With a lush jungle landscape dotted with glistening golden pagodas, a visit to Myanmar has a distinctly dream-like vibe. Carts led by oxen rattle along the pot-holed roads and visitors truly feel as though they have been transported to another era. A rich cultural history adds to its appeal.
Although tourism has boomed since 2012 when travel restrictions were lifted for foreigners, Myanmar is still relatively unjaded and the Burmese are genuinely friendly and welcoming to visitors.
Unfortunately, Myanmar has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons lately. Whilst Northern Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states are to be avoided, much of the country is open to tourists. Here are ten memorable experiences to have when visiting this unique and bewitching destination:
Temple hopping by bicycle in Bagan
Cycling along the dusty lanes of the ancient city of Bagan is a highlight of any trip to Myanmar. The twenty-six square mile area is home to over two thousand temples and pagodas, most of which are superbly preserved. Each temple has a character of its own, with a Buddha statue, carvings, and frescoes within. Pedalling through the rugged terrain with the evocative sound of monks chants emanating from the temples in the background is a magical experience.
Cycling around Bagan
Take a boat trip on Lake Inle
An early morning canoe ride on Lake Inle is a fascinating insight into life on the water. Intha fishermen skilfully row boats with one leg, using their hands to fish. Teak and bamboo homes on stilts surround the lake. Locals collecting seaweed for use as fertilizer, boats loaded with fruit and vegetables from the market and floating gardens provide numerous photo opportunities. Wooden canoes with long-tailed outboard motors set out from Nyaungshwe each morning.
Climb Mandalay Hill
Head to the summit of this 954-foot high hill, a sacred Buddhist site, to witness the sun setting over Mandalay and the plains. A total of 1729 steps lead the way to the top and have to be traversed barefoot in accordance with Buddhist rules. As you climb, you pass a plethora of pagodas and temples as well as vendors selling snacks and souvenirs. It is quite likely that you will find yourself befriended by a Buddhist monk who wants to practise English.
The summit of Mandalay Hill
Enter the depths of Saddan Cave
This cave is situated in the south-east of Hpa An in Kayin state. It is necessary to take a flashlight when you visit the cave or alternatively you can make a donation and the lights will be switched on for you! There are Buddhas sitting in the entrance chamber and you can walk through gigantic caverns filled with amazing rock formations to emerge at a beautiful lake on the other side of the cave.
Chill out on Ngapali Beach
Ngapali Beach, located on the Bay of Bengal is Myanmar’s most beautiful beach. With its miles of white sand fringed with palm trees, Ngapali is pure paradise. Apart from chilling out, the main pursuits to indulge in include kayaking, scuba diving, and snorkelling. Along the coast, there are several small fishing villages offering a taste of local life. It goes without saying that the seafood restaurants are superb.
Hike to the summit of Mount Popa
This incredible Buddhist monastery is located approximately thirty-one miles from Bagan at the summit of a volcanic plug. There are 777 steps to climb, with plenty of cheeky monkeys to entertain you on route. The monastery is believed to be the home of thirty-seven nats (spirit entities). Statues of them can be seen at the base of the hill. Golden pagodas glisten in the sunlight and there are several shrines to be seen on the way up.
Visit Shwedagon Pagoda
The main tourist attraction in Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda sits on a hill and can be seen from most areas of the city. The dazzling pagoda is 2,600 years old and many Buddhists in Myanmar aim to pay pilgrimage to the pagoda at least once in their lifetime. The stupa topping the principal dome is decorated with 7,000 diamonds, rubies, topaz, and sapphires. A huge emerald reflects the last rays of the sinking sun. It is particularly stunning when it is illuminated at night.
Go shopping at Bogyoke Aung San Market
The massive bazaar in the heart of Yangon is a great place to pick up some gifts or simply browse and enjoy the exotic bustling atmosphere. Burmese handicrafts, antiques, art, jewellery, and clothing are among the items you can purchase at the sprawling covered market. It’s a colorful treasure trove of temptations and a unmissable experience if you are in Yangon.
Watch the sun go down over U-Bein Bridge
This remarkable bridge was built in 1850 and at ¾ miles long, it is the longest teak foot crossing in the world. Located approximately eight miles south of Mandalay, it has become one of Myanmar’s most photographed sights. Crossing Taungthaman Lake, it is particularly scenic at sunset when locals and tourists gather to enjoy the scene.
Cruise the Irrawaddy River
A relaxing cruise along the tranquil Irrawaddy River is one of Myanmar’s most iconic experiences. Passing dense jungle, rice paddies, and traditional villages, it’s an opportunity to take in a way of life that has been unchanged for centuries. Known as ‘The Road to Mandalay’ after the Rudyard Kipling poem, it flows all the way from the Himalayas to the Andaman Sea.