Is there a more stunning monument to religion in Southeast Asia? We don’t think so. In fact, the sheer size and mystical aura of Yangon’s gilded masterpiece may even cause you to question your inner atheist. But it’s not all about quiet contemplation: Shwedagon Paya is equal parts religious pilgrimage and amusement park, and your visit may coincide with a noisy ordination ceremony or fantastic fortune-telling session. If you’re looking for one reason to linger in Yangon (Rangoon) before heading upcountry, this is it.
Virtually every visitor to Myanmar (Burma) makes it here at some point, but Inle Lake is so awe-inspiring and large that everybody comes away with a diff erent experience. If you’re counting days, you’ll most likely be hitting the hotspots: water-bound temples, shore-bound markets and fl oating gardens. If you have more time, consider day hikes or exploring the more remote corners of the lake. Either way, the cool weather and friendly folk and that placid pool of ink-like water are bound to fi nd a permanent place in your memory
More than 3000 Buddhist temples are scattered across the plains of Bagan site of the fi rst Burmese kingdom. Dating back to between the 11th and 13th centuries, the vast majority of the temples have been renovated, as Bagan remains an active religious site and place of pilgrimage. Yes, there are tour buses and crowds at the most popular sunset-viewing spots, but they can be avoided. Pedal off on a bike and have your own adventure amid the not-so-ruined temples, or fl oat over the temple tops in a hot-air balloon. Buddhist monks, Ananda Pahto Festival
Pyin Oo Lwin
Pyin Oo Lwin is a one-off curiosity that makes for an easy escape from sweaty lowland Mandalay. As the former British-era summer capital, it retains a wide scattering of colonial buildings big and small and a remarkable botanical garden that’s one of Southeast Asia’s most manicured. Today, local tourists and a new generation of elite fl eeing the heat are treated to some of provincial Myanmar’s best cuisine and most imaginative hotels. And to give it all a photogenic twist, the local taxi service is by colourful horse and cart. National Kandawgyi Gardens, Pyin Oo Lwin
While exploring the many temples, monasteries and ruined city walls of the former Rakhaing capital of Mrauk U you realise what an amazing place this sleepy town was at its zenith in the 16th century. Giant structures such as the Dukkanthein Paya and Kothaung Paya appear even more impressive amid the beguiling rural landscape of gently rounded hills and vegetable fi elds, through which the locals weave their way, aluminium water pots balanced on their heads. Stay an extra day and travel by boat to the Chin villages scattered along the Lemro River. Pagoda in the hills, Mrauk U
Myanmar in April is so hot that you’ll enjoy getting soaked at Thingyan which marks the start of the country’s new-year celebration. The festival involves lots of drinking, dancing, singing and theatre, with the emphasis on satire – even making (careful!) fun of the government. Cultural taboos are temporarily lifted, so women can ‘kidnap’ young men, blacken the men’s faces with soot or oil, bind their hands and dunk their heads in buckets of water until they surrender and perform a hilarious monkey dance.