One could spend a lifetime exploring Myanmar and still not see all that it has to offer. First-time visitors usually stick to the ‘big four’ destinations: Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake. These sites offer an array of experiences for travelers and showcase the diversity of Myanmar’s landscapes.
Yangon is the logical starting point for most travelers, thanks to its ever-expanding list of international flight options. The city boasts an intoxicating mix of cultures — a walk through downtown unveils Chinese, Indian and Myanmar neighborhoods, as well as a diverse mix of religious and historic sites. See fading colonial buildings, a reminder of the era of British rule and modern structures, a sign of the country’s recent ‘opening up’. Of course, no visit to Yangon would be complete without a visit to Shwedagon pagoda, the country’s holiest site.
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Next up is Bagan, one of Asia’s most impressive archeological sites. Be awestruck by the two-thousand ancient monuments that dot the town’s arid plains. Visitors can explore by car, bike, horse cart or hot-air balloon, each offering a unique perspective of the remarkable structures. Bagan stands on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, Myanmar’s largest and most important waterway, and a sunset boat trip is the perfect way to cap off a day of temple touring.
Myanmar’s second largest city, Mandalay, is located just north of Bagan. Despite its close proximity, the two destinations feel worlds apart. Mandalay is a thriving trade centre, thanks to its positioning between China and India, and the city is a hive of marketplaces and businesses. At its centre stands the Royal Palace, an imposing relic from Mandalay’s past life as the royal capital. Surrounding the city like Inwa and Amarapura, two charming former capitals, and Sagaing and Mingun, sleepy riverside towns filled with religious buildings and historic monuments.
Having experienced Myanmar’s spiritual and historic side, Inle Lake serves up a healthy dose of relaxation and nature. Nestled in the Shan Hills, this natural lake boasts spectacular scenery and showcases the remarkable culture of the Inthar people, the lake’s indigenous group.
If that’s not enough, Myanmar offers plenty of other options for the intrepid traveler. There are mountains galore for trekkers, over 130 distinct ethnic groups for the culturally-curious, and tropical beaches those seeking relaxation.