Myanmar: simply amazing

Jack Bryant / 10 August 2017

Following the lifting of trade sanctions and the election of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015 the country formerly known as Burma is once again opening its doors to tourists and what’s inside is simply amazing.



It’s an undiscovered land of breathtaking stupas, crumbling ancient temples and some of the friendliest people in South-East Asia. ‘This is Burma’ wrote Rudyard Kipling ‘It will be quite unlike any land you know.’

As Myanmar takes its first steps towards democracy the country is changing rapidly, go now while the country is still unlike any land you know, full of unique sights and friendly locals unused to mass tourism. 

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Yangon

Yangon, Myanmar view of Shwedagon Pagoda at dusk.=
The view of Shwedagon Pagoda at dusk is simply breahtaking.

Travelers often start their trip in the former capital city and to many it is an exciting culture shock.

The city is busy, often dusty, smelly in places and hot all year round. Yangon is not like the well-polished neighbouring cities of Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.

In many aspects Yangon is what Southeast Asian cities used to be like, a truly unique destination.

There are lots of temples to see in the city, with the most sacred of them being the 325ft Shwedagon Pagoda decorated with 27 metric tons of gold leaf, and countless numbers of jewels and diamonds.

Visiting the pagoda at anytime of the day is impressive, however, visiting at sunset will make the gold appear almost a flaming crimson colour.

For a far more tranquil visit go for sunrise as there will be hardly anyone around except for a few monks and a couple of jet-lagged tourists.

For a less touristy activity many guidebooks recommend taking the circle train line from the historic Yangon Central railway station built during British rule.

It offers the chance to watch daily Yangon life go by and view the countryside just outside of the city. The three-hour ‘commuter’ trains slowly passes through sleepy villages and out into the countryside offering riders the opportunity to experience an authentic Yangon not shown by the tour guides.

This old fashioned train doesn’t have the mod-cons taht we are used to; be prepared for a hot and bumpy ride and if you get hot stick your head out of the window nearby (Watch out for trees!).

Traders will hop on and off the train selling their fresh produce and wares as you pass parade grounds, barracks, rice paddies and markets. Try to avoid the rush-hour so that you can get a seat; generally the least popular times are between 10am to 4pm. 

Discover age-old traditions and a way of life that has changed little for centuries in beautiful Burma Find out more here.

Inle Lake

A fishing boat on Inle Lake Myanmar.=
A fishing boat on Inle Lake Myanmar

To say Inle Lake is scenic is an understatement, it is one of the absolute must visit places in Myanmar.

While away the days canoeing, cycling, walking and even wine-tasting in this magical watery world nestled within the beautiful Shan Mountains.

Unsurprisingly, a boat trip on the lake is one of the top activities to do here.

Essentially the boat is a hand-crafted wooden canoe (you can visit where they are made) with an engine placed on the back which fits 2-4 people, this is an ideal size so you can get down all the small canals to see local life.

The boat will weave in and out of the floating villages and farms, go past the famous one-legged fishermen who use just their left leg to row the boat so that they can have both hands free for fishing, and stop off at the local markets, monasteries and local silk manufacturers.

After a hard day cruising around and taking in the beautiful scenery go and visit the Red Mountain Wine Estate, one of two vineyards in the whole of Southeast Asia.

Either cycle for twenty minutes along a pleasant country road or take a taxi here. The Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir vines, having been imported from Israel and Spain, were established in 2002 and have been growing in popularity since.

All over Myanmar menus you will see this wine next to French and South African bottles. Tours are offered here as is the chance to do a tasting, however, at such reasonable prices it is also an idea to simply buy a number of bottles to share amongst a group.

I particularly enjoyed the Late Harvest bottle, a semi-sweet white wine, delicious! If visiting in February and March you will be may able to see the grapes being picked by the local tribeswomen in the traditional Pa-O dress. 

Prepare to let your senses explode on a holiday to Asia Find out more here.

Bagan

Hot air balloons over plain of Bagan in misty morning, Myanmar.=
Hot air balloons over the plain of Bagan on a misty morning

Not only one of Burma’s most memorable and evocative sights but one of Southeast Asia’s.

Seeing the 3000 or so red-bricked stupas rise from the dusty land of Bagan in the early morning glow of sunrise or the crimson of sunset will forever be in your memory.

There are some specific temples that are known to have the best sunrise/sunset spots however this will be changing soon.

From September 2017 the local government are banning climbing on these sacred sites, however you can still get great views over the plains as they are creating man-made hills.

Alternatively, if you are feeling indulgent take a sunrise balloon ride to get the ultimate view. 

Mandalay

A bridge over the Ayeyarwady River with monks crossing=
Monks crossing a bridge over the Ayeyarwady River in Mandalay

The evocative city made famous by the likes of Rudyard Kipling (who never actually went here), George Orwell, and Frank Sinatra is often the last place to stay on many itineraries of Myanmar.

Inside the city Mandalay Hill is a must visit, you can either walk up it which takes around 45 minutes or take a taxi to the top.

The view offers a great panoramic of the city and surrounding areas. The top sights outside of the city are the four ancient cities which surrounds it, Inwa, Mingun, Amarapura and Sagaing with each of them having centuries of their own unique history and culture.

Inwa served as the capital for four centuries and the best way to explore is on a horse drawn cart. Simply sit back and relax as you ride past crumbling sights and ancient teak monasteries.

The Sagaing sights, on the other hand, are still working temples where many monks come to relax and meditate.

Don’t be surprised if a young monk comes and starts a conversation with you as they like to practise their English with native speakers.

The furthest of Mandalay’s surrounding ancient towns has even more great temples to see, plus a half an hour boat trip along the famous Ayeyarwady River.

Amarapura, my favourite of the towns, hosts one of the most photographed spots in the country, the U-bien bridge.

This is no ordinary bridge: having been built in 1847 with over a thousand teak columns over 1.2km, this is the largest teak bridge in the world.

The bridge winds itself across a shallow lake to a traditional farming village. Come for sunrise to escape the crowds and witness the monks coming to worship.

Or come for sunset when you and lots of other tourists will be able to see the bridge against an impressive backdrop of the setting sun.

To get away from the crowds you should rent a boat from a local dealer, you’ll get even better views.

Every year more and more people are going to Myanmar to experience a version of Southeast Asia that was thought to have been long gone.

Go now and visit this land unlike any you know while it is still like this, with genuine people eager to introduce you to their history and culture.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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