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Myanmar(Burma), a little-explored country with fascinating cultural gems open to discovery, keeps enticing visitors. Most of the recommended activities below would be best experienced during the peak tourist season from November to February.
It takes at least 9 days to discover the enchantment of Myanmar on a classic tour covering Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake. To extend your trip and relax for another two or three days, Ngapali Beach would be a nice option.
Yangon — Recommended time: two or three hours at sunset
In a country full of Buddhist monuments, to see the most sacred is to see the essence of the monuments. The Shwedagon pagoda is the most sacred. Standing almost 110 meters tall, this 2,500-year old pagoda is covered with hundreds of gold plates and its top is encrusted with 4,531 diamonds. The pagoda shines magnificently in sunlight and it’s particularly impressive at sunset when the lights come on.
Walking around the surrounding terrace leading to the principal monument, you can explore a forest of elaborately decorated subsidiary shrines. A stream of pilgrims comes here to worship every day, proceeding in a clockwise direction and making offerings along the way. Some devotees just kneel at the terrace and pray facing the pagoda. At dusk the atmosphere is especially intense.
A knowledgeable local guide will provide an insider’s view, revealing stories behind this work of art. Bring your camera for some good photographs.
Bagan — Recommended time: one hour on a scheduled morning flight
Located on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, Bagan is one of the richest archeological sites in Asia, with over 2,000 ruins of religious sites. Observing this majestic landscape by soaring in a hot air balloon through the delicate mist at sunrise is the experience of a lifetime.
Operated by experienced ballooning companies, these magical flights run in the early mornings, when the weather conditions are more reliable and the scenery is beautiful. The flights provide visitors a unique experience flying over the Bagan complex, enjoying the panoramic view from an unrivaled perspective. Accompanied by a professional pilot, you will be inspired by a new horizon of discovery, while drifting serenely across the skyline. Take a hot-air balloon now.
Amarapura — Recommended time: two or three hours at sunset
At Amarapura, the sight of people walking or sitting along the wooden bridge watching a sunset, with sunlight intensifying the orange hues of the lake, has became iconic. The magical sunset can be seen in different colors — sometimes red or violet, yet most of the time a peerless orange.
The bridge is the U Bein Bridge, a 1.2-kilometer teakwood structure said to be the longest and oldest of its type in the world. It remains a central part of the community, as every day red-robed monks stride across and villagers wearing straw hats cycle across. Walk along the bridge and touch the teak planks or just rest there, watching the people pass by. If you are looking for an opportunity for good photos, take a boat trip on the lake.
Mingun — Recommended time: half a day
“Had it been [completed], the stupa would have risen even higher than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt”; David Abram, an author from DK Eyewitness Travel.
Located on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, the Mingun Pahtodawgyi is the world’s largest unfinished stupa. Construction began in the 1790s, but was never completed. Visitors are welcome to climb up and see spectacular views of the nearby area; especially of the Hsinbyume Pagoda, a white pagoda unique in design.
In front of the south façade of the great stupa lies a whitewashed pagoda, the Settawya Pagoda, which is said to house a marble footprint of the Buddha. Along with the pagoda sits the second largest ringing bell in the world, known as the Mingun Bell and weighing 90 tons. Meanwhile, an hour-long boat trip upriver from Mandalay to Mingun provides insight into life along the Irrawaddy River.
Mandalay to Bagan — Recommended time: three to four days
The Irrawaddy River, one of the most important waterways in Myanmar, flows for around 2,170 kilometers from north to south. The best time for cruising is during the dry season from November to February. Once aboard the cruise, start your journey to discover the civilizations that sprung up on the riverbank and let the tenderness of the surrounding natural beauty melt your heart.
Bhamo, a city at the northernmost stretch of the river, is where visitors catch ferries south all the way to Yangon. The cruise from Bhamo to Mandalay reveals stunning Upper Irrawaddy scenery. The cruise from Mandalay to Bagan usually lasts two or three days. It is the most popular and classic excursion, filled with wonders. Enjoy your life on board, as your boat sails the most scenic stretches of the river.
Inle Lake — Recommended time: one day
Situated in a valley and surrounded by the Shan Hills, the Inle Lake region is quite different from the rest of Myanmar. The unique living conditions and lifestyle of the local ethnic group have made the lake one of the most popular attractions.
The Intha people live in traditional stilt houses and grow vegetables in floating gardens. They have developed a unique way of life over the water, perfectly adapted to the seasonal flow of the waterline. The scene of a fisherman steering his boat in the leg-rowing position and holding a conical net over the rippling lake has become a classic image of this region.
Take a boat trip to start your day skimming across Inle’s glassy surface. Watch villagers cultivate their vegetables, which are fixed to the lake bed by long poles in the unusual floating gardens. Visit two or three local villages and see cheroot factories, bustling markets and weaving workshops, including an opportunity to see how fine silk spun from lotus stalks is made into vibrant costumes. If you’re looking for souvenirs, traditional handicrafts might be just the job.
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (the Golden Rock) — Recommended time: one day
Ranked as the third most sacred religious site in Myanmar after the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and the Mahamuni Temple in Mandalay, the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is a pilgrimage site well-known for its iconic gravity-defying golden rock. Perched on a ledge, the golden rock, with a gilded pagoda sitting on top, seems about to roll down the hill and plunge into the void.
A lower terrace has been built around the base for female visitors to admire the golden rock from a distance; while male visitors are allowed to stand next to the rock and fix gold leaves onto it. There are a few observation decks nearby, from which you can gain an amazing panoramic view of the surrounding forested valley. The summit can be crowded during the peak season, when pilgrims from all over the country come here to worship.
Ngapali — Recommended time: two or three days
With its clear turquoise water, pristine white sand and lush palm tree backdrop, Ngapali Beach owns a reputation as Myanmar’s premier beach destination. Here, it’s all about relaxing. Take a leisurely walk on the beach or try other activities such as snorkeling, scuba diving or taking a small boat to explore the nearby fishing villages.
As for accommodation, the area has some chic resorts, providing good service and amenities, such as beach chairs under grass umbrellas for enjoying the stunning coastal views. One of the special local treats is to taste the fresh seafood. Most resorts own a beach view restaurant offering a wide variety of drinks and a menu of both local and western food. The peak season for the beach is from November to March.
See our guide on Plan a First-Time Trip to Myanmar
We provide tailor-made tours to Myanmar. Tours typically start or end in Yangon or Mandalay and last approximately 9 days; visiting Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake.
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