Located in the most western point of Southeast Asia, Burma is a country full of culture that has a history steeped in ancient tradition. Dotted with temples and pagodas that glisten with gold, here the scenery is spectacular and the people are warm and friendly. And there’s so much to see on your Burma holiday, from charming Yangon with its iconic Buddhist temples to the famous one-legged rowers of freshwater Inle Lake, and beautiful Bagan with its temple-studded plains to magnificent Mandalay, the country’s cultural epicentre. As well as these four main destinations, in this blog, we’ll also take you to less-travelled areas, such as Monywa, before finishing off at picture-perfect Ngapali Beach. So get ready to join us as we explore the sights of Burma, to Mandalay and beyond…
Explore charming Yangon
Burma’s former capital, also known as Rangoon, is buzzing in comparison to the rest of Burma. But don’t worry, this is no bustling Bangkok – Yangon remains relatively tranquil compared to other Southeast Asia giants. In fact, thanks to its lush tropical trees, shady parks and beautiful lakes, it’s known as the “Garden City of the East” – and one of its biggest appeals it that it is frozen in time and provides a window into Asia’s past. There’s colonial charm a-plenty here, with stunning turn-of-the-century architecture still holding on for dear life before developers get their hands on it. There’s plenty to see and do, as well: ride the city circle train, visit the colourful markets of Little India and Chinatown (you’ll find delicious local BBQ food here), or go on a walking tour to key sights such as Bogyoke Aung San (Scott) Market, Sule Pagoda, Botataung Pagoda, the old railway station and Aung San Old House.
Of course, no stay in Yangon is complete without a trip to the most revered and iconic Buddhist temple in Burma, the gleaming Shwedagon Pagoda. Gold-encrusted and topped with more than 5,000 diamonds, its magnificent main stupa is 100m tall. We’d recommend a visit in the late afternoon so you can catch the stupa glowing in the sinking sun. Another unmissable sight is Kyaiktiyo, or the Golden Rock, a huge boulder covered in gold leaf balancing precariously at the top of a remote mountain. As one of Burma’s most important Buddhist sights, the views from the top are stunning and the ride to the summit is thrilling! There’s even more to see in the evening as the city comes to life. Try a sunset boat cruise along the Yangon River before hopping on a local trishaw and riding through the streets, observing the colourful street stalls and impressive colonial buildings as you whizz towards Chinatown for a street food feast – well-deserved after such a busy few days!
Sail along iconic Inle Lake
Framed by the cool green hills of Shan State and set apart from the rest of Burma, freshwater Inle Lake is 13.5 miles long. Perched 1,300 metres above sea level, it’s famous for its unique one-legged rowers, floating markets and incredible birdlife. It’s one of our must-see destinations for visitors and without a doubt one of the highlights of our Burma holidays. With no roads or pavements, whole villages of rustic wooden stilt houses and temples perch on the lake and there’s only one way for locals and visitors to get about here: by boat! If you can’t beat them, join them – so hop on a longtail boat and get ready to explore.
You’ll sail past the unique and mesmerising one-legged rowing fishermen, floating gardens and craft workshops where you can discover ancient methods of silk weaving and silversmiths. There’s even a five-day rotating market that attracts people from all over the lake’s shores who gather to buy and sell their wares. There are also temple boats and floating vegetable patches, as well as over 200 monasteries dotted along the lake, including the main sanctuary of Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, which contains five sacred Buddha images and houses the royal barges used during the pagoda’s annual festival. If you have time, we’d recommend a visit to the unusual Nga Hpe Kyaung, also known as the Jumping Cat monastery, where the resident cats have been trained to jump through hoops by the monks! Back on dry land, take a cycling tour around lakeside villages to a local winery and enjoy a spot of wine tasting whilst watching the sun set on the water.
Discover the history of Mandalay
Founded in 1857 as the capital by King Midon, Mandalay is Burma’s richest historical landmark and remains its cultural epicentre. The morning alms-giving ceremony is a must for early risers – join Buddhist worshippers for their early-morning rituals at a local temple and witness monks collecting alms around the city, before visiting Kuthodaw Pagoda, Myanmar’s first World Heritage Site and the home of the world’s largest book. Make sure you head to the Snake Monastery with its bizarre snake-washing ritual where local pilgrims gather together to wash pythons, too. There’s also Mahamuni Pagoda, home to one of the country’s most revered Buddha images which have been covered in gold leaf – and of course, take a sunset hike up Mandalay Hill with its monasteries and pagodas.
Mandalay is also a handicraft centre, and you can see stone and marble carvers, gold leaf pressing, tapestry workshops, cotton and silk textile weaving, silversmith workshops and bamboo fan factories here. If you don’t want to visit the workshops, just head to colourful Zeycho Market for a spot of souvenir shopping where you can buy their goods. Once you’re all shopped out, the remains and ruins of four deserted previous capitals surrounding Mandalay are definitely worth checking out. Cross over the Irrawaddy River to Sagaing with its 600 white-painted pagodas and monasteries, visit Ava with its old wooden Bagaya Monastery and the remains of the Royal Palace and fort, or head to Amarapura to visit the famous 200-year-old teak U Bein Bridge. Back in Mandalay, there’s also the option of a night tour where you’ll whizz off on a private motorbike with an experienced driver through Mandalay’s dazzling streets.
Head off the beaten track in Monywa
136km north-west of Mandalay, Monywa is an excellent stopping point on the route between Bagan and Mandalay. If you’re looking to visit some lesser-known spots, this is the place for you. There are a couple of local markets to explore here, as well as the central pagoda complexes of Shewzigon Paya and Su Taung Pye Zedi – but the main attractions are in the surrounding countryside. Venture to the Po Win Taung Caves, an impressive network of 900 sandstone caves with over 400,000 Buddha images, and also visit Thanboddhay Pagoda, a huge Buddhist temple covered with more than 500,000 Buddha images. You can also head to Laykyun Setkar, the largest standing Buddha in the world, or alternatively, Kyet Sun Kin Village is a typical rural village where you can learn all about authentic country life.
Take in the spectacular sights of Bagan
With thousands of temples, stupas and pagodas strewn across a river plain, Bagan is one of the richest archaeological sites in the world. Covering more than 16 square miles, many even say it’s more impressive than Angkor Wat – and thanks to fewer crowds and a spectacular riverside setting, we’d be inclined to agree. From misty mornings to spectacular sunsets, there’s photo opportunity after photo opportunity in this mystical place. One of the best ways to appreciate the size and scale of magical Bagan is from the air: head out on a spectacular sunrise hot air balloon ride for a once-in-a-lifetime experience you’ll never forget as you watch the temple spires poke through the mist before it’s burned off by the rising sun. Back on the ground, visit the most famous temples in the area, from the golden stupa of Shwezigon Pagoda to nearby Wetkyi-In Gubyaukgyi, a cave temple with exquisite mural paintings.
But it’s not just about temples here – you could also take part in a handicraft workshop and learn the art of traditional lacquerware painting, or hop on a bike and cycle through the temples and surrounding villages past rice paddies and toddy palms for a taste of life away from the main tourist spots. And don’t miss an Irrawaddy sunset cruise if you have time – set sail towards the glistening golden Shwezigon Pagoda and pass by small villages, fishermen on local boats and riverside temples for a completely different perspective of Bagan as you enjoy a cocktail on board. Talk about a sundowner with a difference.
Relax and unwind in Thandwe
Finish off your holiday with a bit of R and R at the stunning Ngapali Beach, the best stretch of beach in South East Asia. Quiet, tranquil and largely unknown, it’s like a picture postcard with palms gently swaying in the breeze, soft sand and warm shallow waters. But there’s more to this region than just lazing on the sand! Whilst Ngapali isn’t totally untouched by tourism, there’s just enough development to make it comfortable. From snorkelling and cycling to boat trips to uninhabited islands, there’s plenty to do, and it’s heaven for seafood lovers here, too. If you’ve had enough beach time, venture to nearby Thandwe for its thriving market held in an old British jail and choose some trinkets to take home with you.
With its golden pagodas, ancient traditions and warm and welcoming people, Burma is a fascinating and friendly country. Whether you’re looking for history, culture, or even exceptional beaches, Burma can most certainly deliver. Our travel experts have got years of on-the-ground experience and in-depth knowledge of this magical country and can help you create the perfect tailor-made itinerary. In fact, there’s nothing they don’t know about Burma holidays – so what are you waiting for? Contact our team for a free quote today and start planning your next adventure!