The 6 best places to visit in Myanmar
Our favourite places to add to your itinerary.
There are places which you fall in love with instantly and places which leave you with mixed feelings. These are not places you dislike, those are easier to categorize, they are the place which asks more of you. The kinds of places you can’t just breeze through and understand by looking at them through a bus window. Places like Myanmar are polarizing, complex, beautiful, rough, intriguing and wonderful all at the same time. The following selected locations are a list of 6 best places in Myanmar, the places we truly enjoyed.
Myanmar is a country in a very delicate political state and it is impossible to ignore the current situation when visiting. Considering that as a tourist you are technically supporting the military regime which is still in power. During our visit, in November 2018, the Rohingya crisis was still an open wound in the country, but to our surprise, we didn’t notice anything. If it weren’t for the news, we wouldn’t have to know that such a crisis was happening not that far from us. Myanmar didn’t feel unsafe and we didn’t feel unwelcome, quite the opposite. Tourism is a new open door bringing opportunities and income to a country that surely needs them and the Burmese are starting to gear up on their offers.
Bagan is without a doubt a one of a kind place. A unique land filled with mysticism and mysteries. The land of a thousand pagodas will charm you with its unforgettable landscapes and mesmerizing sunrises. It will make you step back in time, into another century, on another planet.
The Bagan plains, an area of 104 km squared, are dotted with more than 2000 pagodas, the remains of the 10,000 and more pagodas that were built between the 11th and 13th century. During the 9th and 13th century, Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, the first kingdom that unified the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the Kingdom’s height, it became a cosmopolitan centre for religious and secular studies, thus explaining the constructions of the unusual number of pagodas and temples.
When in Bagan, you will have to sacrifice some of your sleep to catch the most scenic sunrises of your life, from atop of one of the pagodas that are still open for the public to climb. Right after the sun graces the plains with its warm, golden light and reveals the pagodas, a swarm of hot air balloons fills the sky, like birds in formation on their way to a faraway land.
If in Bagan you step back into a past world, at Inle Lake you experience the very unique and traditional lifestyle of this region, where people live in symbiosis with water.
Inle Lakes landscape is truly beautiful. Gliding through the still water you come across with wooden houses built on stilts, standing in the water like herons. The people of Inle Lake have lived on the water for centuries, a way of life that to the visitor's eye seems incredible. Their roads are the canals, their cars are boats and their hydroponic farms float next to them.
When in Inle Lake board one of the local long-tail boats and explore the Lake and its settlements to discover this unique way of life.
Old farmer Bagan
Kalaw shows you a different side of Myanmar, less touristy and more authentic. A small hillside town where life goes on at a slow pace. Kalaw is the perfect base for a couple of days spent discovering the surrounding hills through pleasant and refreshing walks.
We loved waking up to the fresh mountain air and exploring the forests with our local guide who took us all the way to the mountain top during a wonderfully sunny day.
When in Kalaw make sure to have dinner at The Red House. This wonderful Italian restaurant run by an Italian and his Burmese wife. Serving perfectly authentic food in a beautiful and welcoming atmosphere.
Even though we didn’t particularly enjoy Yangon, as it was too chaotic, we cannot avoid mentioning the Shwedagon Pagoda, the biggest most sacred pagoda in Myanmar.
A sacred creation of immense size, with a huge stupa covered in golden plates that beam under the sunlight. The air is filled with the smell of incense burning and with the prayers of the monks, their voices rising in unison like a song. Walking among the devote Burmese people praying to Buddha you can feel special energy around you.
From the bustling city of Mandalay, the little village of Mingun is easily reachable by boat in forty minutes. Despite being quite touristy, it has several interesting sites. Our favourite being the never-finished pagoda, Mingun Pahtodawgyi, and the white Hsinbyume Pagoda.
The first is what remains of a grand project started by King Bodawpaya in 1790, with the intent of building a pagoda of huge dimensions. It was never completed, however, but it is still beautiful in its decadent state.
The white Hsinbyume pagoda, is a smaller temple, modelled on the physical description of the Buddhist mythological mountain, Mount Meru.
The bucolic village of Inwa, once an imperial city during several Burmese kingdoms from the 14th to 19th centuries, it is now a slow pace village with only a few traces of its former grandeur.
Aboard a horse cart or a bicycle, you can visit all the main ruins and temples, which include a wooden monastery, several temples and pagodas. The beauty of the area truly lies through in its rice fields dotted with simple wooden houses, where people live as they did centuries ago.