10 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Myanmar
At Myanmar's southernmost tip, on the border with Thailand, Myanmar's coastline is punctuated by long swaths of white-sand beaches backed by steep green hillsides. To the east are the sprawling national parks of Moken. But the country's real attraction lies in its expansive cultural and natural heritage.
In Myanmar's big cities you'll encounter the classic Southeast Asian mix of ramshackle roads, bulbous traffic signs, and brightly lit mosques. The Shwedagon Pagoda is the grand finale of a tour through Yangon. In places like Inle Lake, tourists are lucky to glimpse the minorities who make up two-thirds of the population and who have, for centuries, largely remained isolated from the outside world.
As Myanmar's unique nature gives way to cities, the country's still largely Buddhist culture takes center stage. The people here are friendly and hospitable, and they're known for their beautiful smiles and their welcoming and respectful attitude toward visitors.
This island nation offers some top sights that are both beautiful and off-the-beaten path. Plan your itinerary with our list of the top attractions in Myanmar.
Bagan, on the northern bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River in Myanmar's beautiful Irrawaddy delta, was a major town during the era of the Mon-ruled Ayutthaya kingdom in the 15th century. Some of its most prominent buildings were constructed during this period. Bagan's most well-known temples are the Mahamuni (Sacred Tooth) and the Shwesandaw, but its other historical and cultural sites include a reconstructed city wall and the surrounding park and lake. Bagan is also a popular destination for local Burmese people and foreigners alike. On the southern edge of the city stands the tiny village of U Bein, one of the oldest settlements in Myanmar, where you will find a series of traditional homes. Bagan's main attraction is its stupa-packed plain dotted with temples, monuments and ruins, and it's the largest and best preserved example of them all. There are also beautiful hiking trails in the area, including to nearby, water-filled villages.
Mandalay is famed as Myanmar's number one tourist destination. Home to four of the country's highest peaks and to numerous wonderful and unique temples, the city center offers something for everyone and a great chance to immerse yourself in Burmese culture. Mandalay is set on the Irrawaddy River and surrounded by lush rice terraces, which provides a unique sight to visitors. Mandalay is also an ideal base to explore the other towns in the province, which include Bagan, Inle, and Pyin Oo Lwin. The main sights include the city's great museums, which are full of incredible treasures. But Mandalay is also great for people-watching and relaxation. A number of wonderful cafés line Theinni Road and the surrounding streets, where visitors can drink tea or coffee and watch the locals go about their daily lives. The abundance of temples and religious architecture means that you can visit Mandalay for hours, and the markets are a great place to stock up on souvenirs or just spend some time browsing.
Built in the 5th century AD, Shwedagon Pagoda is Myanmar's most important Buddhist temple. Its name is actually a corruption of the Pali term dhammakathika, meaning 'The Lady of the Terrace', as the structure, like those in Pagan (Bagan), resembles a pyramid on a terrace. During construction, stone was loaded onto the terrace to keep it perfectly level. Today, it's a popular pilgrimage site, and at sunset (between June to October), pilgrims flock to the pagoda to light incense, making for a mesmerizing site. The whole of the Bagan area has a myriad of Buddhist temples and shrines, each more than a thousand years old. The U Bein Bridge, built in 1732, is the longest and largest structure in the region, and stands on top of a 30-meter-high stone platform that's over three times as high as the bridge itself. The temples of the day (the Myanmar Pyae dynasty) were also very ambitious and many are stylistically quite different from those of the same name in Pagan.
Yangon is Myanmar's bustling capital city and the nation's political and economic center. Surrounded by teak forests and an artificial lake, the city skyline is dominated by oversize skyscrapers, many of which have been converted into luxury hotels and boutique hostels. The city is filled with crowded market stalls, foreign vendors, touts, and noisy streets. In spite of the traffic and crowds, Yangon's golden colonial buildings, in particular those in Shwedagon and Mahamuni Parks, have a period feel that's a far cry from modern Yangon. The best places to begin a visit are the fascinating Shwedagon Pagoda and Bogyoke Aung San Museum, both of which are found in Yangon's most prominent park, Shwedagon.
Inle Lake is famous for its many colors, which include green, white, red, pink and blue. It is considered to be the world's largest freshwater lake, at 310 square kilometers, but it is dwarfed by the enormous Mae Nam Do River. Because of the water levels, the lake can only be seen when there is enough water, otherwise it is covered with dried-up salt flats. Before visiting Inle Lake, it is wise to be checked by a local guide to ensure you do not enter the area at the wrong time. If you are lucky, you will get a visit to the nearby famous monasteries of Inwa and Seikuchu, home to some of Myanmar's highest shrines. If not, you will be back on the bus to Mandalay in no time!
Part of the world's last truly untouched wilderness, the Rakhine state borders Bangladesh and China. A visit here makes you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, but is also completely accessible from major cities in the region. Although it is much safer than formerly, travelers should be wary of the extent of human rights violations in the state. Bago is one of the main cities, with a particularly harmonious mixture of the ancient and the modern, highlighted by the excellent local architecture, clean streets, and numerous museums. Myanmar's two capital cities, Yangon and Naypyidaw, are well worth a visit, as they provide a taste of the country's disparate, and thoroughly enjoyable, regions. As for finding a hotel in Bago, keep in mind that English is not commonly spoken and that international phones are only found at some of the top-end hotels, though internet access is available at most hotels and cafés. The government still restricts cell phone usage for security reasons, so it is better to carry your own international phone.
Hsipaw is a small, quiet town of stilt houses on a mudflat. Many Burmese travel to Hsipaw to see the seasonal migrations of an astonishing variety of water birds. Birds can be seen at many points along the shores of the Irrawaddy River. It is estimated that there are more than 170 species of birds within the limits of Hsipaw. But among the numbers are eagles, storks, ducks, egrets, herons, lapwings, martins, pelicans, spoonbills, sandpipers and swans. There are many night tours that are offered in Hsipaw where you can see a variety of birds at night and be taken along the river and canals.
A highlight of the cultural tour of Myanmar, Hpa-an is famed for its ancient pagodas and temples. The village of Hpa-an, with its four important pagodas and several other impressive monuments, is less than an hour's drive from Mandalay. Built by the Ming dynasty, the Wat Yai Si was the largest of the Ming pagodas in the country and built in the late 16th century. A rare large pagoda, with a 25-meter-high bell-shaped structure, it's named after an elephant that once existed in the village. Also near Hpa-an is the temple of Hpakan, founded in the 13th century by the King of Burma. The temple was relocated in the 1960s to the foot of a hill and expanded. It's famous for its four three-storied pagodas and a three-story bell tower. One of the largest temples in Hpa-an, Wat Neik-Oo is dedicated to the Bagan, and to the 12 main protectors of the people. Most of the temple was destroyed in 2001, when cyclones destroyed around 30 of the 40 remaining pagodas.
This pagoda was erected in the 14th century AD to honor King Bayinnaung, who was born in this region. Its name was changed during the reign of King Razadarit, to Kyaiktiyo, meaning "House of the Spreading Leg" in reference to the long legs of the Buddha, who reached the "heavenly state". Built on a hill on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, this temple is surrounded by a tranquil garden. Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is located 10 km south of Bago, and about 4 km from the airport.
Shwezigon Pagoda, in the old capital of Mandalay, is Myanmar's tallest wooden pagoda. Its 10,600 wooden steps are built on a 2.5-meter-high square platform that can be climbed through five carved gateways. The pagoda is open daily and there is a 2,500 Kip entrance fee. It stands on the top of Mount Chaungtha, where the remains of King Anawrahta are buried. From the pagoda, you can also take a short trip on the hillside to visit other Buddhist temples and monasteries of Mandalay, a number of which are open on different days of the week.