You may have heard some news recently about Myanmar (Burma) opening up its borders and encouraging tourists to enter the country. If you’re considering a visit to this small Southeast Asia country, you’ll want to know what you should see while you’re there. Here are a few places that you just cannot miss.
Yangon, formerly the capital of Myanmar, is the largest city in the country. You can get a great introduction here, with its mixture of colonial buildings and golden pagodas. The most famous of these is the Shwedagon Pagoda.
You’ll be amazed by this 112m-tall monument, designed by King Okkalapa. It’s covered in gold and gems, and at the very top—a 75-carat diamond. If you walk around the complex at night, at certain points marked on the ground (a guide can help you find them), you can see different colors appear in the diamond.
From Yangon, make your way to the Mandalay region and the city of Bagan, a spectacular city of over 2,000 Buddhist temples and pagodas. An ancient capital city from the 9th to 13th centuries, Bagan culture was dominated by religion with its rulers and wealthy subjects contributing to their city’s grandeur by adding more religious monuments to the Bagan plains.
If you’re suffering from “pagoda fatigue” as we like to call it, then, in the Shan State, to the east of the Mandalay Region, you’ll find serenity at Inle Lake, the second largest lake in all of Myanmar.
The lake is the source of livelihood for the towns and villages that are spread out around its perimeter and on the lake itself. You’ll be impressed by the way the locals have figured out how to see beyond the weeds into the waters below to find what they need: they stand on the boat with an oar attached to one leg, so they can control the boat while standing up!
From Inle Lake, you’ll have to decide which direction to go. To the North lies Saramati Mountain, near the border of Myanmar and India. At a height of 3,826 meters, this prominent peak is great for anyone with some time (about 1 to 2 weeks) and some degree of fitness to climb its slopes to see the spectacular forests that surround it as well as visit the Naga people’s villages in the area.
Southernmost of the country is the Mergui Archipelago—a part of the country with some of the most beautiful islands and beaches in the world. But to the East of Inle Lake, you’ll be able to visit Kyaing Tong, only recently opened to tourists. Here you’ll be able to see what life is like for some of the country’s unique ethnic minority communities.
Then, finally, to the West, are some of the most breathtaking ruins in the country. Sometimes called the next Angkor Wat, Mrauk U is a 7km squared complex of over 700 temples that were built as a testament to its position as a religious center of the region, much like Bagan. And since it’s only just become open to tourists, Mrauk U will definitely be one of those places where you can pretend to be Indiana Jones or Lara Croft and actually feel like no one has been there before – because it’s practically true!
After all this, you might be itching to get on a plane immediately and make your way to Myanmar. But make sure you’re prepared: you’ll need a visa and, depending on where you go, Mrauk U for instance, you may need special permission to visit the area.