Glittering golden stupas. Bountiful rice fields. Enigmatic ruined temples. Picturesque mountain paths.
Myanmar is known as the Golden land not only for its golden pagodas but also for its rich land and the wealth of agriculture, minerals and natural resources. While Myanmar (Burma) is yet to be completely overwhelmed by Western fashion, thankfully, the not-so-overwhelming pace of change leaves the simple pleasures of travel in Myanmar intact.
Yangon & Around
'A city of blood, dreams and gold' is how Pablo Neruda described the former capital Yangon (then known as Rangoon). It's awe-inspiring Buddhist monument Shwedagon Paya is the one sight in Myanmar to not miss. Vibrant, colorful open-air markets, evocative colonial architecture – some of the most impressive in Southeast Asia – are other reasons to lingering.
Do: Keep the sun off with graceful painted paper umbrellas of Pathein as you make day trips or go further afield or relax at beach resorts of Chaung Tha and Ngwe Saung.
Mandalay & Around
Primarily used by travelers as a transport and day-trip hub, Mandalay – Asia at its most traditional and timeless – is the central grid of lackluster concrete block ordinariness, many lurking pagodas, striking churches, Indian temples and notable mosques. The temple-topped Mandalay, Yankin and Yedagon Hills and the fascinating Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) riverside towards west, offer exceptions to the city’s pan-flat topography.
Do: Escape in quarters full of craft workshops, tree-shaded monasteries and several mini-theatres showcasing traditional performing arts. Enjoye classic marionette puppet shows.
Bagan & Central Myanmar
Of the quartet – Bagan, Pyay and Taungoo, the former capitals as well as the latest surreal one, Nay Pyi Taw here – Bagan, with its wondrous vista of pagodas and stupas, is the star attraction. The tallest and most majestic of its temples, built of brick, decorated in beautiful frescos and topped with gilded hti pinnacles, mix Hindu and Buddhist images with locally brewed nat (spirits) in nooks and crannies. Hark back centuries on Ayeryarwady river cruises, highways and rickety train tracks to find amble ox carts through rice fields and rolling plains, all rimmed by the Shan Mountains.
Do: Spectacle Bagan from above in hot air balloons rising from stupas at dawn.
Unparalleled depths and darkness of caves around sleepy Hpa-an, the sacred golden boulder at Mt Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock), the history-soaked coastal cities of Mawlamyine and Myeik and the region's most dramatic intersection of water, land and sky – the Myeik Archipelago, are all far off the beaten track but worthy enough for a pleasurable spectacle.
Do: Snorkel, dive, kayak, fish, bird watch, trek and indulge in jungle safaris at Macleod Island
Inle Lake & Around
The vast silver sheet of Inle Lake, interspersed with stilt-house villages, island-bound Buddhist temples and floating gardens, delivers a beautiful 13.5 miles long and 7 miles wide stretch of water and marshes. A five-day cycle through whitewashed stupas or Shan, Pa-O, Taung Yo, Danu, Kayah and Danaw reveal tribal people at markets that hopscotch around the lake. The Inle Wetland Bird Sanctuary boasts a host of herons, warblers, cormorants, wild ducks and egrets
Do: Leg row through the lake – in the unique Intha technique – with one leg wrapped around paddle to drive blade through water in a snake-like motion.
More of Myanmar
Chin women with tattoo Although the tradition of tattooing is disappearing, it is still prominent in Mindat and Kanpelet of Chin State.
Myanmar's best markets Shop and interact with locals at zei (markets, spelt zay); good places to start looking for that offbeat market souvenir.
Nose flute from Chin (Image)