Magnificent temples abound in Burma, dotting the horizons of its verdant landscapes up and down the country. From the temple studded lands of Bagan to the glittering pagodas of Yangon, the holy sites of Burma are simply mind boggling both in size and beauty. Whilst stupas are solid temples, said to house remains of Buddhas or monks, Pagodas are open to enter for worship. Having evolved from the shape of a stupa, the two often look similar yet their significance is marked by their history.
Highlights of Burma
Once off limits to visitors, Myanmar has recently dusted off the cobwebs of its hidden past, opening its doors to reveal a country steeped in cultural splendour, natural wonder and historical intrigue. For us, Burma is the land of lotus flowers, horse drawn carts, traditional tea houses and an exquisitely leisurely pace of life; Burma is a land where a traditional way of life prevails. The landscape is a glittering exhibition of gilded pagodas, the culture is an intoxicating blend of influences from across Asia and its cities are abuzz with spiritualism.
We’ve compiled our favourite must-do experiences in Burma to squeeze into an adventure in Asia’s undiscovered gem.
Little over 13 miles long, Inle Lake is a vast and tranquil body of water, fringed by marshes and studded with stilted villages. Cruising its waters affords you a snapshot into rural life as you mosey past fishermen propelling their boats along with an extraordinary one-legged row. Stay awhile, visit the vine entangled Indein Temples which sit along its western banks or venture into the surrounding hills to encounter the myriad of ethnic groups at home there.
At the time it was built, the Gokteik Viaduct was the second highest railway bridge in the world. Spanning a 300m deep gorge, the track makes for a white-knuckle ride passing by some of the country’s most astounding scenery. Whilst the vertiginous route is perhaps not for the faint-hearted, the bridge connects the towns of Pyin Oo Lwin and Lashio, confirming it as a simply unforgettable way of getting from A to B.
Temples of Bagan
Think of Bagan and the iconic image of countless hot air balloons floating above its temple scattered scenery springs to mind. Framed by the languid Irrawaddy River, Bagan’s temples are an idyllic sight and arguably one of the world’s greatest archaeological spots. Dating back to somewhere between the 11th and 13th centuries, these ancient temples are perhaps the poster boy of Burma and simply unmissable on a trip to its shores.
With some 100 ethnic groups living in Myanmar, the country is a colourful patchwork of countless different influences. To discover a lesser trodden part of the country, head into the hills of the Shan state where you will some of the most fascinating peoples you can imagine. Uphill hikes are rewarded with picturesque scenery dotted with rural villages, picturesque rice paddies and rare flora and fauna. The chance to meet the Padaung people, and the tribe’s famed Long Necked Ladies allows you to really get under the skin of this enchanting destination.
For a heady dose of colonial-era architecture and tree lined avenues, head to Yangon. Rising above the city's skyline is the iconic 2,500 year old Shwedagon Paya, which can be seen glinting in all its golden splendour from miles around. Plated with a staggering 30 tonnes of gold, the 100m spire is crowned with a diamond studded peak which pierces the horizon of Yangon. Thought to house one of the Buddha's hairs, the pagoda is the most sacred site for Buddhists in Burma and many devotees visit the temple for peaceful prayer and ceremonies.
Mount Popa, a volcanic outcrop crowned with a gilded Buddhist temple, is famed for being home to numerous Burmese spirits, cementing its significance in Nat worship. From the base of the volcano, climb the 777 steps to the monastery at the top, Popa Taung Kalat, for panoramic views of the lush forests in the surrounding national park below.
U Bein Bridge
Situated a few kilometres to the south of Mandalay is the world’s longest teak footbridge, curving its way nearly two kilometres across Taungthaman Lake. At sunset, the bridge is at its most impressive and whilst this time of day inevitably draws the crowds, the reflection is well worth waiting for, living up to its reputation as one of Burma’s most photographed sites.
An important site for Burmese Buddhists, the Pindaya caves are one of the country’s most unique and unusual sights. Every nook and cranny of the cave network is adorned with Buddha images, numbering up to 9,000 in total. The images are carved, crafted and created in a number of different styles and bear the names of their benefactor, illuminating when and where they were made. Visiting the Pindaya Caves is bound to give you an invaluable insight into Buddhism in Burma and its age-old traditions.
Mount Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock)
The precariously balanced boulder atop Mount Kyaiktiyo is a gravity defying sight and its magic is perhaps best experienced between December and March when pilgrims arrive to chant, light candles, affix gold leaf and meditate. The gilded pagoda is said to house one of the Buddha’s hairs, confirming it as one of the most sacred sites in Burma. The views from the summit of the surrounding Mon state mountains are truly breath taking.
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 yet well worth a visit.
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