An Expert insight to the Highlights Of Burma
A quick summary of what to do!
Classic ‘triangle’ of key sites – Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan
Yangon or Rangoon – the Capital. Summarised as markets and pagodas.
Mandalay – not an attractive city or interesting but the surrounding area is very lovely to visit
Bagan – lots (thousands) of temples, 2 or 3 nights, similar to Angkor Wat. To get away from the tourists take a bike and cycle around the villages to explore. Balloon flights are a great way to see the area.
Inle Lake – a very different and beautiful area with lots of hill tribes that come to the lake to sell products at market. Sunken temples, fisherman, trekking.
River Cruising – Both American/US orientated cruises or more authentic ‘Paukan’ Burmese style cruises are available. You can do 2/3 or 7 nights cruising but basically the same ground and distance as the same amount of navigable water for all. The longer cruises are often used as an alternative to hotels. Boats get booked up early so availability is key here.
To get around Burma you have to fly as there is no rail infrastructure and the roads are pretty rough. So any itinerary is locked into flight schedules. However the number of flights are increasing year on year.
Go off piste to:
U-Bein bridge, that is an unique engineering feat but there are monasteries in the area so lots of monks around!
Putan – 3 days round trip up in the North. Similar to the Himalayas with trekking, rivers, elephants. Get way stuff.
Kengtung – 5 days round trip. Hill tribes, untouched, un-touristy, with trekking. Accommodation is basic
Located in Nyaung Shwe township, attractive Inle Lake, the second-largest in Myanmar, is famed for the unique rowing style of the fishermen who earn their living here. Standing on one leg in the stern, they wrap their other leg around the oar to steer, giving them a better view. Sampling the fresh catch here is a must, especially the local carp. Many traditional industries are found on the banks, with the floating vegetable gardens particularly worth a visit. It’s also a good idea to take a boat tour around the villages that nestle the lake’s banks to admire the houses, simply constructed of wood and bamboo, and protected from the water by stilts.
BALLOONING IN BAGAN:
An unforgettable accompaniment to any tour of Myanmar, this is simply the best way to appreciate the serene landscape of Bagan, the ancient city dotted with pagodas, stupas, relics and temples dating back many centuries. Take in the incredible views of the mighty Irrawaddy River below, as you sip champagne and enjoy the ride. The winds blow you gently over one of the country’s most visited destinations, but you explore in peace and quiet. Our balloon operators are professionally trained and offer guests a relaxing and educational experience.
U BEIN BRIDGE:
Named after the mayor who commissioned it, U Bein is reputed to be the world’s longest and oldest teak bridge. Around 1.2km long, and constructed of wood salvaged from a royal palace in Inwa, it serves as an important passageway for people living around the Taungthaman Lake near Amarapura, and at present urgent repair work is being carried out to preserve it. Consequently several of the struts that suspend the bridge in the water have been replaced with concrete columns. A very popular photography spot for visitors, the short walk across the bridge is highly recommended.
PYIN OO LWIN (MAY MYO):
Previously known as Maymyo, this beautiful town in the Shan highlands east of Mandalay began life as a military outpost, and was named after Colonel May who was briefly stationed here. Now a popular resort for both Myanmar citizens and foreign tourists, the attractions on offer include some fantastic examples of colonial-era architecture, as well as the scenic vegetable gardens, coffee plantations and strawberry. Enjoy a stroll around the orchid garden in the botanical gardens – this is a place for relaxation and gentle reflection.
THE WORLD'S LARGEST BOOK:
The Tripitaka (Three baskets) is the name given to the Theravada Buddhist scriptures. They comprise sermons said to have been delivered by the Buddha, translated from an Indian language into Sanskrit; philosophical discourse and interpretation of Buddhist doctrine, and the codes of monastic life. Wanting to capture this for posterity, Mindon Min, the penultimate King of Burma, had them carved into a series 730 marble tablets, which together comprise the largest book in the world. They are on display at the Kuthodaw Pagoda, a 57m high stupa which sits at the foot of Mandalay Hill, just outside Mandalay.
The Shwedagon Pagoda, sited on Singuttara Hill in Yangon is one of the holiest sites in the country. Dating back around 2,500 years, it is said to contain many relics including strands of a Buddha’s hair. Covered in gold plating and diamonds, the pagoda is a testament to Myanmar’s rich architectural heritage, and a hub of religious activity. No visit to Yangon would be complete without seeing the Shwedagon Pagoda, such is its importance to society and, frankly, its unique beauty, especially when lit up at night.
Frequently referred to as Myanmar’s “Westminster Abbey”, this architectural gem was constructed in 1105AD, during the reign of King Kyanzittha. Legend has it that on completion, the king had the architects killed so that the design could never be replicated. Substantial restoration has made this the most impressive of Bagan’s temples. Four Buddha statues are inside, facing each direction of the compass, and of particular note is a long sequence of terracotta plaques on the walls depicting scenes in the Buddha’s life. A week-long festival from December to January sees thousands of monks and pilgrims descend on the temple to pay tribute.
The city of Mandalay received its name from the hill that stands to its northeast. At its foot is the majestic Kuthodaw Pagoda, while its sides are dotted with small pagodas and monasteries. For those that make the ascent to the summit a true spectacle awaits – panoramic views for miles around, and a dramatic sunset never to be forgotten. Here is where you will discover the Sutaungpyei Pagoda, and the unmissable Shweyattaw Buddha, a gigantic golden statue that points the way toward Mandalay.
MAHAMUNI BUDDAHA TEMPLE:
Legend has it that after he visited the town of Arakan in 554BC, a cast was made of the Buddha, who then breathed on it, resulting in a perfect likeness. This statue is now the centrepiece of a temple located on the outskirts of Mandalay, that ranks among Myanmar’s holiest sites, and it is reverentially cleaned daily by the resident monks, a fascinating ritual not to be missed. In 1884 a fire damaged the pagoda, and over 90kg of gold was recovered from the statue, which had been laid by the faithful in tribute.
KYAIKHTIYO PAGODA (GOLDEN ROCK):
A small pagoda perches precariously atop a gigantic granite boulder, 3,600ft above sea level. The boulder is decorated in gold leaf by the faithful. This stunning example of belief, as well as defiance of gravity, is known as the Golden Rock, and such is its power that it is said anyone who sees it will convert to Buddhism. Legend has it that the boulder itself sits on a strand of the Buddha’s hair, and it is certainly one of Myanmar’s most prominent pilgrimage sites. It’s quite something to witness: devotees must cross an abyss over a bridge barefoot, in order to place their gold leaf on the rock.
LAYKYUN SETKYAR STANDING BUDDHA IMAGE:
Monywa is just some 136 miles west of Mandalay. The massive Thanboddhay Pagoda complex dated back to 1303, although it was reconstructed in 1939, said to contain over 500,000 images covering every wall and archway. LayKyun SetKyar Standing Buddha build by Bodhi Tahtaung Sayadaw (venerable monk), another of the country’s landmarks, rising up to some 30 stories high. Can climb by stairs inside the structure to see the panoramic view. It took 11 years to finish and completed in 2008.