Known as the Golden Land, Myanmar is rich in culture, history, sublime landscapes, hospitable people and deeply Buddhist culture. The country’s diverse beauty ranges from snow-capped Himalayan mountaintops to vast underwater reefs teeming with life. You’ll find an abundance of pagodas, temples, deep forests, rivers, natural lakes and gorgeous beaches. Read on for some ideas about the best places to visit in Myanmar.
The ancient city of Bagan is one of the most interesting places to visit in Myanmar. Over 2,200 Buddhist monuments dot the Bagan Archeological Zone, which is spread across 26 square miles, creating an otherworldly vista when viewed from above. The best way to take in the entirety of this breathtaking city is to fly over it in a hot air balloon. The rides take place in the early mornings and you can watch the sunrise over the plains as the temples and pagodas below begin to glimmer in the misty sunlight. Be sure to visit a few of the temples as well; the Bupaya, the Ananda Paya, and the Thatbyinnyu are among the most famous.
Another of the top places to visit in Myanmar is the fabulous gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, which is located in Yangon and considered to be one of the most sacred pagodas in the country. Legend has it that the Pagoda is 2,500 years old, but archaeologists estimate it was first built by the Mon sometime during the Bagan period between the 6th and 10th centuries. Sitting atop a hill, this national treasure rises approximately 325 feet above its terrace. The main gold-plated dome is topped by a stupa containing over 7,000 diamonds, rubies, topaz and sapphires, the whole marvelous structure offset by a massive emerald positioned to reflect the final rays of the setting sun. The Shwedagon Pagoda is special at any time of day, but its colors truly shine at dawn and dusk and glow even more golden at night. Try to visit at full moon because at certain points around the main stupa, the moonlight reflects through a large 76-carat diamond nestled at the very top. Different colors can be seen by taking a step forward or back.
High up in the mountainous region of western Shan State, Kalaw is an old hill station with a laid-back vibe, a refreshing climate and scenic views. Many of Kalaw’s original colonial-era buildings remain, and it is also known as Myanmar’s trekking mecca. Kalaw offers some exciting hiking trails for you to discover, the most remarkable of which is a three-day trail that takes you from Kalaw to Inle Lake through the dense forest, tea and coffee plantations, and tribal villages.
Located on the Bay of Bengal coast in Rakhine State, Ngapali is Myanmar’s premier beach destination. Featuring clear waters and an idyllic stretch of palm-tree-fringed white sand, Ngapali Beach (pronounced Napally) was supposedly named by a homesick Italian reminiscing about Napoli. It still maintains a laid-back fishing village vibe, as evidenced by the ox-carts taxis and the small boats that head out daily to catch the bounty, which is served up to visitors just hours later. Be sure to climb or drive up to Tilawa Swayambhu Buddha at the top of the hill – it offers the most exceptional views over the bay.
If you’re in Mandalay, make it a point to visit the sheer-sided volcanic plug of Mount Popa, which rises 2,156 ft above sea level. Built on the top is the Buddhist monastery of Taung Kalat, which is one of the most breathtaking sites in Burma. To reach the monastery, you’ll need to climb the 777 steps to the summit, from where you can marvel at the panoramic view of the plains. The site is a popular pilgrimage destination and is considered a source of ‘nat’ spiritual energy.
Vast and serene, Inle Lake is the second largest lake in the country and occupies one of the highest elevations. Stilt houses pepper the waterway and the only way to see them is by boat as you travel down narrow canals. Here you will find massive floating gardens, which thrive off nutrients found in the water and, with their solid root mass, have become strong enough to bear the weight of the local cultivators. Staying at Lake Inle is a great way to immerse yourself in the local life. Stay in an over-water stilted villa, explore thousand-year-old pagodas, and see over 200 monasteries scattered around the lake, including the Jumping Cat Monastery.
The photogenic Kakku Pagoda Complex in Taunggyi, in the heart of Shan State, features a cluster of thousands of pagodas and temples. The origin of the complex is said to be from the 3rd century BC when the Indian emperor Ashoka brought in Buddhist missionaries to ancient Burma. The beautiful landscape surrounding the pagodas and the small winding roads leading to the complex are also very photo-worthy.
Taking a train ride across Myanmar’s longest railway bridge, which is over 300 feet in height and nearly 2,300 feet in length, is a nail-biting journey but most likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This mighty viaduct was an architectural feat when it was built by the English in 1901. It bridges the spectacular Gokteik gorge, a densely forested ravine, and is located approximately 30 miles from Pyin Oo Lwin on the way to Lashio from Mandalay. Expect a jerky ride but with wonderful views along the way. Gokteik station is the best spot for taking pictures of the whole viaduct, and then the train gives passengers time to look out over the stunning gorge as it crawls slowly over it. Locals sell food and drinks on the train.
This football-stadium-sized cave is the largest of many caves in Myanmar’s Hpa An region, and it’s simply breathtaking. Its name is derived from the Buddhist legend of a sacred elephant named Saddan, who once lived inside the cave. The entrance is lined with dozens of buddha statues, and inside you can wander through cathedral-like chambers under naturally vaulted ceilings with colossal stalactites dangling like chandeliers, and in places, walls of crystal. Thousands of bats cling to the cave roof. As you emerge at the cave’s far side, a burst of sunlight reveals a tranquil and secret lake full of ducks and flowering lilies hidden in a bowl surrounded by lush, jagged peaks.
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