Burma or Myanmar is now one of the hottest travel destinations in Southeast Asia, precisely because it has opened its doors to tourists only a few years back. And if you look at the list of things to do in Burma, a ride through the Irrawaddy River in an old steamer or having a cup of tea with the locals can top the list. It is the existence of the simple pleasures of life amidst modernization that makes Burma a cherished place for travellers. Places that were previously off-limits have now opened up. And you suddenly stumble into a country which have in many ways preserved the traditions of Asia.
Things to do in Burma: Rangoon/Yangon-Bagan-Mandalay
Even before you reach Rangoon, you may have seen amazing pictures of Shwedagon Paya, but nothing will measure its beauty when you stand in front of it. As it bathes in the glorious rays of sunset, you will stand mesmerized. Wearing a traditional Longyi and a shirt can attract attention and even a few curious questions from locals. It would be a ‘golden experience’ as you look at 60 tons of encrusted gold on the stupa long with scattered precious stones like rubies, jade and sapphires.
It is said that you get to experience the vibrancy of the place if you visit a local market. Bogyoke Aung San Market is no exception. Built in 1926 in the British colonial period, the place has cobblestone streets with beautiful shops lined up on the sides. The inside looks more like a bazaar and is one of the best places to get Burmese jewelery, fabric or handicrafts. If you make a list of things to do in Burma, a visit to the Chinatown, and eating the local delicacies should be part of that list. The Chinatown is on the western side of Sule Pagoda and is popularly known as downtown Yangon. The stir fried dishes and the grilled skewers are what you should watch out for.
A flight from Rangoon will take you to Bagan which waits with its archaeological splendors. Almost 2230 temples of the original bunch have survived earthquakes and invasion by Mongols led by Kublai Khan. They are preserved beautifully by UNESCO and are known as the most avid tourist attractions of Burma. A 45-minute ride on the hot air balloon will offer a lovely bird’s eye view of the temples, the mountains and the beautiful river. Visit to several temples is now restricted; the only exception being Shwesandaw. You can also take a chair in one of the waterfront cafes to admire the lovely views of Rakhine-Yoma hills. Sunset cruises in the Irrawaddy River will complete your day.
After a day or two in Bagan, you can carry an early morning flight to Mandalay. There are different tours in Mandalay which will help you to explore this formal royal tour and its surroundings. There are three things that describe Mandalay best: hot, beautiful and busy. A 30 minute climb on Mandalay Hills and rising on the top of 760 feet will be an experience in itself. There are two southern stairways, which is the easier route. The northern stairways are steeped in comparison. And of you are not an avid walker, you can take up a vehicle for covering the maximum part. Check out Mahamuni Paya, one of the important tourist spots in Mandalay. In the day-long trip, check out the silver, white and gold monasteries and pagodas which dot the beautiful hilly landscape of Sagaing Hills. Ava or the Innwa was an important capital of Myanmar which was also known as the seat of government for quite some time. Amarapura replaced Ava as the capital city in the year 1841. There are some magnificent ruins which spell out wonder for the wanderlust tourist. A peep into the history of the region will only evoke a strange nostalgia.
Trailing the history further through Heho-Pindaya-Kalaw
As you chalk out your travel plan in Myanmar, the next obvious place to stop is Heho. It is a tiny small hamlet and its beauty remains unspoiled even today. But it is more famous as the perfect gateway to the magnificent Inle Lake in central Myanmar. Its geographical location contributes to its pleasant weather and you can experience a cool fresh weather all the year round. You can drive to Pindaya, which is another quiet mountain hamlet on Pone Ta Lote Lake. Check out the tea plantations and as you breathe in the fresh aroma of the tea leaves, you take a sip of the golden liquid. While making a list of things to do in Burma, you can plan a trip to Pindaya Caves with thousands of Buddha images. If you are looking for a favourable time to visit Heho, you can visit at the time of Shin Pyu Festival which is also known as the Buddhist Orders Festival. In this ceremony, the master will admit sons of some families to be monks. Take a trip to Kalaw and you will find the landscape pleasantly differing with its colonial structures.
The beauty of Thar Min Khan-Wa Gyi Myaung-Inle Lake
You can trek to Thar Min Khan. The landscape keeps changing and before you reach this place, you will stop at Danu, Pa-Oh and Taung Yoe. The orange and tea plantations on the way will keep you mesmerised. As the mist lifts, you can have a view of the lush landscape. You can have your lunch with the locals in Taung Ni village and walk up to Na War Taung forest monastery. The colourful landscape will be your constant companion. It will take almost five hours to complete the last leg of the trek. A picnic style lunch will be served by the guide, and then you join the roads again and reach War Gyi Myang.
One of the most talked about tourist destinations in Burma is the Inle Lake. After you spend the night at the monastery in War Gyi Myang, you can walk up to Khaung Daing village. And from there you begin your journey towards Inle Lake. Positioned in the heart of the Shan Plateau, this lake looks like a vast sheet of silver. But as you look closely, you will find it dotted with islands, Buddhist temples, villages on stilts, and amazing floating gardens. A large portion of the area is protected by the Inle Wetland Bird Sanctuary. And bird watchers can observe some specimens like warblers, herons, egrets and wild ducks. The stupas or the monasteries which surround the lake are too good to miss. And if you are wondering about the things to do in Burma, you can have a leisurely drink from two state wineries like Myanmar vineyard and the Red Mountain Estate. Take a tour of the vineyards and taste the wine which will surprise you with a taste similar to Pinot Noir.
Capture the essence of Myanmar with Indein-Nyaung Shwe
And as you reach the last leg of your tour, Indein unravels its beauty with its lovely stupas just behind the small village. This is popularly known as the Nyaung Ohak. There are almost in a state of crumble and hidden in greeneries, but you can still discover some beautiful carvings on the walls. It is like a mystery box, well-hidden, but can be captured only by a discerning eye. Climbing the covered stairway you can visit the Shwe Inn Thei Paya, a complex of stupas mostly built in 17th and 18th centuries. The views are simply awesome and worth the effort. After your rendezvous with stupas, you can visit Nyaung Shwe and visit the docks. You will get a fair idea about how products are assembled and distributed in all over Burma.
Other Things to do in Burma – The five most beautiful temples in Burma
Some important tips to remember
- The entire trip will take almost 15 days to complete, so prepare accordingly.
- Burmese people are generally friendly; a warm handshake or smile will make your communication easy. If possible, you can pick up small words or phrases which will help you to interact.
- The money you carry needs to be converted to Myanmar Kyat which is the local currency. If you do not have enough money, you can always take help of the hotels, airports and local banks. It is best to avoid the local money exchangers on the street.
- The best time to travel to Myanmar is from November to February. The weather is warm, but not uncomfortable.
- You can research about the places to visit; this will help you to know more about the local customs and traditions of the place. Burmese people are still young to the concept of modernization, so you must refrain from doing anything that will hurt their sentiments.
- As you look into the different things to do in Burma, you might want to get off the oft-travelled roads. There might be some restrictions which are entirely in place for the safety of the tourists; so respect them as it is for your own good.
- Buses are the most common modes of transportation.
And once you are equipped with all the essential information about the things to do in Burma, it is time to explore this paradise. Yes, it can be called a paradise; as you still get the glimpse of an unspoiled world. In many ways, Burma/Myanmar will transport you to the 19th century world. But then things are changing. Probably it is the blend of the old and the new, the ancient and the modern which makes Myanmar a coveted tourist destination.
Our recommended itinerary for Burma/Myanmar: http://www.shantitravel.com/en/burma-travel/tribes-pagodas-and-cities-of-burma/