The ultimate guide to top Myanmar destinations with guidelines where to go in Myanmar and what to see in Myanmar
Myanmar, or formerly Burma, is widely known as ‘the Golden Land’ or ‘the Land of Golden Pagodas’.
This mysterious Southeast Asian country is a land of golden ancient pagodas, remarkable colonial architecture, unspoiled nature, tropical rainforests, white sandy beaches, a diverse society of 135 ethnic groups, exotic cultures, and above all, hospitable and open-hearted people.
On my travels, I have never ever encountered so kind and welcoming people like the people of Myanmar.
In the streets of Myanmar, people come to you asking how they can help you. Although they live in poverty, they don’t ask for money. They are not interested to get anything in return.
Burmese people are genuinely interested only to help you.
People of Myanmar feel honored to see a foreigner who shows interest in their country and their culture. They treat their visitors with respect and dignity.
2012 Myanmar opened its doors to foreigners after 50 years of an army dictatorship.
MacDonalds, Starbucks, and 7-Eleven haven’t reached Myanmar yet. I am not sure if this World needs more MacDonalds or 7-Eleven stores, but I am pretty sure that it needs more kind and modest people like the people of Myanmar.
If you are in doubt to visit or not visiting Myanmar because of some sad political issues, I suggest separating local people from their governments. Unfortunately, sometimes governments don’t serve in the best interests of their people. Even worse, they do the opposite. I recommend watching the Jade and the Generals video by Global Witness. And instead of boycotting travels to Mynamar, I advocate caring for local communities. I vouch for helping local economies and responsible travel in Myanmar.
Myanmar is a wonderful country of wonderful people.
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BEST MYANMAR DESTINATIONS: BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN MYANMAR
WHERE TO GO IN BURMA AND WHAT TO SEE IN BURMA?
BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN BURMA AND BEST SITES TO SEE IN BURMA
Modern Bagan with more than 2.000 pagodas is one of the most beautiful places in Myanmar and one of the most magical cities in the World.
From the 9th to the 13th century Bagan was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan. And the Kingdom of Pagan was actually the first Myanmar Empire.
During the Bagan Golden Age, Bagan had over 10.000 pagodas. A legend says that 40.000 monks and 40.000 slaves built them as an act of merit. Today ‘only’ about 2.000 stupas and temples left in the area of 10.200 acres (4.200 ha). Only 2.000 pagodas!
Yes, Buddhist pagodas are on every corner in Bagan! And, they make Old Bagan look like a true mystical wonderland. The whole World has seen impressive photos of sunrise in Bagan with colorful hot-air balloons dotting the horizon. There is no question, driving an e-bike around pagodas in Bagan and hot-air ballooning in Bagan is one of the top things to do in Myanmar.
If you are planning your trip to Myanmar, my recommended top things to do in Bagan would be:
- explore Bagan pagodas by e-bike (driving e-bike is super easy!),
- catch a perfect spot to watch surreal scenery of sun rising or falling in Bagan,
- take a hot-air balloon ride in sunrise,
- take a sunset boat tour on the Irrawaddy River,
- try some great Burmese food at the legendary ‘Be Kind to Animals the Moon’ restaurant,
- visit monks at Kyat Khayon Cave Monastery
Entrance fee to Bagan Archaeological Zone: 20 USD.
Hot-air balloon ride in Bagan: 300-500 USD per person. (Golden Eagle Ballooning, Oriental Ballooning, Balloons Over Bagan)
E-bikes rental fee in Bagan: 5-10 USD/day
Where to stay in Bagan:
- BUDGET: Ostello Bello Bagan Pool, Ostello Bello Bagan
- MID-RANGE: Six Stars Guest House, Bagan Vertex Hotel, Bagan Wynn Hotel
- LUXURY: Amazing Bagan Resort, Heritage Bagan Hotel, The Hotel @ Tharabar Gate
2. INLE LAKE
Inle Lake in Shan state is one of the top Myanmar destinations and one of the most interesting places in Myanmar.
UNESCO acknowledged the importance of Inle Lake and proclaimed it a part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This scenic lake is 22 km long and 10 km wide and is home to 70.000 people called Intha people meaning ‘the children of the Lake’.
But, Inle Lake became worldwide known for Intha fishermen with their unique rowing style, wooden houses on the stilts in shimmering waters, and floating vegetable gardens.
Inle Lake is clearly a photographer’s paradise in Myanmar. As much as life on the Inle Lake is one of the top Myanmar things to see.
If you ask me what would be the best things to do in Inle Lake, I would say:
- go for a sunset boat ride at Inle Lake,
- tour Inle Lake and visit the floating vegetable gardens on the lake,
- visit golden-red terraced Phaung Daw U Pagoda, go to the Monastery of Jumping Cats,
- circle by bike around the lake and visit ethnic villages around the lake,
- do wine tasting at Red Mountain Estate Vineyard,
- visit Shwe Inn Dein Pagodas (Garden of Stupas),
- try some Shan food (Shan cuisine is famous for soya meals and noodle soup).
Where to stay in Inle Lake:
- BUDGET: Ostello Bello Nyaung Shwe, Song of Travel Hostel
- MID-RANGE: Silver Lake Hotel, Golden Mountain Hotel, Innthar Lodge Home Stay
- LUXURY: Sofitel Inle Lake Myat Min, Amata Garden Resort, Inle Lake, Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort Inle
Kalaw is a small, rural and hill town of unspoiled nature and chilly weather.
Once a hill station, recently it has become an adventuring mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and a tourist destination in Myanmar.
Popular 3-day treks to Inle Lake start in Kalaw. From Kalaw to Inle Lake you can enjoy superb scenic rural views and local hospitality on the trail from Kalaw to Inle Lake. During a 3-day trek overnight sleeps are organized at homes of local people or in Buddhist monasteries. On the way from Kalaw to Inle Lake, hikers can see the Burmese countryside where farms are still worked by ox and hands.
If you choose to visit Inle Lake first and then Kalaw, don’t worry. The trek goes in the opposite direction from Inle Lake to Kalaw as well.
Mandalay was once a royal city and the last capital of Myanmar before the British occupation.
It is a city with a rich historical heritage and one of the best places in Myanmar to witness Burmese culture. When in Mandalay, be sure to visit Mandalay Palace with its red and gold wooden buildings, or take a walk across the U-Bein bridge in Mandalay which is the longest teak bridge in the World. Or, visit nearby Mingun Pagoda, the largest brick stupa in the World!
But one of the most interesting things you can do in Myanmar is to take a boat ride from Bagan to Mandalay or from Mandalay to Bagan down the Irrawaddy River.
The boat ride on the Irrawaddy River, which is one of the mightiest rivers in Asia along with the Ganges River and Mekong River, takes around 10 hours.
A one-way ticket for the boat ride from Bagan to Mandalay: about 45 USD
Where to stay in Mandalay:
- BUDGET: Downtown @ Mandalay, Celia Hostel Mandalay, Ostello Bello Mandalay
- MID-RANGE: Hotel The Haven
- LUXURY: Mercure Mandalay Hill Resort, Hilton Mandalay
Mindat is a small mountain town in Chin state that can be reached from Bagan and Mandalay.
Visiting Chin women with tattooed faces is one of Myanmar’s highlights.
Legend says that beautiful Chin women started tattooing their faces to protect themselves not to be taken to harems of the King of Myanmar. Although Mindat is still off the beaten track in Myanmar, tattooed faces of Chin women are slowly becoming a tourist attraction in Myanmar.
But Mindat is not only about the Chin ladies, but also about breathtaking mountain scenery and daily treks to the mountains, especially the Victoria mountain trek.
Be aware, the small village of Mindat has just a few guesthouses and it is not an easy task to find a stay in Mindat. Therefore, plan your visit and book your stay in Mindat in advance.
Once the capital city of Burma, Rangoon is one of Myanmar’s best places to visit and one of the most interesting cities in the Far East overall. Thus Yangon is one of Myanmar destinations not to be missed.
I have to admit, I am in love with the colonial architecture and the Old World charm of Downtown Yangon.
Yangon is popularly called ‘the Garden of the East’ as it looks like a huge garden with gorgeous lakes, impressive colonial architecture, and majestic ancient pagodas.
The Shwedagon Pagoda or the Golden Pagoda in Yangon is a famous landmark of Myanmar and a Buddhist religious site in Myanmar and one of the most famous Buddhist temples in the world overall. This 2.600-year-old pagoda is believed to be the oldest Buddhist stupa in the World.
Yangon is a large city with a population of over 5 million people and there are inarguably many things to see and do in such a big city.
But my selection of the best things to do in Yangon would be:
- stroll the Pansodan street in Downtown Yangon to enjoy the colonial architecture,
- visit Sule Pagoda,
- haggle at the Bogyoke Market,
- visit the Shwedagon Pagoda, and pour water over the Buddha statue at the planetary post of your day of birth,
- take a circular train ride around Yangon,
- go for a tea to the iconic Strand Hotel,
- have traditional Burmese tea leaf salad at ‘the Rangoon Tea House’,
- get a palm reading at Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda (palmistry and astrology are important parts of Burmese beliefs and culture).
Where to stay in Yangon:
- BUDGET STAY: HOOD Hostel, Bodhi Nava Boutique Hostel & Cafe, Thanlwin Guesthouse
- MID-RANGE ACCOMMODATION: Hotel Shwe Yee, Hotel Balmi
- LUXURY STAY: Chatrium Hotel Royal Lake Yangon, Melia Yangon, Yangon Excelsior
7. KYAIKTIYO PAGODA
The Golden Rock is a 7.3 m high pagoda on the top of granite rock.
The rock is covered with golden leaves left by Buddhist devotees. The balancing rock is said to stand on a Buddha’s hair strand defying the gravity for ages as it seems it could roll down the hill every moment.
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is the third most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Myanmar, after the Shwedagon Pagoda and Mahamudi Pagoda. Recently this dramatic pagoda has become a tourist attraction in Myanmar as many tourists flock there to witness Buddhist pilgrimage.
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda in Mon State is definitely one of the most interesting places to see in Burma and things to see in Myanmar on your trip.
8. HPA AN
At the end of my Myanmar trip, I went to Hpa-An in Kayan State in the south of Myanmar. My friend persuaded me to go to Hpa-An.
And Hpa-An caves became unexpectedly one of Myanmar highlights. I was blown away by the beauty of the scenery of the Hpa An area and amazed to see sacred Buddhist caves! Hpa-an caves are hidden gems of Myanmar. You can read more about Buddhist sacred caves in Hpa An
MAYBE YOU ALSO WOULD LIKE TO READ: Hpa An Caves
While Hpa-An is a sleepy small town, the nature in Hpa-An Area is sublime. Rice fields in Hpa An in Myanmar are one of the most beautiful rice fields I have ever seen in my life, along with rice fields in Bali.
MAYBE YOU ALSO WOULD LIKE TO READ: Bali rice terraces
My recommendation for the best things to do in Hpa An:
- enjoy the views of lush green rice fields and limestone mountains in Hpa-An,
- explore sacred Buddhist caves and
- admire Kyauk Kalat Pagoda that sits on the top of limestone.
Former Moulmein, or today’s Mawlamyine, is probably best known for George Orwell’s ‘My Burmese Days’ and ‘Shooting an Elephant’.
Visiting Mawlamyine is like going back in time to the British colonial era of Burma. It is a quiet town, somewhat melancholic with almost no tourists, and completely off the beaten track in Myanmar.
But yes, it is special. Yes, you want to visit British Burma as it was once. And Mawlamyine is the best place in Myanmar for that.
The best things to do in Mawlaymine are:
- wander the streets admiring colonial buildings, churches, and mosques in Mawlamyine,
- watch stunning sunsets over Thanwiln River with numerous seagulls on the river from the Strand Road (as soon as you come to Mawlaymine, you will notice enormous flocks of seagulls!),
- get the best panoramic views of Mawlamyine from Kyaik Than Lan Pagoda,
- stay for free and do some meditation in the famous Buddhist Pa-Auk Forest Monastery,
- take a tuk-tuk ride at Mawlaymine central bus station and
- visit Win Sein Taw Ya -180 m long and the biggest reclining Buddha in the World.
Best time to visit Myanmar
The best time to visit Burma is in the dry winter months from November to February.
There are two seasons in Myanmar: dry and rainy. The dry winter season lasts from November to February. The rainy monsoon season in Myanmar starts in May and ends in October.
But, from March to May intensive heats start, especially in the central part of the country – in Bagan and Mandalay where daily temperatures regularly reach over 40º C.