Long off-limits to tourists, Myanmar is now cautiously open for business, allowing visitors to experience the country’s incredible wealth of culture and colour for the first time. Myanmar can still feel like the unexplored Wild West in some ways, although businesses catering to tourists are growing by the day.
Yangon, Myanmar’s first city, is a place to spend your days exploring architecture, eating noodle soups and curries, and checking out the stunning Shwedagon Pagoda and the enormous Bogyoke Aung San Market, where you could shop for weeks. The city’s abundant teahouses are filled with locals catching up on the news and snacking on the Chinese, Thai and Indian-influenced foods that make up the unique Myanmar cuisine.
Most visitors make Bagan a priority. These stunning plains are liberally dotted with more than 2,000 Buddhist structures, most of which are temples and stupas (pagodas). The most spectacular of these have beautiful interior frescos but it’s the view of the plains themselves that is the most awe-inspiring. Hot air balloon rides are a popular way to view them.
In eastern Myanmar, Inle Lake is a magnificent sight: not just for its expanses of calm waters, floating gardens and houses on stilts, but also for the peculiar rowing technique used by the skiff owners. They propel the paddles through the water with their legs rather than their arms, and it’s a unique sight to see.
Mandalay is a name that conjures up a rather dreamy image, and beyond the hustle and bustle of the inner city you’ll find tree-lined streets, theatres, temples and a host of crafts workshops. The nearby hill station of Pyin U Lwin is a little slice of history. The area, which was once colonised by the British, today looks like it was lifted straight from England, right down to its lush green lawns.