A list of the top 10 things to do in Myanmar, from cycling around Bagan, the world’s largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, to visiting Taung Kalat, the surreal Buddhist monastery on Mount Popa.
Top 10 things to do in Myanmar
1. Bagan: Founded in the second century AD, the kingdom of Bagan once had over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries, all constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries. The area has suffered many earthquakes over the ages, the most recent of which in 2016 destroyed over 400 buildings and damaged hundreds more. Today, the remains of ‘only’ 2,000 temples and pagodas can still be seen. We recommend hiring a bike and cycling around Bagan.
2. Inle Lake: The variety of things to do on Inle Lake provides a different look at life in Myanmar. There are stupas and monasteries (naturally), but also extraordinary locals that provided a tiny slice of life on the lake. The locals, In-Thars, live in bamboo stilt houses and grow vegetables on floating islands. These floating islands can be cut, rearranged and moved by boats and even sold like a piece of land.
3. Shwe U Min Natural Cave Pagoda of Pindaya: The Shwe U Min Natural Cave Pagoda of Pindaya was one of the most bizarre experiences of our trip to Myanmar. The cave complex is filled with over 8,000 statues of the Buddha (often referred to as ‘images’). There is nowhere in Myanmar which displays such a range of style, not only in the images, but also in the ornamental thrones and reredos – or altarpieces – that surround the Buddha images.
4. Yazakyi Monastery: 600m (1,970ft) above the town of Pindaya is the small Yazakyi Monastery, nestled in the highlands and forests surrounding Pindaya. The hike up to the monastery is relatively easy 10km (6mi) and passes through pretty viewpoints and a few small villages. At the monastery expect to be mobbed by local Palaung children keen to play football with westerners. Hikers usually stay overnight on the floor of the monastery before continuing down in the morning.
5. Taung Kalat and Mount Popa: Taung Kalat (pedestal hill) rises 657m (2,156ft) above sea level, where a Buddhist monastery is located at the summit. The Buddhist hermit U Khandi used to maintain the stairway of 777 steps to the summit until his death in 1949. the best views of the surreal Buddhist monastery can be seen at sunset from Mount Popa Resort on the opposite side of the valley in Popa Mountain National Park.
6. Shwedagon Paya: Believed to enshrine eight hairs of Gautama Buddha, the glinting pagoda in Yangon is one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites. We arrived in the afternoon sun with locals busy praying and tourists busy milling. We spent a couple of hours people-watching though it was a bit tricky finding somewhere to sit as you’re not supposed to turn your back to a buddha statue… and there were a lot of them around!
7. Myeik Archipelago: The Myeik Archipelago (also known as the Mergui Archipelago) is located off the Tanintharyi coast in the south of Myanmar. Almost all of the tiny and idyllic islands here are uninhabited which makes visiting challenging, but all the more rewarding. The diving here is some of the finest in the world and relatively untapped. Currently, there is very little development, but that is likely to change as Myanmar gears itself up for more tourists to the area.
8. U-Bein Bridge in Amarapura: The 1.2km wooden bridge spans Taungthaman Lake and is the oldest and longest teak bridge in the world. During the dry season which was when this shot was taken, the bridge is surreally high and a little unnecessary! It mostly crosses seasonal vegetable gardens and crops. But after the summer rains, the area becomes a large lake and water laps just below the floor planks of the bridge.
9. Trekking in Hsipaw: Hsipaw, in Shan State, is a small hill town with just enough development to support the growing number of tourists visiting the area. The hill trekking here is delightful but must be arranged with local guides as they will be attuned to the local conditions. Rebels still operate in the area so it is essential to check travel advice before visiting and heed warning from locals wile there.
10. Mawlamyine: Mawlamyine is the fourth largest city in Myanmar, and with the Thanlwin River on one side and a ridge of stupa-topped hills on one side it makes for a beautiful location. The city centre is a mix of slowly crumbling colonial-era buildings, churches and mosques. It makes for a city well worth exploring.
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