Steeped in colourful Buddhist tradition, enigmatic Myanmar is a must-see-now destination of gentle welcomes, golden temples, and entrancing river journeys. Myanmar is now the official name of the country most of us have known as Burma. Myanmar today offers a rich and varied travel experience that takes you back in time.
The previous government’s official policy of international isolation has left Myanmar relatively untainted by the excesses of modern living, and the country retains an aura of a bygone age. It has been subject to a long period of inaccessibility which in turn has left it relatively untouched by the outside world. As a consequence its landscapes, colourful cultures and strong beliefs all remain refreshingly unspoiled, as do the smiling faces and a wonderfully laid-back way of life.
In the country’s largest city of Yangon you can explore charming faded colonial architecture and the Sule Pagoda, which is according to legend over 2,500 years old. A visit to the bustling Bogyoke Aung San Market, where shoppers crowd an outdoor bazaar full of makeshift tents selling traditional clothing, antiques and other trinkets is always fun and you can have a good rummage and chat with the locals.
For more ancient architectural delights head to the 10th century city of Bagan. This is one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites, a real rival to Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat but, for now at least, without the visitors. Bagan is set on a fertile 26 square-mile plain, part-covered in strands of palm and tamarind caught in a bend of the lazy-flowing Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River and framed by the hazy silver-grey of distant mountains.
Here you can take a step back in time and marvel at the temples and pagodas peppered throughout the city. Some 2,230 of an original 4,450 temples survive, a legacy of the Buddhist belief that to build a temple was to earn merit. Most are superbly preserved or have been restored by Unesco, among others, and many contain frescoes and carvings and statues of Buddha, big and small.
Be sure to visit the Dhammayangyi pagoda, Bagan’s largest temple. For a sight beyond superlatives, climb to the top of a pagoda to watch sunset over the Ayeyarwady River where you can watch the sun sink into the pink sky from its grand summit.
For some peace and tranquillity head to Inle Lake and amble through its beautiful floating gardens, built up from strips of water hyacinth and mud and anchored to the bottom with bamboo poles. Here you can see floating tomato gardens, long-tailed boats where fishermen stand to row their delicate craft amongst lily-dappled water.
As a round off to the splendours and culture of Myanmar the idyllic palm-lined and dazzling white sands of Ngapali Beach are just the place to relax. The place preserves its fishing-village roots with small boats heading out day and night to catch a bounty that is later served up super fresh in restaurants and hotels. Ox-drawn carts amble along the beach as locals find the sand-ways a smoother ride than the rough one-lane road.
Keep in mind that the long-suffering people are everything the previous government regime were not. Gentle, humorous, engaging, considerate, inquisitive and passionate, they want to play a part in the world, and to know what you make of their world.
Myanmar offers a cherished change of pace. With so many must-sees and must-dos, Myanmar is top of many travel enthusiasts list, a destination too special to miss, an experience to plan for while Myanmar stands at its unspoilt best.