Myanmar, also known as Burma, was closed off to foreign tourism for decades. Only recently did the country re-open its borders and allow the rest of the world to re-discover its beauty.
From ancient cities to golden temples and enormous reclining Buddhas, Myanmar is a fascinating country that will leave you feeling like a new-world explorer. These incredible sights, coupled with its recently opened borders, will make you want to visit Myanmar for your next international trip.
Temples of Bagan
The ancient city of Bagan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with thousands of temples, stupas and pagodas that date back as far as the 11th century. Some temples have exterior steps to the top, and visitors are allowed to climb up for a spectacular view of the surrounding flat landscape, which is sprinkled with trees, temples and interconnected dirt paths.
Win Sein Taw Ya
The entrance to this religious site outside of Mawlamyine is lined with scores of monk statues holding alms bowls. As you pass them, the main attraction comes into view: a 180-meter reclining Buddha — the largest in the world. Visitors can actually walk inside of the reclining Buddha to discover a series of dioramas depicting the teachings of Buddha. You’ll see demons, elephants, monks and more throughout a combination of violent scenes and peaceful scenes.
Down the road from Win Sein Taw Ya is Kyauktalon Taung, a limestone crag topped with a golden stupa. It’s surrounded by flat, verdant land, making the view at the top an impressive one. It’s recommended to go during sunset, but if you can only make it during sunrise, you’ll be treated to a similar experience.
In Yangon, a gilded stupa hundreds of years old steals the show. (A stupa is a Buddhist shrine.) Standing more than 300 feet tall and completely covered in gold, the towering Shwedagon Pagoda attracts Buddhist pilgrims from across the country and around the world. You could spend hours exploring and admiring the entirety of this temple complex.
One of the biggest draws to visiting this lake has nothing to do with the lake itself, but with the people who live on it. Literally, they live on the lake thanks to tall stilts that lift their homes above the water. Local fishermen are master balancers, rowing their canoes with a single leg while keeping the other planted on the canoe’s frame. There is a floating market, Jumping Cat Monastery and other points of interest that make Inle Lake a must-see stop.
Technically, you could take a bus directly to the lake, but the more worthwhile journey is a guided multi-day trek. These typically originate in Kalaw and take you through forests, agricultural land and small villages, some of which you’ll sleep over in. This route gives visitors the opportunity to take in the countryside and watch rural life unfold, from farming to cooking to kids playing games outside. Plus, the best guides will make the experience an educational one by discussing the local culture and answering questions.
Lumbini Gardens and nearby sites
Around the town of Hpa-an are many interesting Buddhist sites. You will need to hire a guide or rent a scooter to access them, but they are all worth visiting. The Lumbini Garden, for instance, is a field that contains row upon row of hundreds of identical Buddha statues. They sit at the western foot of Mount Zwegabin, a massive 725-meter-high karst.
Nearby, Kyaukka Latt Paya is a pagoda perched atop a sole karst on a small island. Since it’s surrounded by water, you must cross a long wooden bridge to reach it.
At Yathei Pyan Cave, the stairwell entrance is lined with tall monk statues, and a large stupa is at the top. Inside you’ll find statues of Buddha along the cave walls.
Sitting precariously atop Mount Kyaiktiyo in Mon State sits an impressive and beautiful rock, covered in gold leaf and topped with a pagoda. It is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Myanmar and provides a view of the surrounding area that is unmatched.
Know Before You Go
Most importantly, make sure to get a tourist visa and double-check that your passport has at least 6 months’ validity. You’ll also want to bring in clean U.S. dollars (no creases, marks or tears) to exchange for the local currency, kyat (pronounced “chat”). Credit cards aren’t widely accepted, and although there are more ATMs popping up around the country, you’ll get a better exchange rate at a bank or money changer by using high-denomination U.S. bills.
To make the most efficient use of your vacation time, start your journey in Mandalay, in the north, or Yangon, in the south, where two of the country’s three international airports are located. Then work your way to the other city and fly home from there. Whatever you do, don’t put off experiencing this magical country.