Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a destination that’s on the verge of making its epic-ness known to the world. Beyond the iconic Pagodas and the scenic floating Gardens of Inle Lake – it’s the rich diversity and its sublime mystery that makes Myanmar irresistible.
After the recent earthquake which left some of Bagan’s ancient structures damaged, Myanmar’s local communities are working together in rebuilding and healing. Other than the Burmese, there are 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, including the Shan, the Mon, the Palaung, among many others. The myriad cultures and traditions reflect in the way of life of the people, their spiritual beliefs and their rich and delectable cuisine.
Though there isn’t any one word or visual identifiable as quintessential Myanmar, with almost 80% of the country based in rural areas – in the villages among the hill tribes is where you’ll find the real Myanmar.
Boasting architecture that reflects the country’s Buddhist and colonial heritage, Myanmar is peppered with Pagodas, Buddhist temples in varying styles, exhibiting from centuries to millennia of history.
There’s much the world doesn’t know about Myanmar, and a virtual treasure of delights to discover. But don’t take our word for it. Here’s what you can expect from a journey to this mystical ancient land.
The Golden Stupas – Pagodas in Yangon
A great starting point, the former capital Yangon (also known as Rangoon), is a bustling historic city with a delicious mix of British, Burmese, Chinese and Indian influences. Exhibiting colonial architecture alongside Buddhist Pagodas, there’s a feast of culture to explore. In the heart of the city, the oldest pagoda in Myanmar – the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda stands 99 meters tall atop a small hill. Enshrining hair strands of the Gautama Buddha, the gold plated stupa with a diamond studded spire makes for a striking vision across Yangon.
Among others of note are the 2,500-year old Botataung pagoda and the Chauk Htat Gyi pagoda, with one of the largest reclining Buddha images in Myanmar. Learn the legends of these stunning Pagodas, discover the tenets of Buddhism, and meet Yangon’s cosmopolitan people. While you’re there, don’t miss out on some authentic Mohinga (traditional fish noodle soup) with a local beer on the streets of Yangon.
Mystical Land – Bagan by Bike
Bagan, located in the center of Myanmar and nestled between rolling hills, with over 2000 Buddhist monuments spanning 16 square miles, is an unforgettable sight to behold. The most impressive temple, Ananda Pahto, rises above the mist and dominates the surreal skyline.
Having served as the first royal capital from 1044 until 1287, the period of Bagan glory is also remembered as the golden age of Myanmar arts. The thousands of temples spread across the plains of Bagan are the most impressive testament to the devotion of Myanmar’s people and rulers, over the centuries. They combine to form one of the richest archaeological sites in Asia and offer unparalleled sights – an astonishing destination.
A unique way to experience the stunning mysticism of Bagan is on a bike. Tracking your way through a labyrinth of dirt tracks, seeking hidden temples over a stunning backdrop of misty and lush hill tops, armed with the spirit of adventure and a handy map.
Floating down Inle Lake
Bathe in tranquility at the Inle Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Myanmar. At 900 meters above sea level and spanning an impressive 13 miles, this serene highland lake is a must-visit. Dotted along the lake are enchanting villages, with stilted houses along the water’s edge, inhabited by many different ethnicities of the area.
The laid-back highland life, steeped in traditions, is delightful. The Intha people are the Lake dwellers who are renowned for their leg rowing. Leg rowed traditional boats are the main ceremonial attractions of the Inle Lake.
Most boat trips around Inle Lake start at the town of NyaungShwe. Float down the emerald waters and explore the surreal Floating Gardens and Markets. Stop by the traditional handicraft shops and spend some time with the locals over a home-cooked bowl of Shan noodles. An experience that melds of the warmth of the familiar and the sparkle of the unique.
Living the Highland Life – Jaw dropping Trains, Treks and River Cruises
One of the must-try experiences of Myanmar is the picture-perfect train journey across the mountainous Northern Shan state. The Goteik Viaduct – the highest railway bridge in Myanmar – has a 102 meters (335 ft.) drop from the track to the ground, and you can take this jaw dropping ride across to the colonial hideaway of Pyin Oo Lwin.
The Shan people are spiritual, and each Shan village has a spirit house built at the entrance. In Hsipaw, hiker’s paradise, you can take day hikes in the invigorating countryside to enticing waterfalls, hot springs, and the river. If you’re looking for the authentic village life – this is it!
Explore the local hamlets, learn about home industries like cigar-rolling and visit the Central Market, where from bamboo mats to the traditional longyi, villagers trade what they make. If you’d like to lay back and relax, cruise down the Dokhtawady River and enjoy the lush landscape.
A Taste of Traditions, Cuisine and High Tea
If it’s hill tribes, traditional culture and cuisine you seek, look no further. In Kyaukme, meet the Palaung community, the oldest hill tribes in the region. Be enamored by their traditional dress of a vibrant jacket and a longyi fastened with belts, adorned with a striking long headdress. The Palaung have their own language and literature, their culture and age-old traditions have endured centuries.
Explore their farms and enjoy a traditional home-cooked meal. Be it the famous Shan Noodles or the Shan Tofu (made of Chickpeas), the food of these mountain people is an unforgettable treat.
In Pyn Oo Lwin – Myanmar’s Highland City of Flowers, you will be surrounded by green hills and picturesque botanical gardens. The Colonial influence is quite delightful with churches, colorful markets and charming mansions. Enjoy a high tea and explore the town, zipping around on a colorful tuk-tuk ride.
Walking with Monks – Monasteries in Mandalay
The best way to see the former Capital of Myanmar is to walk through its maze of streets, through the thick of quaint craft shops, monasteries and churches. Head out to nearby Sagaing, a center of Buddhism that houses more than 6000 monks and nuns. Set on a hill on the riverbank of the Ayeyarwaddy, you can immerse yourself in the serenity of a gorgeous sunset spectacle.
With a profusion of temples to choose from in Mandalay your best bets are – the Mahamuni temple, with a golden terraced roof housing one of Myanmar’s most famous Buddha statues, the Kutha Daw Pagoda, site of the world’s largest book, and the Mahagandayon monastery, where 1,000 monks currently live and study.
The Old Royal capital of Amarapura – or ‘City of Immortality’, is a small rustic village, captivating us with the sights and sounds of weaving machines, bargaining at silk wear stores and locals going about their daily routines. The 1.2 km U bein Bridge that spans Taung Tha Man Lake was built in 1850 from teak and is the longest and oldest teakwood bridge in the world. Stroll on the U bein to watch monks gather, fishermen at work, ice cream sellers with their cones piled high on a bicycle, and local buskers playing their traditional instruments. There’s no better way to see authentic rural Myanmar.
Whether you choose to marvel at the temples of Bagan, wander down the alleyways of Yangon, cruise on Inle Lake or take in the sights of the rural Northern Shan State, Rickshaw Travel offers a range of authentic travel experiences to Myanmar. To journey into the heart of Myanmar, experience the myriad cultures, cuisines and unique accommodations, take a 16-day/ 15 night trip with the authentic travel experts, Rickshaw Travel.