Updated: Oct 5
Guest post by Hannah Copsey
Myanmar (also known as Burma) is not considered your typical tourist destination, despite being home to some of South-east Asia’s most intriguing buildings and natural landscapes. Over the past decade, the tourism industry in Myanmar has transformed, with more and more people visiting the country each year. Here we take a look at some of the best activities you can do to make the most of your trip.
Visit the Shwedagon Pagoda
Religion is deeply rooted within Burmese culture, with the vast majority of the population practising Buddhism on a regular basis. It’s therefore no surprise that lots of Myanmar’s main selling points include religious temples and buildings. Based in Myanmar’s most populous city Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist Pagoda in Myanmar, standing at 112m tall and thought to contain remains of the four previous Buddhas of the current kalpa – (an extensive period of time in Buddhist religion). Whilst the Shwedagon Pagoda welcomes tourists, it’s important to adhere to traditional customs such as removing shoes and socks, as well as covering above the knees before entering. With this in mind, it may be best to visit during the later hours of the day to avoid the soles of your feet overheating in the scorching sun!
Explore the city of Bagan
Bagan is a city in the upper part of Myanmar and showcases some of the rich Burmese history. The city is a UNESCO world heritage site formerly home to around 9000 pagodas and religious temples, only around 3000 of which remain today. One of the wonderful things is that pagodas vary in size, shape and colour across the whole of Myanmar and it’s not as if once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Many of the pagodas in Bagan are surrounded by open green plains and mountains so it’s also a really great place to watch the sun set whilst being surrounded by some of Myanmar’s most impressive landmarks.
Take a boat trip to the Reclining Buddha
The reclining Buddha can be found on the Pataw Padet island, opposite the harbour of Myeik in the South of Burma, and it is a must see for all first-time visitors. Getting onto the island is a great experience in itself as it requires taking a short boat trip from the harbour up to the island. Upon arriving, the golden reclining Buddha is 66m long making it the third longest reclining Buddha in Myanmar. This destination is also perfect for those who enjoy hiking and taking in views across the sea, as the island is named after two hills which you can walk up at each end of the island, to look over the whole of the city.
Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar after Yangon, and also very close to the city of Bagan. It is the former royal capital of Myanmar and you can visit the Mandalay palace grounds to see the last royal palace of the Burmese monarchy. Mandalay is also home to the Shwe In Bin Kyaung, one of the most unique monasteries in the area, as well as Yankin hill, a temple on top a hill that overlooks the whole of Mandalay. As well as lots of cultural sites, it’s worth noting that many cities across Myanmar are also home to markets and food stalls where you can explore the amazing delicacies that Myanmar has to offer.
Experience Thingyan – The Burmese New Year Festival!
Finally, we have Thingyan, which isn’t something you can experience all year round but it’s worth trying to book a trip that coincides with the Burmese new year as Thingyan is an experience like no other. For around four days during the middle of April, the Burmese community parade the streets with live music, dancing, and a lot of water fighting to celebrate the Burmese new year. It is virtually impossible to go anywhere in Myanmar during this time without getting water thrown at you by passers-by, and your chances of avoiding a splash are even slimmer as a tourist! This sort of tradition is only particularly common between South Asian countries, so it really is a unique experience and allows you to interact with locals and fully immerse yourself in Burmese culture.
Despite not being your classic tourist destination, Myanmar is definitely a place to consider for your next visit away. I loved everything about my trip there last year, from the food and the scenery, to the architecture and the local community. It was completely different to any trip I’d been on before and the people of Burma welcome tourists with open arms. If you ever have the chance to go, I would definitely recommend taking the opportunity.