Is there a more stunning monument to religion in Southeast Asia? We don’t think so. In fact, the sheer size and mystical aura of Yangon’s gilded masterpiece may even cause you to question your inner atheist. But it’s not all about quiet contemplation: Shwedagon Paya (p 43 ) is equal parts religious pilgrimage and amusement park, and your visit may coincide with a noisy ordination ceremony or fantastic fortune-telling session. If you’re looking for one reason to linger in Yangon (Rangoon) before heading upcountry, this is it.
Virtually every visitor to Myanmar (Burma) makes it here at some point, but Inle Lake (p 177 ) is so awe-inspiring and large that everybody comes away with a different experience. If you’re counting days, you’ll most likely be hitting the hotspots: water-bound temples, shore-bound markets and floating gardens. If you have more time, consider day hikes or exploring the more remote corners of the lake. Either way, the cool weather and friendly folk and that placid pool of ink-like water are bound to find a permanent place in your memory.
More than 3000 Buddhist temples are scattered across the plains of Bagan the site of the first Burmese kingdom. Dating back to between the 11th and 13th centuries, the vast majority of the temples have been renovated, as Bagan remains an active religious site and place of pilgrimage. Yes, there are tour buses and crowds at the most popular sunset-viewing spots, but they can be avoided. Pedal off on a bike and have your own adventure amid the not-so-ruined temples or float over the temple tops in a hot-air balloon. Buddhist monks, Ananda Pahto Festival
Pyin Oo Lwin
Pin Oo Lwin is a one-off curiosity that makes for an easy escape from sweaty lowland Mandalay. As the former British-era summer capital, it retains a wide scattering of colonial buildings big and small, and a remarkable botanical garden that’s one of Southeast Asia’s most manicured. Today, local tourists and a new generation of elite fleeing the heat are treated to some of provincial Myanmar’s best cuisine and most imaginative hotels. And to give it all a photogenic twist, the local taxi service is by colorful horse and cart. National Kandawgyi Gardens, Pyin Oo Lwin
While exploring the many temples, monasteries, and ruined city walls of the former Rakhaing capital of Mrauk U (Myohaung; p 279 ), you realize what an amazing place this sleepy town was at its zenith in the 16th century. Giant structures such as the Dukkanthein Paya and Kothaung Paya appear even more impressive amid the beguiling rural landscape of gently rounded hills and vegetable fields, through which the locals weave their way, aluminum water pots balanced on their heads. Stay an extra day and travel
Myanmar in April is so hot that you’ll enjoy getting soaked at Thingyan ( Water Festival; p 343 ), which marks the start of the country’s new-year celebration. The festival involves lots of drinking, dancing, singing and theatre, with the emphasis on satire – even making (careful!) fun of the government. Cultural taboos are temporarily lifted, so women can ‘kidnap’ young men, blacken the men’s faces with soot or oil, bind their hands, and dunk their heads in buckets of water until they surrender and perform a hilarious monkey dance
Take with a pinch of salt the story about this beautiful beach reminding a homesick Italian of Naples. From its gently swaying palms, luxury resorts, and appealing guesthouses to its pristine sands, tempting blue waters and delicious seafood caught fresh each day by local fishermen, Ngapali (p 270 ) is the antithesis of the Italian city. Enjoy it for what it is: the perfect getaway and a chance to wind down – sunbathing, snorkel
Attractive Hsipaw is ideally placed for quick, easy hikes into fascinating Shan and Palaung villages. The town’s handful of guides offers just enough English-speaking help to make the experience comfortable, while the whole region feels far less ‘discovered’ than that around Kalaw. Hsipaw itself is a historic little town. It was once home to Shan princes and has its own (very) ‘Little Bagan’ of historic stupas. Fill out a few interesting
Geographically beautiful and populated by gentle people, Myanmar is also notorious for its human rights abuses. The United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch are among the many respected bodies who have called the country’s military rulers to account for their imprisonment and mistreatment of political dissidents, use of forced labor, and violent crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations, as witnessed in September 2007.
Many countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, and those of the European Union, have and continue to apply economic sanctions. In 1995 the NLD also called for a tourism boycott (see p 318 ), which led to criticism of previous editions of this guidebook.
In 2010 this controversial travel boycott was officially dropped by the NLD, who now welcome independent tourists who are mindful of the political and social landscape; however, those on large group package tours are discouraged