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Header image credit: Stefan Munder

It’s interesting to note that if you were to research why Myanmar has two names, you might struggle to find a concrete answer. Such is the country’s diverse and often turbulent history, that Myanmar and Burma are used interchangeably depending on where you go and who you speak to.

Regardless of what you call it, perhaps the country is best summed up by English writer Rudyard Kipling, when he said “…it is quite unlike any land you know about.” Apparently he only visited for three days, but it was enough to make such an accurate observation.

Tourism is enjoying something of a boom in recent years, with many travelers keen to discover South East Asia’s most curious country. And relaxed entry requirements now mean you can take away the stress of travel and have your Myanmar visa in advance.

Myanmar Sightseeing – 7 Places to Include in Your Burma Itinerary

Bagan

The city of Bagan is undoubtedly the poster boy for Myanmar tourism – the images of which you’ll be greeted with when first researching the country.

It’s here you’ll find hundreds of pagodas dotted across the landscape dating back as far back as the 10th century, with tourists flocking to view the stunning skyline from the unique vantage point of hot air balloons.

Those that don’t want to pay upwards of $400 for that privilege used to be able to climb the temples – but that practice has now been banned due to wear and tear. Regardless, if there is one attraction you see during your visit here, make it the temples of Bagan.

Balloons over Bagan

Shwedagon Pagoda Burma

Photo credits: Christopher Michel / Stefan Munder

Shwedagon Pagoda

If the temples of Bagan are not the first picture that greets you when googling the country, Shwedagon Pagoda will be. It’s basically the crème de la crème of temples here, as someone quoted – “the Eiffel tower of pagodas.”

This glistening, gilded gazebo is located in the capital Yangon (which has its fair share of attractions itself – you can check out this Yangon Travel Guide for more information).

Understandably, it is the most sacred pagoda in the country, believed to be dated somewhere between the 6th and 10th centuries. It’s simply not to be missed when it’s lit up at night – and you might well need sunglasses for the occasion!

Inle Lake

Located just over six hours from Mandalay in the Nyaungshwe Township, you’ll discover one of Myanmar’s most magical attractions. Inle Lake is the second largest body of freshwater in the country, and at 13.5 miles long and 7 miles wide, it has to be seen to be believed.

There are no roads around the perimeter of the lake, so locals get from place to place in traditional watercraft, while fisherman ply their trade using a very unique paddling technique.

Distinctive, stilted homes rise from the water’s edge, and there are some unusual pagodas to be visited here too – as well as the beautiful Nga Phe Chaung Monastery.

This region might well be where you see the real Burma.

Inle Lake Mayanmar

Inle Lake Mayanmar

Photo credits: Paul Arps / Hans A Rosbach

Nagapali Beach

Washed by the waters of the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean, Nagapali is Myanmar’s go-to beach destination.

All the usual suspects of beach-going activities are available here, including kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving, but riding of motorbikes isn’t allowed if you’re a foreigner. You can’t tear up the beautiful white sands and destroy everyone else’s peace and quiet here!

Fifteen miles of coast means that you’re likely to have plenty of space to yourself in spite of Nagapali’s popularity, and as you might expect the dining experience is top drawer – thanks to the freshness of the produce caught by the local fishermen.

Facing in a westerly direction, the sunsets here are unreal.

Mandalay

The former capital of Myanmar evokes many emotions depending on which side you stand of British colonial rule.

The city was leveled in WW2 and has since been rebuilt, but it’s certainly not the most aesthetically pleasing destination in the world. However, what it lacks in beauty it makes up with charisma, and plenty of important attractions to boot.

Mandalay Hill is well worth the climb for the panoramic view and exploring the Shwenandaw Monastery and enormous Mandalay Palace will keep you occupied for hours.

When you’re done wandering the bustling markets, consider taking a cruise on the Irrawaddy River. The stretch from here to Bagan is reputed to be one of the most beautiful in the world.

Myanmar SE Asia Monk RF

Mount Kyaiktiyo

The third most sacred sight in the country is also one of its most unusual. Otherwise known as ‘the golden rock,’ the attraction at Mount Kyaiktiyo is exactly that; a huge, golden rock at the top of which sits a pagoda.

Legend has it that the rock is perched just so because it is sitting on a strand of the Buddhas hair, but there are many legends associated with this gravity-defying holy site.

There are some stunning views from the top once you stop staring quizzically at the rock as if it’s about to roll down the mountain, but be aware only men are allowed to touch it – women are not permitted in the inner sanctuary.

Golden Rock - Kyaiktiyo Pagoda

Photo credit: Staffan Scherz

U Bein Bridge

While you’re in the region, why not visit the oldest teak bridge in the world. Stretching across the Taungthaman Lake, this rickety wooden structure was made out of materials from a royal palace. It’s also the longest bridge of its kind in the world at 1.2 kilometers across and dates back to 1851.

Crossing is not for the faint of heart though as it tends to creak and sway when bearing even a modest number of people, but as it’s one of the most iconic sights in the country, and shouldn’t be missed.

Editor’s Note: “Demands for a travel boycott of Myanmar have launched in response to international condemnation and media coverage of the Rohingya tragedy. Boycotting may seem like the honorable thing to do, as no one wants to be complacent of human suffering, but the reality is that a sanction against Myanmar isn’t noble and won’t positively impact the humanitarian crisis.” Click here to read why.

OUR FAVORITE MYANMAR TRAVEL GUIDES: CLICK PHOTO TO LOOK INSIDE ↓

Myanmar Travel Guide

Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma)

 Myanmar Travel Guide

 Rough Guide to Myanmar (Burma) 

Myanmar Travel Guide

Myanmar Travel Guide / History

INSPIRED?! PIN THIS TO YOUR TRAVEL PINTEREST BOARDS ↓

Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.

    

Pinterest image Bagan sunset by Alexander Mueller. Pinterest image Myanmar boy by Staffan Scherz

    22 Comments

  1. Hot air ballooning in Bagan is a bucket-list dream – sad to hear that they stopped allowing people to climb the temples, but I can totally understand why. You don’t have thousand year old temples disappearing on your watch just because you let people start trampling all over them!

    • I hope you do have the opportunity to travel soon – experiencing the hot air balloons is worth every penny, definitely one of the best places to do it in the world!

      And absolutely on the temple climb – we don’t want to be contributing to the destruction of the very thing we’ve traveled to see.

  2. Wow Mount Kyaiktiyo looks stunning – it looks like it’s about to fall, balancing so precociously there! Sad that women aren’t allowed in the inner sanctuary. But I’ll take the views from the top.

    • It’s an incredible sight isn’t it! Hope you have the opportunity to visit soon. If you are lucky enough to visit on a clear day the landscapes from the top of the mountain are neverending and absolutely awe inspiring. Yes, sadly there are restrictions on being able to actually touch the rock as a woman, but different country, different cultural values / views on gender. The view is worth the visit anyway 🙂

  3. Inle Lake certainly looks like an authentic region. It would be incredible to watch the fisherman, and see first hand those homes on stilts. As I’m very interested in history I think it would be quite fascinating to visit Mandalay – thankyou for the tip on the view from Mandalay Hill.

    • Absolutely Annabelle. I hope you have the opportunity to visit Myanmar soon 🙂

  4. Myanmar is such a curious country. I appreciate that you have addressed the travel boycott at the end of your article. I don’t believe that travel boycotts are a productive way to instigate change, and believe it is quite an ignorant stance to take.

    Ultimately, tourism is probably the best thing that could happen for Myanmar right now – if the country goes back to being isolated, the government will have the ability to carry on totally unchecked. And ultimately, in this specific situation, tourism $$ fund local livelihoods, and not the government regime. Without which their economy would collapse causing even more strain on an already strained country.

    Go travel, interact within local communities, and discover a beautiful country which yes, wears scars from an oppressive government regime. With any luck, a higher presence of Western tourism will positively change things.

    Thankyou for promoting tourism to this country.

    • Thanks Hugo. Our views on the travel boycott are the same. And I agree that traveling to Myanmar is the best thing you can do if you want to take part in positive change.

      The post that I linked to by Lola Mendez, I couldn’t have written better myself 🙂

  5. Myanmar seems to be really hot on the Southeast Asia travel trail right now!

    • It does indeed – tourism has really started to boom, so I recommend getting there sooner than later 🙂

  6. I am truly hoping to be able to make it to Burma before it becomes a ‘trending’ travel destination and loses much of the authenticity which I believe is its primary charm. I really hope that as the country welcomes more and more travelers that it doesn’t westernize and lose it’s traditions or curiosities.

    • Absolutely Amber – it’s always difficult when a previously isolated country opens up it’s borders, because it will inevitably be influenced by those who choose to visit. I’m with you though in hoping that they maintain their traditions and culture despite the sudden influx of tourism 🙂

  7. Bagan looks truly beautiful!

    • Truly unique isn’t it! Hope you have the chance to travel soon 🙂

  8. Myanmar fascinates me. To be able to witness a country emerging from decades of isolation is a very rare opportunity when we live in a time where the world feels like it is losing it’s diversity. This is a great list – it will help with planning my itinerary.

    • Absolutely Kasie – enjoy your trip!

  9. Myanmar will always be my most favourite travel destination.

    • Fabulous to hear Penny! I can completely understand 🙂

  10. Last year we took a motorcycle tour out to U Bein bridge. A fantastic way to see Mandalay.

    • Sounds like a fabulous trip Andrew!

  11. Just got back…… what a place!!

    • So glad to hear you had a fabulous trip Dawn! Welcome back 🙂

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