Myanmar (aka Burma) has only recently opened to tourism after lifting an embargo on foreign visitors. Tucked away in the South Asian peninsula, the country is unknown to most western tourists, except for it’s communist politics followed by a fight for democracy led by female activist Aung San Suu Kyi. A deeper dive into Myanmar’s history opens up a rich pandora of culture, religion and architecture spanning thousands of years. The country is biodiverse with beaches, mountains, lakes, rivers and forests. While it is difficult to see Myanmar in just a few days, I managed to capture a few highlights through my lens.
Yangon, the capital, is where I spent most of my time as our ship was docked there was three days. Sailing into the Irrawaddy River Delta gave way to views of muddy brown waters with nomadic fisherman on traditional boats, followed by golden domes popping out from bare villages. The city, itself is pretty small, with business buildings, hotels, tea shops, gardens and lots of pagodas. Having been cut off from the rest of the world, you won’t find any name brands or chain restaurants here. People still dress traditionally in sarongs (called longyi) and put bright creamy paste (thanaka) on their faces, while crouching on low stools on the street side cafes eating fish curry and steamed rice. It is easy to walk around, taxis are cheap, though traffic can be bad at times.
Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple houses one of the most revered reclining Buddha statues in the country. Though the original statue was built in 1899, it has been modified and reconstructed few times until the 1970s.
Dominating the Yangon skyline, Shwedagon Pagoda is spectacular by day and night. Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, and perhaps the oldest Buddha stupa in the world, built between 6-10 centuries CE. Allow yourself at least a couple of hours to wander around the complex of temples to absorb their splendid beauty, and maybe you would feel like spending a few minutes in silence or meditation.
In the evening, head over for dinner to Karaweik Royal Barge. Karaweik Palace was constructed in the shape of a barge as a symbol of Burmese culture and arts. It serves international buffet with cultural performances. Other restaurants I tried were Yangon Tea House, a casual and hip Burmese/ Indian restaurant, and Feel Myanmar, a traditional place where you can pick and choose your food and quantity. This is a great venue to safely try a lot of Burmese dishes that you may have seen on the streets as well.
On the other side of Yangon’s cosmopolitan city, is the township of Dala. This is the place to go if you want to see daily life of the locals – where they live, shop, study and pray. Most people cross the river on ferry boat to work in the city. Walk through the wet markets, visit a monastery, stop by an orphanage, and ride on a trishaw.
From Yangon, take a short flight to the city of Bagan, in the eastern province. It is said there were over 10,000 religious structures built in Bagan between 9-13 centuries, though only 2,000 of them still remain today. Shwesardaw offers a great lookout to many of these temples spread across the archeological area.
Though there are dozens of other temples in the area worth visiting if you have the time, Shwezigon Pagoda built by the Mon Dynasty, is covered with more than 30,000 copper plates (originally gold). The pagoda houses four huge bronze statues of Buddha, and contain his original footprints.
Lampi Island is the only marine national park in Myanmar, home to over 1000 species of animals, plants and marine life, as well as occasional sea gypsies. Here you can take a private zodiac cruise to visit the mangroves.
Further south is Shark Island, a secluded natural island perfect for snorkeling, swimming, and relaxing on the white sandy beach. There are a number of beaches and exclusive beach resorts in Myanmar, that offer opportunities to see the rich coral formations and marine life.
Located at the Myanmar-Thailand border, is the charming town of Kawthoung. With strong Indian and Muslim influences, it is a town on a hill where you can walk around and explore within a day. Kawthaung is also the starting point for Myanmar-based cruises to the vast Myeik Archipelago.
My trip to Myanmar was possible through Silverseas Discoverer Andaman Sea Expedition cruise. I was on their inaugural sailing to Myanmar, a country that should be added to your travel bucket list!