Top 6 Things to Do in Myanmar (that will make you fall in love with it)
Myanmar is a deeply spiritual country where Buddhism runs very deeply in every day life. Wherever you look, there are worshipping sites, monks and nuns, and regular people doing good deeds, gaining merit for their next life.
But besides the glittering pagodas, Myanmar offers an infinite wealth of experiences and some of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. From ancient archeological sites, to emerald landscapes and a multitude of ethnicities, each with their unique way of life. I could give you an endless list of things to see and do, but here are my top picks that will make you fall in love with this magical country.
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon
It is the world’s oldest Buddhist pagoda, at over 2,500 years old. The most sacred site in Myanmar, it is believed to contain relics of the last four Buddhas. It is covered in hundreds of gold plates and has 4,531 encrusted diamonds. All this bling comes alive at sunset – with the sun reflecting off it, the whole site glows.
Travel tip: It does get very busy at sunset, so if you want to avoid crowds, go for sunrise instead. You’ll be sharing the place with a handful of nuns and devoted worshipers.
Ancient temples of Bagan
A staggering sprawl of ancient ruins, there are over 2,200 temples and pagodas across the Bagan plains. One of the best ways to appreciate them is to hire an ebike and lose yourself in the maze of temples. Get out there before the sun comes up, climb one of the structures (pick any) in time for sunrise, and watch the sea of temple spires glow in the golden light. Then do it all over again for sunset.
Travel tip: Between October and March you can also hop on a hot air balloon and watch this breathtaking site from above.
3-Day Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake
Departing from Kalaw, this trek takes you through the hills and farmland of the Southern Shan state. Stopping for food and tea at some of the hill tribe villages, will give you the chance to interact with some of the local people. They seem shy at first, but they always greet you with a genuine smile. You spend one night in a homestay with a local family, and you have the choice to spend the second night in a monastery. Arriving at Inle Lake, a boat will take you to Nyaung Shwe, a small town and main access point to the lake.
Travel tip: I recommend doing this trek with Ever Smile Trekking Services (firstname.lastname@example.org), a family run outfit led by Toe Toe. Her daughter Aki was our guide. She is really knowledgeable and very close to the local communities we visited. She will look after you as if you are family.
Inle Lake’s unique leg rowers
Images of Intha leg rowers with their legs wrapped around a paddle, as they steer their fishing boats are widely used to sell Myanmar as a tourist destination. This unique way of life can only be found in Inle Lake. The area can be explored by boat or you can hire a bike, visit the markets, the winery and the floating villages and gardens.
Travel tip: Visit the Forest Monastery in the village of Maing Thauk. You might get lucky and get invited for tea by Tumpe, a 78-year-old monk who loves taking selfies!
The vertigo inducing Gokteik Viaduct
If you like railway travel, this journey will be one of the most exciting railway journeys you will ever take. Built by the British in 1901, the Gokteik Viaduct is a spectacular railway bridge over 100 metres high. It crosses a deep river gorge and spans almost 700 metres. The structure has been described as ‘a crumbling antique’ so the train has to slow down to a creeping speed to go across. It gives you plenty of time to take in the incredible view as you hold your breath. Leave from Hsipaw to Mandalay or Pyin Oo Lwin, or vice versa.
Travel tip: Make Pyin OO Lwin your final stop (or starting point if going in the opposite direction). The train takes 6 hours between Mandalay and Pyin OO Lwin, while a taxi takes only 2!
Mandalay’s myriad of temples and palaces
There are so many temples you can visit before you are ‘templed out’. But then you arrive in Mandalay, the country’s second city and former royal capital of the North. With an infinite variety of colours, shapes and sizes, each temple is more beautiful than the one before. Visit the surrounding villages of Sagaing, Mingun and Amarapura, and marvel at the hills dotted with bright white temples and golden stupas. In Amarapura, walk over the U-Bein Bridge, the world’s longest and oldest teak bridge.
Travel tip: For great photo opportunities, visit the U-Bein Bridge at sunset. Jump on a boat to get a panoramic view of the entire structure.