Burma, or Myanmar as it is now known, is officially back on the tourist map following the election win by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy at the end of last year. Once considered an off-the-beaten-path destination for even intrepid travellers, the country’s popularity on the tourist circuit has been steadily growing since it opened up its borders in 2011. Following decades of isolation under military rule the number of foreign visitors has doubled in the past five years.
Myanmar is one of most beautiful, friendly and fascinating destinations in the Far East and having been mainly cut off from the rest of the world for decades gives it a unique appeal for holidaymakers. It represents a chance to see a part of Southeast Asia that is suspended in time and where traditions and faith still dominates every element of life.
There are so many incredible sites and beautiful places that just looking at photos of the country is sure to elevate it to the top of any bucket list! With shimmering temples scattered throughout the land, bountiful rice fields, picturesque mountain paths, lakes and rivers, it is simply stunning.
Most people start their trip in Burma’s former capital and its biggest city, Rangoon (Yangon). With colonial-era buildings and home to the incredible Shwedagon Pagoda, the city remains the country’s commercial and diplomatic capital.
Mandalay is Burma’s second biggest city and the last royal capital before the British took over and the royal family was forced to flee to India. The city’s name comes from the nearby Mandalay Hill, one of its main tourist attractions. Throughout the colonial years, Mandalay was the centre of Burmese culture and Buddhist learning and there are still many temples and monastic schools in and around the city which draw pilgrims and visitors from all over the world. The ancient capitals of Inwa (Ava) and Amarapura a short drive from the city provide a glimpse into Burma’s majestic past.
TOP OF YOUR MUST SEE LIST:
The Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon is a gilded 95-metre stupa topped with a thousand diamonds. It is the most important Buddhist shrine in the country and monks, nuns and pilgrims from all over Burma come to pray and chant beneath its exquisitely carved eaves.
Bagan – The 26-sq mile historic area has hundreds of temples and pagodas filling the horizon in every direction. Watching the sun set from on high for a view across the entire temple plain has become an institution in Bagan. The authorities have banned the climbing of many temples for safety reasons but there are still a few you are able to climb up.
The Golden Rock, Kyaiktiyo, is an enormous, precariously balanced boulder coated in gold and topped with a stupa. It is a major pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists and so the atmosphere surrounding it during the height of the pilgrimage season (from November to March) is charged with magic and devotion: pilgrims chant, light candles and meditate all through the night.
The 7-mile wide Inle Lake with its floating markets, Buddhist temples and stilt houses is a must visit. Marvel at the tradition leg rowing by the fishermen and floating gardens.
A cruise on the impressive Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) River from Rangoon or Bagan to Mandalay offers a great chance to meet locals in otherwise inaccessible and remote villages and enjoy the scenery at its best.
Burma is not just a cultural holiday for tourists, it is also set to become Asia’s hot new beach destination. Its premier destination, Ngapali, on the west coast is quite built up by Burmese standards – which means a handful of low-rise hotels – but with palm-fringed beaches of white powder-soft sand and clear turquoise sea, the sleepy village-vibe might only be disturbed by an ox-drawn cart being taken along the beach as a short cut!