Why Burma? Why now?
Ever since reading the novel, The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason, I have wanted to visit Burma (now known as Myanmar). Set in the late 19th century, the story vividly painted a picture in my mind of an exotic land of lush jungles and glittering temples – the same colonial Burma that Rudyard Kipling fell in love with, inspiring the poem Mandalay.
Now is another pivotal moment in Burma’s history. When the country again opened its doors to tourists following 50 years of military rule, an initial surge in visitors sent hotel prices sky high as demand overwhelmed supply. With political reform a period of change was inevitable but thankfully things have now settled down and prices have reduced as the country strives to slowly grow its burgeoning tourism industry in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Could there be a better time to visit Burma, while the country still retains its air of mystery?
My Top 10 Places to Visit in Burma
Here are my top ten places I long to visit along the road to Mandalay
(starting in the far south before heading north).
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1. Macleod Island
In the far south of Burma, Macleod Island is one of some 800 untouched islands in the Andaman Sea with a rich and diverse flora and fauna that I would dearly love to see – a tropical paradise waiting to be discovered beneath the waves, as well as on dry land.
Discover the city that inspired Kipling to write his poem Mandalay (surprisingly Kipling never actually set foot in Mandalay) and visit the Kyaik Than Lan Paya, the stupa he writes about in his famous poem. George Orwell also featured Mawlamyine (formerly known as Moulmein) in his writing having lived in Burma for five years.
3. Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda, near Hpa An
A sight that surely has to be seen to be believed, this limestone tower with the Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda balanced atop, is surrounded by the lush green karst scenery whose characteristic natural caves have Buddhist grottoes carved into them. For now it is still far enough south to be largely off the radar of most tourists.
Here in the economic heart of the country lies the most revered Buddhist temple in Burma, the Shwedagon Pagoda, a magnificent 325 foot gilded stupa. My first sight of a Buddhist stupa, earlier this year in Thailand, brought a tear to my eye but it was just a fraction of the size of the Shwedagon Pagoda which promises to be equally breathtaking. I’m told that there is no end of fabulous things to see and things to do in Yangon.
5. Golden Rock on Mount Kyaiktiyo
The exciting journey in open-top trucks hurtling around corners along the twisting road, leading ever skyward up Mount Kyaiktiyo, is rewarded by a spectacular panoramic view over the mountain tops and one of Burma’s three most sacred Buddhist sites, the Golden Rock, perpetually perched on the edge of a precipice, seemingly in defiance of gravity.
6. Ngapali Beach
Said to be named after Italy’s Napels, Ngapali Beach (pronounced Napally) is an idyllic stretch of palm tree-backed, white sand beach on the Bay of Bengal, dotted with traditional fishing villages and tourist resorts.
This little-known town is a fabulous base for exploring the hills, waterfalls, lakes and caves of Kayah State. In the centre of the Loikaw, the Taung Kwe Pagoda is an impressive complex built on a rocky hilltop offering wonderful views over the town and the surrounding mountains. It’s particularly beautiful when lit up at night.
8. Inle Lake
This vast freshwater lake with a backdrop of mountains is edged by marshes and floating gardens, with stilted houses and temples rising up out of the waters. Its reputation as one of the country’s most scenic locations makes it a popular destination that’s unlikely to disappoint. Read about life on the lake and the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival in Inside Burma’s blog post, A Day on Inle Lake.
On the plains of Bagan lies over 2,000 temples and pagodas dating from the 11th to 13th century. Just imagine what a spectacular sight they must be!
The former capital of Burma, Mandalay lies on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in the heart of this huge country. I long to take a glimpse beneath the city’s hectic chaos and discover a myriad of monasteries, pagodas, and teahouses. Read more about Burma’s teahouses on the blog, The Funnelogy Channel.
There’s no doubt that there are many wonderful places to visit in this large country which is roughly equivalent to the size of France. It is well worth doing your homework while deciding where you’d like to visit and what you’d like to see and experience. The Inside Burma blog has a wealth of information that I have found invaluable. Part of Inside Asia Tours, their website has some beautiful interactive maps that enable you to explore the destinations they offer via your laptop, plus they publish a fascinating travel magazine three times a year that is free to download or, if you live in the U.K. or the USA, it’s free to subscribe to. You’ll also find some interesting travel tips for Myanmar here.
As a destination specialist, Inside Burma know the country really well and are firm believers in getting beneath the surface of a destination. They offer small group tours, timed to coincide with local festivals and events as well as the best time of year to travel. Alternatively, they can provide fully tailored itineraries to match your specific needs. They also offer a great range of Burma experiences from cooking classes to high tea at the historic Strand Hotel.
What better way to discover Burma?
Featured photo credit: dmitrysumin via Visualhunt / CC BY-ND
Disclosure: The article was brought to you in association with Inside Burma.
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Burma/Myanmar was on my bucket list labeled “someday” when I suddenly caught a flash sale at Qatar airways for rdtrp JFK to Yangon in February (I almost fell over as it was $483 ). I booked it without any plan or itinerary and was a bit freaked out. While it was a really really long journey to travel there for a 12 day trip, it was worth it and I recommend it highly. Also, despite the political troubles and the fact most people don’t speak English or read Burmese, it was very safe for a single female traveler and easy to get around. I bought most of my plane tickets between cities/towns the day before and hotels a few nights before arriving. The people are very welcoming and helpful. I was in Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake, and some of the towns further up the river. Bagan was fascinating for the temples and the chance to explore and climb them but my favorite part was central Burma. Around Inle and Taunggyi there were places where I was the only non-local that had stopped by in weeks. Going to local market days was fabulous. It is fascinating to see hydroponic gardens and whole villages on stilts in the water with boats used for all transportation. I liked it enough that I plan on going back to explore Loikaw, Hsipaw, and Mandalay.
Thank you so much for your comment, Jen. I can tell you had a fabulous time and it sounds as if you made the most of your 12 days. I hope you don’t mind my mentioning it but I’m surprised to read you climbed the temples. Won’t that damage them if people regularly do that? That aside, it’s wonderful to read about your experience. I’m sure a lot of people, especially solo female travellers, will find it extremely useful.
I was able to visit Ngapali Beach and Yangon in February. The people of this country are beautiful and warm. It was an enriching experience.
That’s great to hear! I’ll get there one day I’m sure. It’s been top of my wishlist too long.
Myanmar has been on my list for a while and I hope I can visit it someday.
Bagan looks magical!
Isn’t it! Full mystery and wonder.
THOSE sights! Goodness me – I’d love to see them in person. Especially Mawlamyine and the Golden Rock on Mount Kyaiktiyo. Is getting to Burma easy? I would imagine it might Be tricky.
I don’t believe there are any direct flights from London but I’m hoping that will change.
I’ve always been really fascinated with visiting Burma and you’ve given me even more ideas of places I want to go now, so many beautiful landscapes – and I can never resist a picturesque temple!
Isn’t it stunning! it would be wonderful to spend enough time there to see as much as possible.
When I was on one of my longer term trips to Asia I had a bit of an opportunity to get to Burma and I didn’t make it happen, too busy relaxing in Cambodia, but I really really regret it every time I see a post like this about the uniqueness of Burma.
Oh no! That is a shame but it’s left you something to dream about and hopefully, do one day.
It looks amazing from the photos – I wonder what Bagan must have looked in in its heyday, a bustling complex where now it’s overgrown.
Yes, it’s amazing to think what it was once must have been like. I wonder!
There are so many epic ‘must-see’ places on this list and some I didn’t know existed until now. I didn’t realise how many literary connections the country has either. Another one to add to the travel wish list!
Yes, it’s a fascinating place on many levels. I really do hope I can visit before too long.
Wow I honestly never realised how stunning Burma is and what amazing things they do with their rocks. Bagan looks amazing and really should go on our bucket list.
It’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Definitely one for the bucket list.