The 10 best places to visit in Myanmar
Myanmar has many faces; from urban explorers to temple fans, nature lovers to beach boys there is something here for everyone. Here are our top ten places to visit while traveling in Myanmar:
Bagan is the jewel in Myanmar’s crown, some 2000 ancient temples in an area roughly the size of Manhattan. Similar in beauty and scale to Cambodia’s Ankhor Wat but with far fewer visitors, a trip there can be both an intimate and awe-inspiring experience. Be sure to sit on a temple and watch both sunrise and sunset over the horizon, as each has something different to offer. Sunrise sees the ascent of dozens of balloons above the pagodas, while sunset carries with it a much more vivid pallet of oranges and reds. Alternatively you can take to the skies in a balloon yourself for a truly unforgettable morning’s flight.
Surrounded by mountains, ever-peaceful Inle Lake is dotted with leg-rowing fishermen, stilt villages, diverse flocks of lake birds and crowded wooden boats carrying local people to and from distant towns. A visit here is all about nature and relaxing in the simplicity of life on the lake. Highlights of the trip include watching leg-rowing fishermen ply their trade, sailing through several of the many fascinating floating villages on the lake, seeing magnificent sunsets over the water and experiencing firsthand the many sights, smells and smiles of the morning market in Nyaung Shwe. If you have the time also visit Indein, Nyaung Oak and Shwe Inn Thein Paya, famous for their charming groups of crumbling ancient pagodas and stunning carvings of mythical creatures. Visiting Inle Lake is the perfect way to spend a day or two surrounded by incredible natural beauty while discovering Myanmar culture.
Yangon is also known as Rangoon. It remains Myanmar’s largest city and is still the country’s most important commercial hub and gateway for most of its international visitors. But there is much more to Yangon than commerce: beautiful architecture, vibrant nightlife, diverse cultures and exotic food to say the very least. Yangon has a wonderful array of colonial-era buildings hidden in its streets, and peoples from India, China, Bangladesh and many other countries brush shoulders with locals. This diversity is reflected in the phenomenal food and nightlife, which contrasts barbeque in Chinatown with hot pot and karaoke, Myanmar street snacks with vegetarian Indian curries and local beer stations with delicious fresh seafood and sushi. Equally diverse are the religious sites: temples, churches, mosques and synagogues are all in evidence. Indeed, no Myanmar expedition can be considered great without visiting the legendary 100 meter high Shwedagon Pagoda, its stupa covered with 40 tons of gold leaf. Visit local markets, join locals drinking in tea shops and soak up the atmosphere; Yangon truly is a magical place.
Mandalay, the former royal capital in the north of Myanmar, is the second largest city in the country and the cultural heart of the nation. A vibrant, modernizing city on the banks of the Irrawaddy river, it also contains several remarkable historical sites. The center of Mandalay is structured around the restored Mandalay Palace from the Konbaung Dynasty. Surrounded by an enormous moat and walls, it is a magnificent start to exploring the city. Mandalay Hill provides an astonishing view of the palace and the city, and can be reached by a continuous covered stairway from base to summit. At its foot, the Kuthodaw Pagoda houses hundreds of Buddhist-scripture-inscribed marble slabs. Once the sun starts to set, you should walk along the legendary U Bein Bridge, built in 1782. Spanning 1.2 km across the shallow Taungthaman Lake, it is said to be the longest teak-wood bridge in the world. If you take the time to explore Mandalay further there is even more to be enjoyed, including many temples, monasteries and markets, as well as great street food and panoramic views.
Ngapali is Myanmar’s most famous beach destination, located on the Bay of Bengal coast (in Rakhine State). Visitors can explore untouched jungles and hills, idyllic stretches of white sand beaches and palms and find luxury resorts spread out next to traditional fishing villages. Ngapali offers an incredible diversity of activities: glimpses of bustling markets with friendly villagers, golden temples and pagodas, kayaking, snorkeling among the fishes, taking trips on local fishing boats or cycling down the beach. You can of course also simply relax and enjoy the sun! Ngapali also has several fishing villages which offer a slice of local life to tourists. The first is only two or three kilometers down the beach from the main hotels and can be reached by foot.
Mrauk U is an archaeologically important town in northern Rakhine State and at first glance may seem to be a sleepy village. Not so long ago, however, it was the capital of a reasonably-sized empire where many Portuguese, Dutch and French traders lived. The kings of Mrauk U built many pagodas and temples around the town to express their piety – so many, in fact, that Mrauk U is second only to Bagan in the number of pagodas and temples it possesses. One particularly notable site is the 1553 Kothaung Temple (Mrauk U’s largest), which features a staggering 90,000 images of Buddha. Mrauk U is a remarkable place for many reasons, but its timelessness and relatively low visitor rate give you the rare opportunity to imagine Myanmar as it was decades ago.
Hidden in the Shan mountains lies the former British hill station of Kalaw, a beautiful little town roughly 1.5 hours drive from Inle Lake. Kalaw’s main attraction is plenty of trekking opportunities, but it also offers refreshingly cool temperatures many tourists find extremely pleasant. Shan state is considered the most picturesque region in the country with remarkable landscapes and fauna, including several herbs used in local cooking and traditional medicine. There are many small villages orbiting Kalaw where you can meet rural families and experience a little of their life, from the tea harvesting and transformation process to the making of traditional dresses. The town is also famous for its rotating market, which moves to a new town each day of a five day cycle around the Kalaw/Inle region. It’s a lively, colorful market full of stands of meat, vegetables, fruit, herbs, and spices that if you’re lucky (or plan well with the rotations beforehand!) you’ll have the pleasure of experiencing.
Hpa An is the capital of Karen State and one of the major tourist destinations in Myanmar. Famous for its beautiful caves, crystal-clear pools, excellent hiking and picturesque mountains, Hpa An has a lot to offer travelers. Many of the caves house Buddha images and etchings that date back many hundreds of years, although a torch makes the experience more enjoyable and safer as the lighting inside the large caverns can be minimal. If you enjoy hiking, you will have the opportunity to hike Zwekabin mountain (around 2 hours) in order to reach the monastery on the top and experience an inspiring sunrise or sunset view. Another popular activity is climbing Kyauk Ka Lat (pronounced like chocolate) Pagoda (paya), a rock formation with a golden stupa on the top. Kyauk Ka Lat is built on a small island in the middle of a lake. From Kyauk Ka Lat you have a great view of the surrounding area and Zwekabin mountain.
Trekking lovers – are you ready to trek Kyauk Me? This destination is still unknown to the vast majority of tourists, which makes it a great place to experience a more authentic Myanmar. Kyauk Me (Chao Me, means ‘black stone’), is in the North of Shan State, and offers lots of trekking opportunities from 1 – 3 days depending on your tastes. Walking around you will surrounded by astonishing views and untouched landscapes, and if you are very lucky you will meet some locals who continue to live outside of modern times. It’s a remarkable place to experience, to trek and to safeguard for the future.
Mawlamyine is the charming tropical capital of Mon State, one time administrative center of British Burma. You will find many old colonial buildings in its quiet streets, vibrant markets and great seafood. In Mawlamyine you will find the famous Win Sein Taw Ya This: the biggest reclining Buddha in the World (still under construction). It is also worth visiting the several monasteries on the hill in the middle of town and the beautiful monastery Kyakthanlan, which is a fantastic spot to watch the sun rise or set.
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