain dishes of rice, meat or fish, and vegetables—what makes them stand out are the wide range of sweet, savory, and spicy condiments with which they are served! In this way, every individual diner can customize their dish perfectly.

Myanmar Top Attractions

Yangon

Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is the country’s largest city, and was its capital up until just a few years ago. This is, without a doubt, still the heart of Myanmar and the center of Burmese culture! Yangon burgeons with natural beauty: parks, lakes, and gardens are simply everywhere. Buddhist temples gleam in the sun, and every face you meet has a welcoming smile. The immense, golden Shwedagon Pagoda, reportedly built in the time of Buddha, sits in the middle of town. Your lodgings will likely feature quaint British colonial trappings—it’s really something to see a dignified Victorian manse in the midst of a bustling Asian street! Check out the Thakeda Crocodile Farm for a little bit of quality time with some toothy charmers, take the Circular Train for a circuitous, slow ride around town, or rent a chair on the Dallah ferry alongside the watermelon venders and sketch artists for a uniquely Burmese experience. If you are in Yangon over the month of April, prepare for some fun! The celebration of the Burmese New Year, Thingyan, translates to “water-throwing festival.” The name is apt—water is slung around everywhere in symbolism of the last year’s sins and bad luck being washed away. The end result is a wet, wild good time.

Inle Lake

The leg-rowing fishermen of Inle Lake are an iconic Burmese sight! The indigenous Intha make their homes directly on the lake, and their floating abodes and markets are a must-see. The lake itself spreads over 45 square miles between the Shan Hills, and is fantastically beautiful. Bike and hiking tours of the rolling landscape are popular, as are visits to the hot springs spa complex. Let the warm waters bubble your cares away, or indulge in a traditional Burmese massage. You can even try your hand—or foot!—at leg-paddling like a native. Most foreigners can’t quite get the hang of it, but it’s fun (and surprisingly athletic!) just to try. Excellent food utilizing local produce can be found at the small eateries dotting the shore, as well as delicious, high-quality vino from nearby wineries.

Mandalay

Escape to beautiful Mandalay, the 2nd-largest Burmese city. The riches of Mandalay are famed throughout Myanmar—handwoven silks, decor of beaten gold leaf, marble statuary, and rich tapestries abound here. Feast your eyes on beauty as far as one can see! The seven ton golden Buddha of Mahamuni Pagoda is regarded by the faithful as a living deity. Locals swarm to the four staircases of this holy place to honor the Buddha and plead for his intercession. Equally popular is the Kuthodaw Pagoda with its 729 carved marble slabs of Buddhist scripture. Other pagodas and temples cover the top of Mandalay Hill, a spot famous for both exquisite sunset views and the monks who come up to mingle with visitors and practice their English. Mandalay Palace was initially built in the late nineteenth century and destroyed by war, and then faithfully reconstructed. An attached museum displays the ceremonial regalia of the old Burmese kings.

Bagan

Situated on the banks of the timeless Irrawaddy River, Bagan is home to the largest accumulation of Buddhist monasteries, stupas, and temples in the world—to say nothing of the lavish pagodas and elegantly decaying ruins. The Ananda Temple dates back to the 11th century, although the huge teak door wasn’t added until four hundred years later. The artisans who built it capitalized on every opportunity to preserve natural lighting, all the better to show off the exquisite carvings of deities. Sunsets at Shwesandaw Temple are so extravagantly scenic that people wait all afternoon to get the right view. Along Nyaung Oo Road each morning just after sunrise, the young monks and monkettes make their way down ringing bells. The night market/carnival is also entertaining, offering a rare look at how the locals have a good time. Perhaps the most romantic way to experience Bagan is on a champagne hot air balloon tour. As the name implies, you and a loved one will take to the air in a gently bobbing balloon (staffed by experienced crew) as you sip bubbly and enjoy a relaxing view of the countryside.

Ngapali Beach

Waving palm trees and sandy white beaches welcome you to the shoreline paradise of Ngapali Beach. Airy outdoor markets and pagodas on soaring cliffs stack quintessential Burmese charm on top of luxe resort pleasures like diving, sunbathing, beachside massages, and sipping cool drinks concocted of sweet coconut milk. Most hotels hire out bicycles for self-guided touring, or you can simply slip off your sandals for lengthy walks along the sea. An elephant logging camp outside down is a popular stop, as is the nearby Rakhine village of Thandwe, where traditional woven handicrafts can be purchased at the market. Golfing, river boat trips, and precious interactions with the young students of the local English charity school are all highlights as well!

Mount Popa

One hour outside Bagan is sacred Mount Popa, the “mountain of flowers” or “Mount Olympus of Myanmar.” There is a monastery nestled at the tiptop of this dormant volcano, which is said to be heavily inhabited by spirits, or nats. Once upon a time, the Burmese kings were so swayed by the power of the nats that they consulted these spirits before any major decisions! Despite its location in the dryest part of the country, Mount Popa is lush and green year-round. Traveling there will take you through many small villages, a scenic and culturally enjoyable trip. The mountain itself is scaled by over 700 steep steps, with shrines situated strategically along the ascent. Monkeys frolic at your feet! From the top, savor the extraordinary panoramic vistas of the countryside spread out below you and feast on dishes prepared from local organic produce.

Quick Facts

Capital: Naypyidaw
Primary Airports: Mandalay International Airport (MDL), Yangon International Airport (RGN), Naypyidaw International Airport (NPT)
Government: Unitary presidential constitutional republic
Currency: Kyat (MMD)
Population: 60,280,000 (2010 est.)
Language: Burmese, English
Electricity: 220V/50Hz (American or Central European plug)
Time Zone: UTC +6:30
Myanmar

Myanmar Travel Reviews


Water Road to Mandalay

Rob

This is a country that is going through radical change, but meeting and talking to the common folk, you'd never know it. If you go now, you will see things that will be disappearing in a few years. On the other hand, what you can see now is only a fraction of what is out there and will be opening up soon. We went by luxurious river boat, which is nice, but insulated. If you go, check out the Lonely Planet guide and consider their advice--don't use a big travel company and try to do some things on your own, with local guides, of course.

Trip Rating:
Destinations Visited: Myanmar
Tour Operator: Cruisemasters / Concierge Portland

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