Must-see and Must-do Things for a Myanmar Tour
Posted on 24/10/2017 2:46:24
“It is quite unlike any place you know.” – Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling could not have been more right in his description of Myanmar. For many people, Myanmar remains a place of mystery and undiscovered treasures, kept in isolation and away from tourism. Now that the country is recovering from its decades of war and seclusion, globetrotters from all over the world are discovering the reality of the myths and legends of this golden land.
Myanmar is now finding its place in the world, and in the hearts of thousands of travelers every year, as it finally emerges from its ancient past. This beautiful country boasts an excess of stunning sights, from the ancient temples of Bagan to the immense stretches of unspoilt beaches, mythical caves, and perfect postcard sunsets. It is a place where monks and nuns share the same status as western rock stars and celebrities, and is full of ancient customs and traditions as well as the friendliest of people. When you look at the spectacular sights of this fledgling nation, it truly is unlike any place you know.
Yangon, The Old Capital
The former capital of ancient Myanmar, Yangon is one of the most exciting cities to visit in Asia. Once known as Rangoon by the British colonials, the largest metropolis in the country has former political exiles, big-time investors, and globetrotting adventurers all eating at its table. Yangon is reaping the benefits of the economic and political liberalization of the country in a big way, with old buildings being spruced up and new restaurants and bar popping up all over the city. Touring Yangon can be done easily by taxi or tuk-tuks, and the city is full of interesting sights to see, both old and new.
If you are feeling adventurous and energetic, you can join a walking tour around the city, to get the best out of the Yangon experience. While it may be a little chaotic, the downtown colonial buildings and sights are beautiful. The local Heritage Walk Tour takes visitors around the most famous landmarks in the city, and explains about the history of Yangon, from ancient times right up to the modernization.
No visit to Yangon would be complete without visiting the world-famous Shwedagon Pagoda. This huge golden icon can be seen from almost every part of the city, and restaurants are known to pay higher rents or property prices if the diners have a good view of the pagoda. A symbol of pride for the Burmese people, it is a magical and breathtaking sight. There are four entrances from the ground up the flights of steps to the pagoda’s platform, and it has eight planetary posts, one for each day of the week (Wednesday has two, one for the morning and one for the afternoon). Buddhist pilgrims will go to one of the posts to pray, depending on the day of their birthday. The posts are ruled by animals, with a different one for each. The animals on the posts are; garuda for Sunday, tiger for Monday, lion for Tuesday, tusked elephant for Wednesday morning, tuskless elephant for Wednesday afternoons, mouse for Thursday, guinea pig for Friday and naga for Saturday.
Inle Lake in the center of the country is 22 kilometers long and is inhabited by several different tribes. This idyllic place is one that will bring joy to the most hardened traveler, with the beauty of the landscape and the amazing sight of the leg-rowers crossing the lake in their boats. Houses around the edge of the lake are built on stilts out into the water, and connected to the land by small walkways. And there is even an old monastery that was built on stilts. Nga Hpe Monastery was once renowned for its jumping cats, trained to leap through hoops for entertainment. This practice has been discontinued in the monastery, but it is worth a visit for the unique collection of ancient Buddha images the monastery contains.
Behind this serene and unassuming lake lies an overgrown hillside that presents one with an astonishing sight as you get close. Crammed together on the hillside are over one thousand ancient stupas that date back several centuries. Small, delicate, and closely knit, these recently-uncovered relics of Myanmar’s ancient past give a much more intimate view of the typical Burmese architecture than that of Bagan, spread over such a huge area.
The colonial British built one of the country’s most amazing man-made marvels, the Gokteik Viaduct in 1901. Located near Nawnghkio, about 100 kilometers from Mandalay, the structure was fabricated in Pennsylvania, USA, and shipped to Myanmar in pieces. Spanning a chasm over 100 meters deep, and looking like 14 spiders supporting the railway line, the bridge is almost 700 meters long. While the train journey from Mandalay takes almost the entire day, it is worth the ride to visit this bridge to Myanmar’s colonial past. Passage across the bridge is at less than walking speed, as the old structure sways a little with the passing of the heavy train. This is a great opportunity to get the best shots of the bridge, and if you keep your camera out once you get across, you can get a photo of the northbound train crossing immediately after you have passed. If you prefer to travel by car, it is a 4.5-hour trip from Mandalay by road.
The Temples of Bagan
Just as important for tourists as Shwedagon Pagoda, the temple site at Bagan is a definite must-see. If you have time to spend a few days there, you will not be disappointed, as just one single day trip is not enough to get around even one fourth of the site. Sunrises are the preferred sight for many at the temples of Bagan, and thousands line up every morning to catch the best shot of the sun coming up from behind the immense field of temples and pagodas that spread for miles in every direction.
Standing up from the jungle that has encroached on it over the centuries since many of the temples and pagodas were abandoned, the view from the top, looking out at the jungle of rust-colored spires that sticks up from the jungle of green is spectacular. You can take one of the several organized tours, or tour yourself, either on foot or by renting motorcycles from the stands outside the site or in the local hotels. Maps are available, and navigating the temples is relatively easy, so exploring some of the less popular temples will make for an interesting day. With hundreds of temples to choose from, you can get away from the press of the crowds by staying away from the guided tour routes. Some of the most spectacular of the temples in Bagan are; Ananda Phaya, Dhammayangyi, Gawdawpalin, Gubyaukgyi, Shwegugyi, Sulamani, and That Byin Nyu.
Bagan-Mandalay by Boat
If you have spent any amount of time traveling around Asia, you will know what it is like to spend many hours on hot, cramped buses, getting from one amazing sight to the next. Here, you can treat yourself to a change from the norm, and take the boat from Bagan to Mandalay, along the famous Irrawaddy River. The river is an attraction in itself, and the eleven-hour cruise along this wide expanse of flat, calm water is a relaxing change to the hustle and bustle of the crowded buses and busy roads. The trip can be done both ways, and the downstream journey from Mandalay to Bagan takes two hours less. The boat leaves Bagan from the pier area at 5:30am, while the skies are still pitch black, and you will be served breakfast as soon as the boat gets under way. One of the best parts of the boat trip is the sunrise over the Irrawaddy River, which is one of the most beautiful of sights. During the trip you will get to see some of the more authentic areas of Myanmar, where buffalos are still used to plow fields, and small, wooden fishing boats drift along in the current. Women can often be seen trekking the river bank with huge bundles of produce balanced on their heads. Life along the river is still ancient and simple, and is an exhilarating sight.
U Bein Bridge
Visiting the U Bein Bridge is every photographer’s dream. It is the oldest and longest bridge in the world, and was erected in 1850. Made of teak wood, the bridge feels rickety underfoot as you walk across, waiting to see the world’s most famous sunset. The internet is filled with silhouette images of the bridge, with everything from monks to cyclists seen crossing against the beautiful Myanmar sunset. Standing around 20 feet above the water, the bridge runs for 1.2 kilometers across the Taungthaman Lake.
One of the more unusual sites in Myanmar is the site at Hpa An, in Mon State. Saddan Cave is an enormous cavern that has been filled with statues of Buddha, pagodas, and wall paintings. The entire cave is a temple, and since all temples in Myanmar require you to remove your shoes, you will get to feel the cool, refreshing mud beneath your feet as you walk through this amazing cavern. The cave also contains many hundreds of bats, though they are harmless, and are sleeping through the day. however, a loud noise will send a few spiraling around the high cavern ceiling for a few minutes before they settle. The cavern tends to flood in the monsoon season, and it has a river exit for those who do not want to walk back through the mud.