Until fairly recently, Myanmar (also known as Burma) was off limits to Western tourists. But after five decades of military rule and consequent democratic reform, Southeast Asia’s hidden treasure opened up to travelers seeking the unblemished beauty of Thailand 30 years ago.
The numbers have increased dramatically since 2011, as visitors flock to the Asian country, eager to explore its majestic temples, unspoiled beaches, and incredible sights. Myanmar is a delightful and fascinating country with amazing people, a strong and vibrant culture, and a landscape that is varied and diverse. This is a place that should be firmly on anyone’s bucket list and should be visited sooner rather than later.
Here are some of the top things to do in Myanmar.
1. Temples of Bagan
Image via Flickr by Dmitry Sumin
The ancient city of Bagan, nestled in the green region of Mandalay, is home to one of the richest archaeological sites in Asia. The thousands of temples spread across the plains of Bagan provide views quite unlike anywhere else on earth. Early risers can catch an incredible sunrise, where the Buddhist temples, pagodas and stupas peer out of the morning mist. The best way to get about is on e-bikes, which are very easy to rent. It’s a lot more comfortable than a bicycle and you’ll be able to see much more in the time you’ve got. Make sure you cover your shoulders and knees when entering the temples.
2. Shwedagon Pagoda
Image via Flickr by Paul Arps
No trip to Myanmar is complete without visiting the 2,500 years old Shwedagon Pagoda, in Yangon, which enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair and other holy relics. An impressive 105 meters tall, this gilded stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds; the largest of which is a 72 carat diamond. The Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred site for the Buddhist population of Myanmar. Within the pagoda are numerous temples, statues and other stupas, all of which contribute to make this an incredibly serene place. Watch as throngs of people come here to pray, worship, meditate or simply gaze in awe at the beauty of the pagoda and its surroundings.
3. Inle Lake
Image via Flickr by Benh LIEU SONG
Located in the cool, green hills of the Shan State, you will find the picturesque Inle Lake. Famous for its floating stilt-house villages and gardens and the unique way of life of the local Intha people, the lake measures 22km long by 10km wide and sits in a valley between two mountain ranges. Here you will see a unique style of fishing. Fishermen stand upright on a tiny wooden boat, with one leg wrapped around a single oar, leaving their hands free to utilize a conical fishing net and snag their catch. It takes incredible balance and fine precision to master this whole process and it’s a marvel to watch.
4. Kalaw to Inle Lake Hike
Image via Flickr by Brian Holsclaw
You do not need to be hardcore trekkers to take on the route from Kalaw to Inle Lake. There are many tour companies offering one to four-day treks, allowing visitors to see Myanmar in a very unique and different way. Whilst the scenery and landscape won’t be as impressive as some other places in Southeast Asia, these treks offer so much more in regards to their overall experience. You are led through the trek by a local guide who is able to give you a greater insight to the Shan peoples’ way of life, a Tai ethnic group. On the trek, you will pass by small villages, people farming, water buffalos, and will stop overnight in a homestay and taste the local cuisines.
5. U Bein Bridge
Image via Flickr by Roderick Eime
The U Bein Bridge is believed to be the longest and oldest teak wood bridge in the world, built around 1850. It crosses the Taungthaman Lake near Amarapura and is approximately 1.2km in length. It was built from wood reclaimed from the former royal palace in Inwa. The bridge plays a big part in the everyday life of locals with hundreds crossing to get to work or the local markets. Its distinctive features and scenic views make it extremely popular with tourists. Come here for sunset to get a fantastic photo of its silhouette in the fading light.
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