“This is Burma. It is quite unlike any place you know about,” Rudyard Kipling. This quote by the famous British writer rang true more than a hundred years ago from a well-travelled man. And this quote still rings true today. If you are looking for the exotic, a world where its culture, way of life and mind set have remained pretty much intact despite today’s interconnected world, then Myanmar is ripe for the pickings.
First, let’s get the image of Burma’s government and junta out of your head. Take the country for what it is: a land of variety, rich culture, beautiful landscapes and let’s not forget its smiling citizens; some of the world’s friendliest folks. The country was actually a very wealthy one in the region, and in the eyes of many, a nation with huge potential, especially in the travel sector.
That said, Myanmar is perhaps the less visited country in the region. In 2010, 791,505 guests visited the country, or in other words, about 66,000 people per month on average. Its neighbor Thailand received 15,936,400 guests, accounting to about 1,328,000 people per year. More people visit Thailand per month than Myanmar in an entire year! But you better hurry. The travel sector in Myanmar is picking up and visitor count is rising as we speak.
That being said, let’s get down the main spots in Myanmar, so you can see for yourself the diversity of this amazing country.
Nope, this isn’t the capital. Yep, this is the country’s biggest city and former capital. Which means that you’ll most likely be coming in and out of here. And what a place to start off your Burmese adventure! The British influence is plain to see here. It is interesting to see faded colonial structures proudly standing side by side with majestic pagodas and stupas, the most prominent being Shwedagon Pagoda. And what’s inside? Very important relics from the past four Buddhas. But not only that, the shrine itself represents what Myanmar is all about; regular Burmese folks in deep prayer and meditation on one side and people engaged in regular everyday activities on the other side. There isn’t a place quite like this, combining the religious and secular in one prominent and holy site.
The city is also well noted for having lots of lakes and parks. These are great places to just sit and relax all while absorbing the scenes and integrating yourself into the Burmese way of life.
If you have a day to spare, we highly recommend taking the Circular Train. Slow it may be, but it works to your advantage – its loop around the city and the outskirts allow you to absorb the environment and practically be one of the locals.
The Golden Rock:
What do you know about the laws of physics? If a rock is hanging on the edge of a cliff, should it come rolling down? Not so fast. You haven’t seen the Golden Rock yet. The place makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa look like your regular upright structure. And that’s not all, there’s a small pagoda on top too! Because of its precarious nature and associated legends, Kyaiktiyo Pagoda as it is also known is a holy revered site.
Yangon is Myanmar’s largest city, so it is only natural that we jump to the country’s second largest, Mandalay. The name of the town conjures images of ancient Burma, but in reality, the town is not that old, being founded in 1857. Despite that, there are tons of sites to see here.
• Mandalay Palace – The complex is about 155 years old and strictly follows a traditional Burmese palace design. Once inside, you’ll truly feel as if you’re back in Myanmar during the 1850’s.
• Mandalay Hill – Are you fit enough for the climb? The rewards are more than worth it though, with intricate temples dotting the area and a nice view on the summit.
• Kuthodaw Pagoda – Ever wonder how the world’s biggest book would look like? Its 729 pages are 1.5 meters by 1.1 meters and about 14 centimeters thick. In other words, if they are laid out across a field, the book would be one third of an acre or 103 meters high if each are stacked on top of the other.
• Mahamuni Pagoda – This is one of Myanmar’s holiest sites. The image in the temple is believed to be an exact replica of Buddha’s face.
The next destination will leave you with your jaw so wide open that you will find it hard to close it back in place. Bagan will surely wow you with its hundreds and hundreds of temples scattered across the vast plains. About 2000 exist today, from about 13,000 centuries ago. You will certainly enjoy the picture perfect surroundings, especially when viewing it from the comfort of a horse drawn carriage or even better – from a hot air balloon!
Are you ready for even more exoticism and uniqueness? Get ready for Inle Lake. Here, locals row their boats with one leg, cats jump high in the air through hoops (which can be seen at Nga Phe Chaung Monastery) and ancient stupas mystify you with their intricate designs. Ahh, this is Myanmar. While you’re at it, take the time to bask in the soothing atmosphere of the lake via an easy trek or bike ride Don’t forget to explore the nearby hot springs.
Why not end your Burmese trip at the beach? Images of the ocean and seashores may not immediately spring to mind when thinking of Myanmar, but that will all change once you hit the shores of Ngapali. Here’s an obvious upside to Myanmar being a less visited country: Ngapali is basically all yours. The beaches are quiet, blessed with few people in comparison to other big name beach destinations in Southeast Asia and even instill its humble fishing/rural way of life, evident for all to see and experience.
Relax at leisure and reflect upon the Burmese tour you undertook, one of a few in the world who have ever stepped foot into this marvelous country. You could say you’re a pioneer!
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