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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ↓
INSPIRED?! PIN THIS TO YOUR TRAVEL PINTEREST BOARDS ↓