Lonely Planet's top 5 things to do in Myanmar

Last updated 05:00 02/07/2014
Myanmar - landscape
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MYANMAR SUNSET - When the sun finally relents and sets, the city is lit up by stunning gold pagodas.

Lonely Planet Myanmar
EXTRAORDINARY LAND: Now is the time to visit Myanmar, where previously off limits areas are opening up.

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Now is the moment to visit this extraordinary land, scattered with gilded pagodas, where the traditional ways of Asia endure and previously off-limits areas are opening up.

Myanmar's Top Five

1. Shwedagon Paya

Is there a more stunning monument to religion in Southeast Asia? We don't think so.

In fact, the sheer size and mystical aura of Yangon's gilded masterpiece may even cause you to question your inner atheist.

But it's not all about quiet contemplation: Shwedagon Paya is equal parts religious pilgrimage and amusement park, and your visit may coincide with a noisy ordination ceremony or fantastic fortune-telling session.

If you're looking for one reason to linger in Yangon before heading upcountry, this is it.

2. Inle Lake

Virtually every visitor to Myanmar makes it here at some point, but Inle Lake is so awe-inspiring and large that everybody comes away with a different experience. If you're counting days, you'll most likely be hitting the hotspots: water-bound temples, shore-bound markets and floating gardens.

If you have more time, consider day hikes or exploring the more remote corners of the lake. Either way, the cool weather, friendly folk and that placid pool of ink-like water are bound to find a permanent place in your memory.

3. Bagan

More than 3000 Buddhist temples are scattered across the plains of Bagan, site of the first Burmese kingdom. Dating back to between the 11th and 13th centuries, the vast majority of the temples have been renovated, as Bagan remains an active religious site and place of pilgrimage.

Yes, there are tour buses and crowds at the most popular sunset-viewing spots, but they can be avoided. Pedal off on a bike and have your own adventure amid the not-so-ruined temples, or float over the temple tops in a hot-air balloon.

4. Mrauk U

The temples, monasteries, former palace and ruined city walls of the former Rakhine capital of Mrauk U continue to paint a picture of what an amazing place this town must have been at its zenith in the 16th century.

And best of all, with giant structures such as the Dukkanthein Paya and Kothaung Paya sharing real estate with rural villages and emerald-green rice fields, Mrauk U emerges as much more than a museum piece.

5. Kalaw

Boasting an almost Himalayan atmosphere, Kalaw is one of Myanmar's best bases for upcountry exploration. Hiking with Danu, Pa-O and Taung Yo villagers through the forests, fields, roads and trails that link the town and Inle Lake, you may even forget which country you're in.

Trekking in the area is also one of the few travel experiences in Myanmar in which the authorities don't seem to mind if you stray off the beaten track.

This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma) (12th Edition) by Simon Richmond, et al. © Lonely Planet 2014.  Published this month, RRP: NZ$39.99.

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