Without a doubt the most amazing way to see the culturally rich country of Burma is by taking a luxury cruise on the Irrawaddy River. Forget about packing and unpacking and just relax watching the amazing shoreline change. There is no better view of Burma than this!
Top 10 things to see in Burma
Off-limits for years but now back on every intrepid traveller’s wish-list, Burma (now known as Myanmar) lies in the heart of Asia and is one of the most culturally rich countries in the world. Go and be overwhelmed by giant Buddhist temples and thousands of ancient ruins set across mystical landscapes, or venture out to remote villages, where you will be welcomed by the friendly locals still living their traditional lives with very little western contact. We've whittled down our top 10 things to see in this enigmatic golden land…
1. Inle Lake
Escape the Burmese heat and appreciate the cool climate and refreshing gentle breeze that comes off Inle Lake. While trying to work out where the water ends and the marshes begin, you can enjoy the diversity of this lake by taking a traditional flat-bottomed skiff and visiting the floating gardens and water-bound temples, passing stilt-house villages along the way. The colourful morning markets that are dotted along the lakeshores are well worth a visit, and you will be welcomed by the smiling locals who are proud to show off their silk-weaved handicrafts. It’s amazing to see how their whole lives have been adapted to living on water.
Enchantingly secluded on the edge of the serene Inle Lake and backed by northern Burma’s blue-forested peaks, the Inle Princess is one of our favourite places to stay here.
Kalaw is a beautiful hill station in the midst of rolling hills and pine forests, which served as a summer resort during the colonial era. Be sure to visit the market, where the hill tribes of surrounding villages gather to buy and sell their products and crops. If you’re a serious trekker, Kalaw has a lot to offer. This area is almost Himalayan, and if you venture away from the paths you can easily lose yourself in the forests and fields for days on end, enjoying the hospitality of the villagers as you pass between their scattered houses. Whilst you’re in the area, we strongly recommend a visit to Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp, where you can trek with, feed and bath the elephants, as well as learning about their re-planting project and how they focus on protecting the ecology and traditions of the local area and people. We believe Green Hill Valley to be one of South East Asia’s most sustainable elephant projects, with love and care for the elephants at the very centre of everything they do.
Often compared to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, Bagan is a lesser-known but equally awe-inspiring ancient city. Situated in central Burma on the plains of the Irrawaddy River, this ancient city is dotted with thousands of ancient stupas and temples, making it one of the most extraordinary archaeological sites in Asia. To really appreciate the scale of the plains of Bagan, which are scattered with over 4,000 Buddhist temples, the most memorable way to take in this ancient city is floating above it in a hot air balloon. Those wanting a more low-key affair can discover the hidden secrets of the city by cycling around these impressive wonders at a leisurely pace, occasionally stumbling across Buddhists worshiping in one of the temples that are still in use today.
Located right by Burma’s iconic archaeological site, The Hotel @ Tharabar Gate is a perfect base for exploring the magical stupas of old Bagan.
4. The botanical gardens of Pyin Oo Lwin
Pyin Oo Lwin is a former colonial hill station, to which the Brits used to flee for the weekend to escape the oppressive heat. The town is home to many ethnic tribes, as well as considerable numbers of Nepalese and Hindus. The highlight of Pyin Oo Lwin is without a doubt the peaceful botanical gardens. Although originally founded by the British, the gardens have a very local twist and an exotic feel. It is this fusion which gives the gardens their incredible charm, which is also reflected in the hotels and excellent cuisine of this area. The town’s hybrid Anglo-Burmese feel makes it a unique place to visit, and the cooler temperature here makes it a welcome addition to any Burmese adventure.
5. Shwedagon Paya
For a heady dose of colonial-era architecture and tree-lined avenues head to Yangon. Here you can marvel at Burma’s most sacred site – the stupendous and iconic 2,500-year-old Shwedagon Paya (Golden Pagoda) that rises over the city in golden splendour. As the light changes during the day, you'll be bathed in the variety of colours that reflect off the diamond at the peak of the spire. A sunset visit to this iconic pagoda is not to be missed, the atmosphere never fails to enchant as the gilded stupa soaks up the fading rays of the sun. Venturing inside, you'll find a combination of peaceful Buddhist prayer and more noisy ceremonies.
History lovers should stay at The Governor’s Residence in Yangon – a delightful heritage hotel simply oozing colonial romance.
6. Mrauk U
Make like Indiana Jones and visit the unknown ruins of Mrauk U, located in an undiscovered corner of Burma. Travel by boat down the Kaladan River to this ancient site, where you can marvel at these mysterious ruins. Experience local village life surrounded by rounded hills and vegetable fields, broken by the giant structures of over 100 temples, monasteries and old city walls. This short interlude makes a perfect addition to many a Burma itinerary; it’s an easy add-on that’s well worth a few days of your time. You can enjoy a short stop at the port city of Sittwe en route too to soak up a beautiful sunset over the Bay of Bengal. Located at the very spot where the Kaladan River meets the Bay of Bengal, the wide water views from Sittwe are really quite stunning, especially at dusk.
7. Ngapali Beach
Ngapali is Burma at its most tranquil, boasting golden sandy beaches which dip down into the clear jade waters of the Bay of Bengal. While many beaches in South East Asia have been transformed into party capitals (such as Koh Phangan and the infamous Full Moon Party), Ngapali remains a quiet, unspoiled paradise. Relax in a luxury resort, cooling yourself with a fresh drink or a quick snorkel and filling yourself on fresh seafood whilst you bask in glorious sunsets. Swaying coconut palms provide much-needed shade and add to the exotic atmosphere of this paradise island. When you’ve had your fill of lying on the beach, journey out in a small boat to the nearby fishing villages and even try catching your dinner out in the bay.
Hidden away among the coconut palms on gorgeous Ngapali Beach, Amata Beach Resort is one of Burma’s most exclusive hotels.
This small settlement located in the northern jungle of Burma is a place to get away from reality. The frontier town of Putao is an adventurer’s dream, with its abundance of wildlife, dense forests, snow-capped mountains, local markets, remote tribal villages and great trekking territory. Spend a few days exploring the natural fauna and flora either by foot, bike or kayak. Go rafting down the Nam Lang River to the small hill tribe villages of Manchanbaw and Mulashidi, or head deep into the forested hills of the Namlang Valley. There is so much to do here, and you will leave feeling both physically exerted and relaxed from the fresh country air.
Thingyan is Burmese New Year and usually falls around mid-April, at the end of the hot, dry season. For this reason, it is celebrated with water, and lots of it! If you can coincide your trip with this, it is a fantastic spectacle that not everyone gets the chance to witness. This colourful water festival prides itself on being rather controversial and includes drinking, dancing, singing and satire theatre. Immerse yourself in the local culture as you join one of their favourite celebrations. You may have heard of Thailand’s New Year festival ‘Songkran'; the Burmese equivalent is lesser-known and more rough and ready, largely because the country is still somewhat more loyal to its traditions. This edgy Burmese festival is well worth a visit.
The Hotel by the Red Canal in Mandalay is a great place to soak up the festivities of Thingyan. You can relax in its tranquil garden setting without being far away from the New Year action!
10. Mt Kyaiktiyo
Mt Kyaiktiyo is a jungle covered mountain made famous by the sacred Golden Rock which sits at its top. Endure the sweltering walk to the summit in order to experience the magical atmosphere as pilgrims chant and meditate under the rock. Daytime visitors will be stunned by the beautiful scenery which stretches out below the rock, while at night the candles of pilgrims light up this spiritual stone giving it a really mystical air. The rock, which forms the base of one of Burma’s many gilded pagodas, is the main draw for a journey up to the top of this mountain, but even if you think you have had your fill of pagodas, summitting Mt Kyaiktiyo is a worthwhile endeavour for the stunning 360 panoramic views that you can take in from the top.