Myanmar is no longer a country locked away from the rest of the world. It's opened its doors to foreign visitors and we were grateful for the opportunity to discover the incredible culture and landscape it has to offer. it's not without its problems still of course but we found that the general population were thrilled to have visitors and where possible we made sure we spent our money with local people and not government businesses.
Myanmar has influences from all it's neighbours including; India, Thailand and China, whilst still forging it's own unique identity. You'll also notice how well preserved their culture is and that unlike most other countries, does not yet have the likes of McDonalds, Starbucks and many other popular western shops.
It's a traveller's dream and one of our all time favourite countries. The kindness of the people is sometimes completely overwhelming, with those who have so little still willing to share it with you. You will be offered green tea and tofu crackers whilst being welcomed into a stranger's house for no reason other than the fact that you happened to be passing by and waved hello. Be prepared to have this wonderful country and its people steal your heart.
We've written about a few of the best things to do in this amazing country.
1. Spend the day pedaling around the temples of Bagan
Choosing which of the 2,200 temples to visit in Bagan is no easy feat, but half of the fun is cycling between as many of them as your legs can manage. If you prefer a more relaxed mode of transport you can now choose an electric bike instead!
There are few cars around Bagan, so you can cycle between temples safely. Another great way to take in the scene is to climb one of the higher temples to get a good look at the scale of the many beautiful stupas in the area. Sunrise and sunset are particularly photogenic.
2. Take a hike, Kalaw to Inle Lake
This was our favourite activity in Myanmar and it spurred on a enjoyment of multi day hiking that’s only grown since.
The three day hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake isn’t too hard, and gives you an insight into rural life in the area. You stay with local people in their homes or sometimes a monastery depending on availability, and we were treated to some incredible Shan food (the best of our trip). The hospitality is second to none and you will be constantly hydrated from the many cups of green tea offered as you pass by.
The scenery is beautiful from mountains to lush green farmland, still worked by hand and by ox. The peaceful village of Inle lake is the perfect place to finish your hike.
3. Hire a boat, Inle Lake
There are so many activities to do in Inle Lake but the one you really shouldn't miss is hiring a boat and exploring a little of the waterways. You can negotiate with the driver on the stops depending on your interests. Make sure you do, or you might find yourself ferried from shop to shop. Note that the jumping cats are no longer at the jumping cat monastery.
Inle Lake has become a national icon and a photographers dream for the unique way in which the fisherman catch fish, pictured above. You'll see this many times on your boat journey and it's a real treat to watch.
We spent half a day taking in the lake by boat and it was a really relaxing and leisurely way to pass an afternoon.
4. Marvel at Shwedagon Paya, Yangon
Shwedagon Paya isn’t just another temple, it's in a whole league of its own. Firstly you will walk up quite a few stairs to get to the bottom of the beautiful golden pagoda. From here you’ll not only get a stunning view of Yangon, but hundreds of shrines based around the central pagoda.
It’s another awe-inspiring Buddhist structure and gives an interesting insight into the difference between Burmese and Thai Buddhism. You'll find that lots of friendly monks will come over to chat if you decide to stay a while.
5. See a temple that has cracked in half, Mingun
We first saw Mingun in an inflight magazine and it was true to its word. The temple looks like it was carved out of a cliff and then proceeded to crack in half after an earthquake. It doesn't look like it should still be standing, but we're glad that it is. It's a beautiful structure and unlike any other temples we have seen in Southeast Asia.
6. Traverse the longest teak bridge in the World, Mandalay
Who doesn’t like a record?
Well, longest teak bridge is probably one of the minor ones, but when in Mandalay you will definitely want to see it!
Take a stroll across U-Bein bridge and you’ll get an interesting glimpse into everyday rural life in Myanmar. Looking back we wish we had visited at sunset when it would be even more photogenic. As with everywhere in Myanmar the people were really friendly and everyone stops to say hello.
7. Take in the view, Soon U Ponya Shin temple, Sagaing (near Mandalay)
All the best temples in Myanmar require a little effort, and the temple at the top of Sagaing Hill is no different. Once you've hiked up the many stairs, you'll be greeted with an incredible view and a beautiful temple, perched up high above the Irawaddy River.
It's a great place to explore on a day trip from Mandalay, and you can include Mingun and the May Thein Tan Pagoda (a white multi-layered Pagoda) as part of your route.
8. Pindaya Buddha cave
Even if you are feeling a little buddhaed out by now, we still recommend a trip to Pindaya. These incredible caves have thousands and thousands of different buddhas statues, with barely an inch of floor space left around them.
When you have a closer look you’ll find little tunnels that shoot off to small shrines where you can sit and watch the devout worship. It’s unlike anywhere else we've seen and it really is a sight to behold. The journey out from Kalaw is also a very pretty one.
9. Head for the hills, Pyin Oo Lwin
You can see why the British chose Pyin Oo Lwin as a summer getaway. It’s elevation brings a welcome break from the relentless heat of the lowlands, and it also enabled them to create a little bit of England in the tropics.
The gardens are huge and very beautiful, and it's a lovely way to spend a morning or afternoon. We visited on what turned out to be a very rainy day though we still enjoyed it, particularly when we saw how the locals get around without umbrellas! (pictured above)
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Are you planning a trip to Myanmar? Have you visited anywhere we haven't mentioned that should go on our list for next time? Let us know in the comments.