Myanmar, still affectionately called Burma by many local people, is a land of great beauty and contrast, home to myriad temples and pagodas, stunning scenery, traditional crafts, peaceful lakes and crowded bustling markets. We spent 7 days exploring the country using internal flights starting in the capital Yangon, admiring the faded colonial charm of its historic buildings and Mahabandoola Gardens. We visited the 70 metre long reclining Buddha, the Karaweik Hall floating barge and marvelled at the sheer splendour of the Schedagon Pagoda with its glittering gold stupa.
An early morning flight brought us from Yangon to the beautiful heart of the 11th Century Bagan dynasty. The region boasts over 3,000 temples and pagodas: we didn’t visit them all but we spent time exploring some of the most impressive architectural masterpieces of the area before heading to our hotel on the Irrawaddy River. After shopping in the colourful, bustling local markets we travelled to some of the outlying villages of Old Bagan before ending the day with a sunset cruise on a traditional wooden boat.
Arriving in Mandalay we visited some of Myanmar’s most sacred sites including the Golden Palace Monastery famous for its well-preserved, all-teak structure and the Kuthodaw Pagoda, known as the world’s largest book due to the Buddhist scripture carved on 729 marble slabs. The following day we took a boat trip up the Ayeyarwady River to the island of Mingun visiting the Mingun Bell, one of the largest and oldest hung bells in the world with a diameter of over 16′, and the Hisnbyume Pagoda, a white-washed temple built to resemble Mount Meru. We then explored the small neighborhoods where traditional basketry and other artistic items are crafted. After returning to Mandalay we visited the restored ruins of the Royal Palace before enjoying a sunset boat ride to the iconic 200 year old, 1.2km long teak bridge spanning the Taungthaman Lake.
A short flight from Mandalay brought us to Shan State for the start of 2 days cruising on Inle Lake by longboat. The mountains and lakes of the region form a beautifully dramatic landscape, at times reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. One of the most unusual sights to be seen on the lake is local fishermen who navigate their boats standing up with one leg wrapped around an oar as they manipulate their nets with both hands.
Continuing our journey by longboat on Inle Lake, we visited the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda before experiencing the chaotic hustle & bustle of the local market where villagers haggle with each other for all kinds of fruits, meat and vegetables. Our boat weaved in and out of Shan and Intha villages where we visited local weavers who make thread and cloth from lotus plants, silversmiths, blacksmiths, cigar makers and boat builders. Tomorrow we fly back to Yangon for the last day of our trip. Myanmar has been truly magical.
Steve O’Donnell is a Travel Consultant with Serene Journeys, an independent travel company specializing in meeting the needs of LGBTI travelers to India. He is also a freelance travel writer and photographer. Contact Steve on firstname.lastname@example.org