Myanmar, Asia

A magical destination, discover a land of breathtaking beauty and charm that is steeped in fascinating history and traditions.

With dream-like landscapes dotted with golden pagodas, tranquil temples, homecooked cuisine, heart warming villagers and long stretches of exotic white-sand beaches, Myanmar has it all.

In 2015, Myanmar voted in its first democratically elected government in more than half a century. Modern travel conveniences, such as mobilephone coverage and internet access, are now common.

Capital and major centres Former capital, Yangon is the country’s major city and gateway, it is a bustling and dynamic city undergoing rapid development with a fusion of contemporary and colonial style. Naypyitaw is the capital of Myanmar, north of Yangon.

Located on the banks of the Ayerwaddy River, Myanmar’s last royal city, Mandalay, evokes images of a romantic, bygone era with its royal palace and impressive moat sitting at the foot of a high, pagoda-topped hill. It is also a busting, economic centre and lies within easy striking distance of former colonial hill stations such as Pyin Oo Lwin which was originally a built by the British to escape the heat of lower Burma.

Further south, Kalaw was also founded as a hill station. The air is cool, the atmosphere is calm and the tree-lined streets with colonial-era architecture still evident. The surrounding hills are fine for relatively easy day or overnight treks to Danu, Danaw, Palaung, Pa-O and Taung Yo villages.

Southwest of Mandalay, Bagan is an ancient city standing on the eastern banks of the Ayeyarwady River. It’s known for the Bagan Archaeological Area, where more than 2,000 Buddhist monuments tower over green plains.

Southeastern Myanmar is a coastal stretch bordering Thailand with a vast number of offshore islands and beautiful beaches.

The people
With more than 130 distinct ethnic groups, Myanmar has a wealth of different cultures, each with its own set of traditions: from cuisine and dress to celebration, faith and occupation.

The dominant ethnic group in Myanmar is known as the Bamar, from which the original English name of the country, Burma, was derived. Myanmar is also home to ethnic Chinese and Indians whose ancestors migrated to Myanmar during the colonial period, most visible in the cities of Yangon and Mandalay

Myanmar remains at heart a rural nation of traditional values, its people are incredibly friendly and polite, and will do their best to make you feel welcome in their country.

You’ll encounter men wearing the sarong-like longyi and chewing betel nut, women with faces smeared in thanakha (a natural sunblock), and cheroot-smoking grannies. Trishaws still ply city streets, while the horse or bullock and cart is common rural transport. Drinking tea is enthusiastically embraced.

The sights
Experience the pulse of modern Burmese life in Yangon. A mix of British-colonial architecture, modern high-rises and gilded Buddhist pagodas define its skyline. The iconic Shwedagon Pagoda is a 98-metrehigh stupa, its golden glow can be seen throughout the city. Strand Road is a major road in downtown Yangon. It crosses the city in a west-east direction and runs parallel to the Yangon River and contains many important government buildings, including the Ministry of Trade building, court and the British embassy as well as the five-star Strand Hotel built in 1901.

Just east from Yangon in the heights of Mount Kyaiktiyo, is one of the most revered Buddhist relics in the nation. Kyaiktiyo is a small pagoda built on the top of a granite boulder covered with gold. This gravity-defying mass of granite can be found perched on a ledge, legend has it that it’s suspended by a single thread of Buddha’s own hair.

In the former royal capital, Mandalay, the restored Mandalay Palace is surrounded by a moat. Mandalay Hill provides views of the city from its summit, which can be reached by covered stairway. At its foot, the Kuthodaw Pagoda houses hundreds of Buddhist-scripture-inscribed marble slabs.

Shwenandaw Monastery, another Buddhist holy place at the foot of Mandalay Hill, is covered in teak carvings. The Mahamuni temple, to the southwest, is home to a revered gold-leaf Buddha statue. Amarapura, a township on Mandalay’s southern outskirts, is best known for the teakwood U Bein footbridge stretching across Taungthaman Lake, dating back to 1850, it is the oldest teakwood bridge in the world at 1,208 metres.

In the breathtaking ancient city of Bagan, more than 2,000 Buddhist monuments tower over green plains. Seeing Bagan by hot air balloon is becoming increasingly popular, and offers a truly unique view over this land of temples.

Kalaw has become one of the favourite destinations for trekkers and adventurers in the country’s eastern mountains. Visitors can enjoy the cool climate of the highlands, its quaint villages, laid-back guesthouses and excellent food markets.

A place where time has stood still, Inle Lake is scattered with stilted villages made of wood. The locals are known for their on-surface agricultural methods. Observe the local fishermen with their unique onelegged rowing technique, floating gardens, ethnic tribes, sunken pagodas and waterbound temples.

Sun-kissed beaches line the Bay of Bengal. Ngapali is among the most popular with its turquoise waves, huge palm trees and loungers dotting the sands. Plenty of tour organisers offer diving, snorkelling, water skiing, jet skiing, sea kayaking and more. Ngapali also has its own airport, making it one of the easier coastal spots to reach from Yangoon.

Where to stay
International standard hotels are available in Yangon and Mandalay. Ngapali is dotted with beach resorts and is growing in popularity as a beach destination in South East Asia. There is generally plenty of budget accommodation and the general increase in tourism in Myanmar has led to a boom in guesthouse accommodation.

Getting around
The main way to get around Myanmar is by air and bus. Routes such as Yangon to Mandalay and Yangon to Bagan have frequent, direct services. The number of direct flights between Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw is also increasing.

Travelling by bus is the simplest way to get around if you are on a budget, and is the only way to get to certain destinations unless you are prepared to pay for a private car. Bus routes are run by a variety of different private companies, and they serve most parts of Myanmar.

Railway journeys often afford scenic views. In upper class and overnight sleeper carriages, a sometimes more comfortable journey is possible than on buses. Public transport options can be both slow and unreliable but they give you a leisurely, fascinating, and often beautiful view of the country, allowing you to mix with locals while travelling, in a way that is not possible otherwise.

For more romantic and scenic means of travel, boats and luxury cruises connect some major destinations and allow visitors to get a real taste of life on the river; taking in sunsets over stupa-lined river banks. The most popular routes follow the Ayeyarwady River.

Food and entertainment
Myanmar’s food has a special identity beloved by locals and busy city streets are lined with food vendors at all times of day. Influenced by its Thai, Indian and Chinese neighbours, a typical meal is arranged around rice with accompanying dishes of fish or meat cooked in onion and garlic-based gravy. Soup is sipped during the meal to cleanse the palate. Salads are a popular side dish and some, such as the pickled tea leaf salad called lahpet, are eaten as snacks. Mohinga, a thick fish broth with thin rice noodles, is arguably Myanmar’s most famous national dish and is typically eaten for breakfast. Another delicious choice is the popular ohno kaukswe, a coconut-based chicken soup with noodles.

Tea is a staple drink in Myanmar, and teashops are great for starting your day with a strong drink. Tea is typically served hot and with sweet, condensed milk added to cut its strong natural earthiness.

Sweets are quite simple and consist of coconut, tapioca, rice flour, and fruit. Favorites include iced coconut milk with tapioca, and Mont Lone Ye Baw, which are rice dumplings stuffed with sugar and topped with shredded coconut.

Climate
Myanmar is considered to have three seasons. The hot season is usually from March-April, and temperatures then cool off during the rainy season from May-October. The peak tourism season is the cool season from November-February. Temperatures can climb as high as 40°C in Yangon in the hot season while in the cool season, noontime temperatures are usually a more bearable 32°C, with night temperatures falling to around 19°C. Mandalay is slightly cooler in the cool season, with temperatures falling as low as 13°C, while temperatures in the hot season can go as high as 37°C. Generally, Lower Myanmar, the area around Yangon, receives more rainfall than the drier Upper Myanmar (around Mandalay).

In the highlands in Inle Lake and Pyin U Lwin, winter temperatures can fall below 10°C at night, while daytime
temperatures tend to be very pleasant. Even in the summer, temperatures rarely climb above 32°C.

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