Top 10 Destinations in Myanmar
Our pick #1
Scores of exotic Buddhist temples are scattered across a vast dusty plain making Bagan one of the most remarkable sights in Southeast Asia. Sitting on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, the temple-filled plain contains over 4400 temples, pagodas and stupas, rivalling the magnificent Angkor in Cambodia and dating back to the same period, almost 800 years ago. The shape and construction of each building is highly significant in Buddhism with each component part taking a spiritual meaning. The brilliance of Bagan is in the wonderful collective views of stupa upon stupa dotting the plain and filling the skyline. Climbing to a temple lookout for sunset is an important part of the Bagan experience though it is best seen from a hot-air balloon at dawn. Coast over the temples with a bird’s eye view of the morning activities.
Our pick #2
The former capital of Myanmar, Yangon is a city reaching for the future yet caught in the past. Longi-wearing pedestrians meander through the warren of historic streets while the pungent smells of street vendors linger in the sultry air. The dynamic city contains the largest number of colonial buildings in Southeast Asia today and is a unique example of a 19th century British colonial capital. Sitting on top of Singuttara Hill, the gleaming golden stupa of Shwedagon Pagoda is the centrepiece of the city and the single most important religious site in the country. Scenes of monks praying to shrines while locals congregate on the steps for an afternoon gossip capture the essence of the relaxed nature and strong ties the Burmese have with Buddhism.
Our pick #3
The watery world of Inle Lake, where mountains tumble down towards the lakeshore, is a highlight of Myanmar. Heaven on earth for many travellers, the floating farms, stilted villages and crumbling stupas are to be savoured. While away the days canoeing, cycling or walking through the lush countryside while the people of the lake, known as the Intha, go about their daily business. The population of 70,000 Intha people live in numerous small villages along the shore and on the lake itself. Devout Buddhists, they are self-sufficient farmers who live in simple houses of wood and woven bamboo stilts. Famous for their unique style of rowing, standing with one leg on their small rowboats and the other leg wrapped around the oar, the Intha people themselves are one of the star attractions.
Our pick #4
Sitting on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River, Mandalay was the last royal capital of Myanmar before the British arrived in 1885. Today, it is a thoroughly modern city under the strong influence of Chinese commerce though the very name of Mandalay still evokes a poetic sense of nostalgia. The magnificent complex of the Mandalay Palace, surrounded by a moat with finely built walls and crowning wooden pavilions, serves as a reminder of Myanmar’s once great empire. Mandalay is Myanmar’s cultural and religious centre of Buddhism with numerous monasteries and over 700 pagodas. The stupa-filled Mandalay Hill looms over the flat cityscape affording excellent views. Maha Moni Pagoda is revered as the holiest pagoda in Mandalay where crowds of devotees visit daily to witness the early morning ritual of washing the Face of Buddha’s Image.
Our pick #5
The largest river in Myanmar, the Irrawaddy River is a feature of much natural beauty and commercial importance. Stretching over 2,000km in length, the river is home to the Irrawaddy dolphin and river shark, both of which are highly endangered and spectacular to behold. To visit the banks of this powerful waterway is to travel back in time to the days before Southeast Asia became the hottest destination on the planet. The best way of immersing yourself in the yesteryear glory of the river is by taking a cruise along it. Most routes start in Mandalay and wind up in Bagan, making plenty of stops along the way. You are unlikely to come across many other foreigners during your trip, allowing you to get as authentic an experience as possible and to fully immerse yourself in the magic of Myanmar. If tranquillity and picturesque scenery are what you are after, an Irrawaddy River cruise is an ideal activity.
Our pick #6
Characterised by powder-soft, golden sand stretches out from the lush palm trees until it reaches the crystal clear water of the Bay of Bengal, Ngapali is the beach paradise you have been searching for. Despite being Myanmar’s number one beach destination, this beautiful region is a far cry from the popular resort towns of Thailand or Vietnam. Thanks to tourism still being in its fledgling stages in Myanmar, you won’t need to wrestle for space on these sparkling shores, nor will you be overwhelmed by noise and chaos. There are plenty of accommodation options here, ranging from budget to luxurious, but the development that has taken place here by way of building a tourist infrastructure has had very little impact on the locals, who continue to live their traditional lifestyle, regardless of the changes occurring around them. Spend your days here gorging on fresh seafood, snorkelling and watching the dazzling sunsets.
Our pick #7
Imbued with mystery and charm, the lush and mountainous region of Pindaya is ideal for anyone looking for a breath of fresh air and a spot of cultural immersion. The most famous attraction in this fascinating town is the Pindaya Caves, limestone caves filled with images of the Buddha. These natural cavities have been an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists for centuries, with some of the statues within the caves dating back to the late 1700s. The caves can easily be seen in a day trip and are often combined with a trek through one of the old traditional villages that surround the area. A popular trekking route is from Kalaw to Pindaya as this passes through a number of tribal villages, each with its own independent cultural identity and language. While there are no official hotels along this route, there are several monasteries that will happily provide accommodation and meals for travellers.
Our pick #8
Perhaps one of the most curious sights in the country, Mt Kyaiktiyo is a baffling, gravity-defying feature that definitely deserves your attention. The site consists of a huge golden rock with a stupa on top of it, precariously perched on the edge of a cliff and held in place, according to legend, by one of the Buddha’s hairs. Situated towards the south of Myanmar, the mountain is a huge draw for spiritual travellers and Buddhists, many taking a truck ride to the top in time for sunrise. Those with a bit of energy to expend can opt for the hiking option and make the pilgrimage to the rock on foot. Male devotees can get right up next to the rock and are permitted to paste on some golden leaf whilst there. Women aren’t afforded the same privilege unfortunately, but they can still admire the monument and take in the stunning views from the mountain top.
Our pick #9
If you are looking for views that will take your breath away and a pace of life that is so laid back it is virtually horizontal then Kalaw is the place for you. The green-carpeted hills that surround the area are ideal for independent hiking, providing some stunning scenery as you go. Perhaps what draws the majority of people to Kalaw is the freedom of movement in this area as many other parts of Myanmar are strictly controlled, meaning you cannot go for a hike without prior permission or even a guide in some cases. Here, however, you are unfettered and free to explore as you wish. Within the heart of Kalaw is a bustling market, the perfect representation of traditional village life in Myanmar and a great place to pick up some local delicacies, many of which have been influenced by Indian and Nepali rail workers who moved here during British rule.
Our pick #10
The second most famous site in Myanmar, after Bagan, Mrauk U is a magical landscape covered in lush vegetation and speckled with ancient temples that poke out over the top of the omnipresent mist. Unlike the isolated temples of Bagan, however, these ancient monuments are integrated into modern life, surrounded by rice paddies and traditional Burmese villages. Indeed, another difference between the two sets of temples lies in their accessibility and, subsequently, their popularity. While Mrauk U is fascinating and beautiful it sees very little footfall because getting there is a real challenge. Yet, the journey is far from impossible and those who undertake it will be richly rewarded as they are likely to have the temples all to themselves. Once you have explored the temples to the fullest extent, be sure to spend a bit of time wandering through the surrounding villages and learning about local life.
Browse through our recommended places to visit in Myanmar (Burma)
If you're looking for more information to help plan your visit to Myanmar, check out our handy Travel Guide resources:
Best Time to Visit - climate and seasons in Myanmar
Tourist Visas - everything you need to know for visa procurement and regulations
Top Travel Tips - useful information on money, food and health in Myanmar