25 Best Myanmar Destinations & Things to Do
Formerly known as Burma, the peaceful Buddhist nation of Myanmar is one of Southeast Asia's most up-and-coming tourist destinations. The beautiful country has only been open to tourists since 2012, and because of this, even most of the biggest attractions still have a magical, undiscovered feel. Despite the country's turbulent political history, it remains a safe and welcoming place for foreigners, and the friendliness of its people is almost unmatched anywhere else. You'll want to get to Myanmar while it's still relatively unchanged by tourism, so here are the 25 best things to include on your itinerary. Photo: Olga Khoroshunova/Fotolia
Approximately 5 1/2 miles outside of Pyin Oo Lwin, Anisakan Falls is the name given to the series of waterfalls inside the forested amphitheater next to Anisakan village. The most impressive of these is Dat Taw Gyaik, a tiered 393-foot-tall cascade with a small pagoda at the bottom. The falls are at their most beautiful during the rainy season, and it's best to go during the early morning or the late evening to avoid hiking in the heat of the day. For those who want a great view from the top, a luxurious resort and restaurant sits overlooking the falls.
Photo: Galyna Andrushko/Fotolia
Bagan was made up of more than 10,000 temples and pagodas when it was at its peak in the 12th century, and although many of the structures have been destroyed over the years, more than 2,000 are still standing. The site encompasses more than 16 square miles; it can be toured by foot, bicycle, electric motorbike, or horse and carriage, but the most exciting way to view the temples is by hot air balloon. Every temple in Bagan is considered sacred, and visitors should be careful to cover their knees and shoulders as a sign of respect.
»U Bein Bridge
Stretching 3/4 of a mile across the shallow Taungthaman Lake, the U Bein Bridge is the oldest and longest teak footbridge in the world. In 1857, Myanmar's capital was moved from Amarapura to Mandalay, and an elegant teak palace was left behind. Rather than allow the wood to go to waste, the mayor ordered that it be used to create this beautiful bridge. The bridge is most photogenic at sunset, and although there is plenty of seating on the beach, the best vantage points are found by hiring a boat to take you out onto the lake.
»Hlawga National Park
Encompassing 1,540 acres, the Hlawga National Park was established in 1982 to provide a natural habitat for indigenous Burmese wildlife. A beautiful lake sits at the center of the park, and the rest of the area is primarily made up of marshland, semi-evergreen forest, and deciduous forests. There are plenty of picnic sites for relaxing in, and visitors can also take a safari-style bus ride through the park, go boating on the lake, stroll along the walking paths, or take an elephant ride. Another feature of the park is a mini-zoo, which houses Asiatic black bears, crocodiles, leopards, and other animals.
Founded in 1365, the city of Inwa was the Burmese capital for more than 350 years between the 14th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately, the beautiful imperial city was abandoned in 1839 after being destroyed by a series of terrible earthquakes. Today, the ruined city is a fascinating place to explore; highlights include the Bagaya Kyaung Monastery, the yellow Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery, and the Buddha statue inside the Yadana Sinme Pagoda. Visitors are free to explore the area on foot or by bicycle, but the site is quite large. There are plenty of local guides offering tours by horse and cart.
The largest lake in Yangon, Inya Lake was created in 1882 as a water reservoir for the city. The waterfront is now one of the most exclusive areas to live in the city; the most famous home here belongs to Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent many years here under house arrest. Recreational activities here include swimming, sailing, and playing golf; a driving range sits on the east side of the lake. There are also plenty of places to enjoy a meal or a drink, including the Yangon Sailing Club, which offers stunning sunset views of the lake.
Sometimes known as Royal Lake, Kandawgyi Lake is another reservoir constructed during colonial times. The lake is surrounded by a beautiful park with plenty of well-maintained grassy spots and walking paths, and there is a charming boardwalk running along the southern and western sides of the lake. An admission fee is charged for the east side of the park, which offers a children's playground, plenty of lakeside cafes and restaurants, and the Karaweik, a beautiful reproduction of a royal barge. The Shwedagon Pagoda is less than half a mile away from the park, and its reflection can be seen in the lake from many angles.
Sitting at the foot of Mandalay Hill, Kuthodaw Pagoda was built in 1857. The exterior of the pagoda is completely covered in gold, but the temple's most impressive feature is its series of 729 marble slabs. Known as the world's largest book, the slabs are covered with the teachings of the ancient Buddha. The tablets were formerly decorated with golden ink and precious gemstones, but they were stripped of their treasures when the British invaded and have since been redone in black ink. The pagoda is open every day between 8 am and 8 pm, and there is a fee for admission.
Perched on top of a giant golden boulder that teeters precariously on the edge of a cliff, Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is one of Myanmar's most important pilgrimage sites. According to ancient legend, the temple houses a strand of the Buddha's hair that was given to a hermit by the Buddha himself. The boulder is 25 feet high and 50 feet around, and the pagoda's spire is an additional 24 feet in height. The best time to visit the site is during the pilgrimage season from November to March, when visiting pilgrims chant, meditate, and burn more than 90,000 candles all throughout the night.
The 760-foot Mandalay Hill is one of Mandalay's biggest landmarks, and it offers excellent views of the city as well as a variety of beautiful pagodas and monasteries. Four different staircases lead to the top; the climb takes most visitors at least 30 minutes regardless of which staircase they choose, but you should allow more time if you'd like to stop along the way to admire the various temples and other sites. The view from the top is especially beautiful at sunset, and foreigners who visit during this time will likely meet many young monks looking to practice their English.
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Although construction of the Mingun Pahtodawgyi was never completed, the structure holds the honor of being the largest pile of bricks in the world. It was meant to be a 500-foot-tall stupa, a structure that would have rivaled the Great Pyramid of Giza in size, but the construction of the pagoda stopped after the death of King Bodawpaya in 1819. The unfinished pagoda now stands 50 feet tall, and a recently-built staircase allows visitors to climb right to the top. Another highlight of the site is a giant 12-foot bell, which can be rung only by striking the exterior.
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Situated roughly halfway between Mandalay and Bagan, Monywa is a bustling trade center on the Chindwin river. Two large pagodas are located in the center of the city, and there are several more notable temples located several miles outside of the city. Other points of interest in the city and the surrounding area include the bustling markets, the riverside park, and the Phowintaung and Shwebataung Caves. Most people stop in Monywa on their way between Mandalay and Bagan, but it's also an ideal starting point for anyone interested in taking a boat down the river to the villages in the north.
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Officially known as the Thanboddhay Pagoda, the Monywa Temple is one of the most beautiful and colorful temples in the country. The walls and pillars are decorated with more than 580,000 images of the Buddha, and two elegant white elephants stand guard at the front door. The pagoda was first built in the 14th century, but the version that stands now was reconstructed in 1939. Several other buildings occupy the grounds here as well, including a large prayer hall, a watchtower with a spiral staircase around the exterior, and a large number of small, colorful stupas.
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»National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens
Created in the early 1900s, the National Kandawgyi Gardens encompass 435 acres in Pyin Oo Lwin and are home to more 480 species of flowers, trees, and other plants. A beautiful lake sits in the center of the park, and the 12-story Nan Myint Tower offers excellent panoramic views from both its observation deck and its exterior staircase. The only way to get around the park is by foot, and most visitors take around two hours to explore it properly. An admission fee is charged to enter the park, and it includes access to a swimming pool, butterfly museum, and bird enclosure.
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Tucked up against the sparking blue waters of the Bengal Bay, Ngapali is one of the best beach destinations in Myanmar. The sandy white beaches are perfect for relaxing and paddling around in the water, but visitors looking for something more adventurous can surf, kayak, or go for a scenic hot air balloon ride. The seafood is easily the culinary highlight of the area; the best place to enjoy it is at one of the charming waterfront restaurants on the main beach. Visitors should note that most of the hotels and resorts are closed during the low season between May and October.
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Known for its peaceful white sand beach, the resort area of Ngwe Saung is only five hours away from Yangon by bus or by car. A good range of accommodation is available here, and there are also plenty of excellent seafood restaurants. Most visitors come here to relax and sunbathe, but other possible activities include snorkeling in the colorful coral reefs and hiring a boat and a guide to take you around the many small islands in the area. A small village sits at the north end of the beach; this is where most of the restaurants and souvenir shops are located.
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»Giant Buddha Of Mudon
Reclining Buddha statues can be found almost everywhere in Myanmar, but the Giant Buddha of Mudon (also known as Win Sein Taw Ya) holds the honor of being the largest freestanding reclining Buddha in the entire world. The statue is 98 feet long and 590 feet high, and the interior is made up of rooms that house various sculptures and dioramas depicting the life of the Buddha and the principal teachings of Buddhism. The statue is still very much a work in progress, and a second giant Buddha statue is now being built opposite the original statue.
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Named after the giant spider that guards its entrance, Pindaya Cave is a natural rock cave filled with thousands of golden Buddhas. The cave is home to Buddha statues that date back to as early as 1750; these statues depict the Buddha in almost every traditional pose, as well as some that have never been found anywhere else. Many of these statues sit on the cave's natural rock shelves, while others adorn the altars that have been carefully fashioned from stalagmites. The cave extends approximately 500 feet into the mountain, and it can only be accessed through the Shwe U Min Pagoda.
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»Sacred Mt Popa
Sometimes referred to as Myanmar's Mount Olympus, Mount Popa is a 2,500-foot mountain that has a monastery perched on the top. The monastery was founded by a hermit in the early 20th century, and it is now inhabited by several friendly but curious troops of monkeys. The adjoining shrine is believed to be home to 37 human spirits belonging to people who suffered tragic deaths; in the country's Buddhist traditions, these spirits are known as Nats. Visitors must climb 777 steps to reach the top of the mountain, and full moon celebrations are held twice every year.
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Decorated with hundreds of tiny golden Buddha statues, Saddar Cave is a true natural wonder and one of the most significant Buddhist sites in the Zwegabin mountains of Karen State. The entrance to the cave sits at the top of a steep white staircase, and from here, a small path leads visitors past a small pagoda and into the darkness of the cave. The path ends at a lagoon, where guides with canoes will be waiting to take you out of the cave and into a section of open water where you can watch local fishermen at work.
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»Shwe Indein Pagoda
Five miles away from Inle Lake, the Shwei Indein Pagoda is a fascinating complex made up of more than 1,600 ancient Buddhist stupas. Most of the structures date from between the 14th and the 18th centuries, and they're made of everything from mud to stone to precious metals. Some of the structures have recently been restored, but many others are falling apart and hidden by the greenery of the jungle. The site is only accessible by boat, and visitors must go during the rainy season as the water levels in the canals are too low during the rest of the year.
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Soaring high above the city of Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda is one of Myanmar's most impressive landmarks. The exterior of the temple is almost entirely coated in gold plates, and the very tip of the pagoda is decorated with real rubies and diamonds. Legend holds that the building is approximately 2,600 years old, and that it is home to hairs taken from the head of the Buddha. The pagoda is open every day between 4 am and 10 pm, and admission tickets are valid for multiple visits throughout the course of a day. Guided tours can be arranged for an additional fee.
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»Shwenandaw Kyaung Temple
Originally part of the king's living quarters in the royal palace complex in the former capital of Amarapura, the Shwenandaw Kyaung Temple holds more historical significance than any other building in Mandalay. Not only is it an excellent example of Burmese teak architecture during the 19th century, but it is also the final resting place of King Mindon, who died inside its walls in 1878. After the king's death, his son ordered the building to be dismantled, sent to Mandalay, and reconstructed as a monastery. The rest of the Royal Palace was burned during WWII, and the monastery is now the only surviving piece.
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Believed to date back to 994, the Shwethalyaung Buddha of Bago is the second-largest reclining Buddha in the world. Now located in the city of Bago, the statue measures 180 feet in length and 52 feet in height. The Buddha was lost in 1757, after the city was pillaged, and it wasn't rediscovered until 1880 when a British railway engineer stumbled across it in the middle of the jungle. The statue was in quite poor shape when it was rediscovered, and restoration began the following year. Several giant mosaic pillows were added in 1930, and the Buddha is now kept inside a large shed.
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»Yangon Zoological Gardens
Established in 1901, the Yangon Zoological Gardens is the oldest and second-largest zoo in Myanmar. Encompassing roughly 70 acres, the zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals belonging to over 150 species, including tigers, Burmese large tortoises, and marsh crocodiles. Other interesting features of the park include a natural history museum, an aquarium, and a small amusement park aimed at children and teenagers. The gardens are open every day between 8 am and 6 pm, and snake dances, elephant circus acts, and other animal performances are held to entertain visitors on weekends and public holidays.
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25 Best Myanmar Destinations & Things to Do
- Anisakan Falls, Photo: Courtesy of Galyna Andrushko - Fotolia.com
- Bagan, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- U Bein Bridge, Photo: Courtesy of Sasint - Fotolia.com
- Hlawga National Park, Photo: Courtesy of macau - Fotolia.com
- Inwa, Photo: Courtesy of skazzjy - Fotolia.com
- Inya Lake, Photo: Courtesy of AungMyintMyat - Fotolia.com
- Kandawgyi Lake, Photo: Courtesy of f9photos - Fotolia.com
- Kuthodaw Pagoda, Photo: Courtesy of Fyle - Fotolia.com
- Kyaiktiyo, Photo: Courtesy of pino4003 - Fotolia.com
- Mandalay Hill, Photo: Courtesy of PerfectLazybones - Fotolia.com
- Mingun, Photo: Courtesy of minghaiyang - Fotolia.com
- Monywa, Photo: Courtesy of Alexander - Fotolia.com
- Monywa Temple, Photo: Courtesy of 12ee12 - Fotolia.com
- National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of Richie Chan - Fotolia.com
- Ngapali, Photo: Courtesy of Fyle - Fotolia.com
- Ngwe Saung, Photo: Courtesy of Gargonia - Fotolia.com
- Giant Buddha Of Mudon, Photo: Courtesy of R.M. Nunes - Fotolia.com
- Pindaya Cave, Photo: Courtesy of kasto - Fotolia.com
- Sacred Mt Popa, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- Saddar Cave, Photo: Courtesy of Valery Shanin - Fotolia.com
- Shwe Indein Pagoda, Photo: Courtesy of gagarych - Fotolia.com
- Shwedagon Pagoda, Photo: Courtesy of rudiernst - Fotolia.com
- Shwenandaw Kyaung Temple, Photo: Courtesy of happystock - Fotolia.com
- Shwethalyaung Buddha, Photo: Courtesy of Valery Shanin - Fotolia.com
- Yangon Zoological Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of AungMyintMyat - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Olga Khoroshunova - Fotolia.com
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