Myanmar, the country that was once known as Burma, is relatively new on the tourist radar as it only recently became opened for travelers to visit. As yet, it isn’t possible to enter all areas but here are the top three destinations which will undoubtedly be added to as time goes on.
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Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar and, given that you’re international flight will likely land here, it’s the perfect place to start out. With its many temples juxtaposed with the colonial buildings left over from British occupation, it’s a fascinating blend of histories.
Among the many sites to see here is the Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s believed to have been constructed some 2,500 years ago and said to have within it 8 strands of the hair of the Buddha. The top of the temple is studded with thousands of gems… around 36,000… including a 76 carat diamond at the very top. Speaking of gems, you’ll want to visit some of the many colorful markets. In some of these, you can find jade and rubies- an unusual souvenir to take home with you!
While Buddhist temples and monasteries are prevalent throughout the country, Bagan in the Mandalay Region is particularly known for them, being home to more than 2,000. A favorite activity here is taking a balloon ride over the city, an ideal way for truly appreciating the expanse of religious structures.
Of course, you’ll want to spend some time discovering them from the ground as well. Among the most important to temples to visit are the Shwezigon Pagoda, the Ananda Temple and the Thatbyinnuyu Temple.
Of particular interest here is Mandalay Hill which literally towers over the city, being 240 meters higher. The attraction here are the many pagodas or temples and monasteries. Although you can get there by road and escalator, if you’re up to it, take one of the 4 stairways so you can make your own pilgrimage as was done in the past. Actually, Buddhists are still doing so today.
Among the highlights on the hill include the Kuthodaw Pagoda, home of the world’s largest book and the Sandamuni Pagoda, housing the world’s largest iron Buddha. In this area, you can also find the Mahamuni Pagoda, which boasts one of the only five images of Buddha made while he lived. Also closeby is Shwenandaw Monastery, a wooden structure renowned for its teak carvings.
There are also several places that can be reached as daytrips from Mandalay City. These include Mingun, home of the gigantic but unfinished Mingun Pathodawgyi, complete with one of the world’s heaviest functioning bells (90 tons). In Amarapura, you’ll find the world’s longest teach structure (1,200 meters), the U Bein Bridge. There’s also Sagaing, an old royal capital that has a hillside covered in monasteries and pagodas, much like Mandalay Hill.
Although the highlights for most tend to be the archaeological structures, there are ample opportunities along the way to learn more about the culture, past and present. And, of course, to sample the local cuisine.
While there’s plenty to do in just these three spots, if you have more time, you may want to consider a side trip to Inle Lake or to Ngapali Beach. At the later, you won’t find much to do except enjoy pristine beaches and water so it’s the perfect place to relax before heading home.
Maureen Santucci, originally from the U.S., has made Peru her home for more than 5 years. She writes for Fodor’s Travel Guide as well as various travel blogs when she isn’t escaping off to the mountains to hike, teaching Tai Chi or treating patients in her acupuncture clinic.