The mostly Buddhist country of Myanmar is a mixture of hundreds of ethnic groups, ancient and colonial architecture and culture, and stunning landscapes. Myanmar is obsessed with drinking tea, and you will find thousands of teahouses sprawling throughout the country. Previously known as Burma during the British-era, Myanmar changed its name one year after a bloody uprising in 1988. Today, most of the country is safe to travel, except for a few areas that are closed to visitors.
Visitors come to Myanmar primarily for the archaeological site of Bagan, an ancient city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with temples from 11th to 13th century. Archaeologists have found over 2,200 temples in the vast 100-sq-km area, which is believed to have had over 10,000 temples in its heyday. Close to Bagan, Mount Popa makes for an excellent day-trip. Climb the 777 steps to the hilltop Buddhist temple for breathtaking views. Mrauk U is another great archaeological site in Myanmar, but since it is not as popular as Bagan, only a handful of people visit the place, and you are likely to have the place all for yourself.
At the foot of Mandalay Hill, lies the thriving Mandalay city with great markets and Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic monuments. Mandalay was bombed flat during WWII and much of what you see today has been rebuilt from ruins. Northeast from Mandalay, the historically rich town of Hsipaw will make it difficult for you to say goodbye, with its relaxed vibe and authentic trekking opportunities. It is easily reached from Mandalay by train, a ride that could probably be one of the world’s most scenic train journeys.
The Inle Lake region, to the south of Mandalay, has been a tourist favourite for years now. A scenic boat ride on the vast lake through stilt villages and Buddhist temples is a must-do activity for nature lovers. Nearby, Kalaw with its relaxed atmosphere, offers an authentic hill station experience. It is an excellent location to unwind, explore colonial architecture or go on some amazing treks.
Myanmar’s former capital Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is the country’s biggest city and a major commercial hub. The city’s skyline is characterized by British colonial and modern architecture, and Buddhist pagodas, the most notable of which is Shwedagon Paya. Around 80 km northeast of Yangon lies Bago, a historical city dotted with ruins and religious sites, and makes for a good day-trip from Yangon. You could stop overnight at Bago and continue onward to Mawlamyine, across the Gulf of Martaban, where you will feel as if time stopped and the place got stuck in the 20th century. Beaches and caves blend here with fading colonial architecture.
Even though Myanmar has had a tumultuous past, it is pretty safe for visitors now. It is a perfectly laid-back destination, with just enough things to see and do, which makes this country so appealing to the visitors.
Archaeologists have found over 2,200 temples in the vast 100-sq-km area of Old Bagan.