Amarapura, the “City of Immortality”, was briefly one of Myanmar's former royal capitals. Visit Amarapura to see Mahagandayon Monastery, home to more than a thousand young monks who undergo rigorous religious study. U Bein Bridge, the longest teakwood bridge in the world built from the columns of a former palace, spans 1.2 km across the shallow Taungthaman Lake. A central part of the community, U Bein Bridge is best viewed at sunset, when hundreds of monks and locals cross over it as the day ends. Alternatively, you can go for a boat ride on the lake to see the bridge up close.
Bago, a capital of the ancient Mon kingdom that became a major seaport, features colorful markets and beautiful religious sites. The local Shwemawdaw Pagoda, the tallest in the country, consists of a 114-meter tall golden spire. Bago is also home to the 55-meter long Shwe Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha, which is recognized as one of the country's most extraordinary religious images. You can also visit Hin Thar Kone Pagoda, which is a major site for Nat (spirit) worship featuring a fantastic viewing platform, as well as the recently renovated Mahazedi Pagoda.
Ava, also known as Inwa, was the standing capital of various kingdoms from the 14th through 18th century. Cross the river by ferry and travel in a traditional horse and carriage to the wooden Bagaya Monastery, renowned for its extraordinarily elaborate woodcarvings. Also be sure to check out the Nanmyint Watch Tower (the "Leaning Tower of Ava“), one of the last remaining structures of the old royal palace, and Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery.
The village of Indein, home to many Pa-Oh people, rests along the shores of Inle Lake. Travel up the picturesque Inn Thein canal (unavailable in the summer) to see the markets and pagodas of Indein. Be sure to make it to the most famous site in Indein, the Shwe Indein. The complex offers amazing views of the lake and features hundreds of small stone stupas overrun by jungle greenery as well as an iconic Buddha image.
Halfway in between a fishing village and resort paradise, Ngapali Beach is one of Myanmar's most acclaimed coastal destinations, named after the Italian city of Naples. Despite the increasing tourism, the beach still retains a relaxed atmosphere unlike the other more rambunctious beaches of Southeast Asia. Options range from lavish Western-style resorts to local budget accommodations. Go for a swim, cruise on a boat, or try some of the fresh local seafood. November to March is the peak season for visitors, as the rainy season lasts from May to October.
River Cruise from Mandalay to Bagan
Travel between two major cities in style with a full day boat ride down the Irrawaddy River. After embarking from Mandalay, you will pass by the temples and hills of Sagaing before shoreside villages come into view. Get a glimpse into local life, as children play in the water and fishermen cast their nets for the day's catch. In the late afternoon, Bagan will appear in the distance. As you arrive, Bagan's 2,200 pagodas and temples will slowly reveal themselves, making for an unforgettable sight.