Things to do in Myanmar
Myanmar is one of the most beautiful and untouched countries in Asia. From majestic temples and breathtaking landscapes, to epic train journeys and unique local culture, Myanmar offers a variety of activities for travelers. Below are the top 9 recommended things to do in Myanmar travelers should not miss.
List of top things to do in Myanmar
Table of Contents
Exploring Buddhist temples
Buddhism is the main religion in Myanmar and local people have strong belief in their religion. You will see thousands of temples throughout the country, many of them are very big and gorgeous although local people are generally poor. A visit to Buddhist temples is a great way to learn more about Burmese culture and people. Many important pilgrimage sites now become the key sights for travelers.
Shwedagon Pagoda, the almost 100 – meter gold plated stupa of Yangon is one of the most majestic temples in Myanmar. This pagoda dominates the area with its diamond studded spire set on top of a small hill in Yangon. If you come at night, the pagoda is lit up by spotlights.
Bagan has over 2,000 temples remaining, dating from 11st to 13rd century. The majority of Bagan’s temples can be found within the Bagan Archaeological Zone with outstanding ones such as: Shwezigon Temple, Htilominlo Temple, Ananda Temple, Dhammayangyi Temple and Shwesandaw Temple.
Mandalay hosts several beautiful temples such as Mahamuni temple – houses the Mahamuni Buddha image, the most highly revered Buddha image in the country, Shwenandaw Monastery – noted for its exquisite wood carvings, gold leaf beating workshop, or Kuthodaw Pagoda – known as the world biggest book…
Golden Rock is also one of the most beautiful temples in Myanmar. This rock covered in gold leaves seems to defy gravity. Situated on the top of a mountain, it offers some of the most incredible views in Myanmar.
Capture sunset moments in beautiful spots
I am pretty sure that you have been seen many stunning photos of sunset in Myanmar. So, you should not miss a chance to take your own shots when you are in the country. Myanmar offers so many magical places which you are hard to find anywhere else. The world’s largest teak bridge, the U Bein in Mandalay is one of Myanmar’s most photographed spots. This wooden wonder provides a perfect silhouette at sunset where visitors can catch glimpses of local farmers, fishermen, monks, and nuns as they cross this ancient landmark.
Sunset is also the favourite time to visit Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Travelers prefer to come to the pagoda before sunset, so they have an opportunity to watch the city’s residents coming to pay their respects after finishing work or school, then find a quiet spot to sit and soak up this magical atmosphere as the sun dips below the horizon and darkness falls in this most sacred of places.
Sunset over Bagan temples from high hills or boat trips along the river is highlight of any trip to Myanmar.
Ride a hot air balloon at sunrise.
Go up in a basket and float into the sky when the dark gradually appears is once in lifetime experience. This, in our opinion, is the best way to appreciate the wonders.
Balloon flights are available in few destinations including Bagan, Inle Lake, Ngapali, Mandalay. However, the most magical place is absolutely Bagan. It is truly unforgettable to see Bagan waking up in the morning with many temples in the distance – no two of which are the same Sometimes you may fly over villages and see people on their early morning rounds, feeding their animals; or going to market.
Join local festivals
Myanmar is the land of a hundred festivals and the biggest one is Water Festival (Thingyan). It lasts 5 – 7 days, usually in early April. Thingyan marks the end of hot & dry season and the start of the New Year along with the rainy season. As with its fellow Buddhist countries, Myanmar celebrates the festival of Thingyan with plenty of water: people will splash water on others. Water symbolizes purity in the local lore, and pouring water represents cleansing the soul of the past year’s evils and imperfections.
Several other celebrations, such as the light festivals of Thadingyut and Hot air balloon festival aren’t to be missed either. Thadingyut takes place for three days during the full moon of the seventh month of the Burmese calendar (usually near the beginning of October), and marks the end of Buddhist lent. It’s a time for families to come together and celebrate Buddha’s descent to earth after visiting his mother in heaven. Cities throughout the country are especially aglow during Thadingyut with fireworks, dangling lights or candles.
Hot air balloon festival in Taunggyi is the most explosively colourful. Once a year in early November, a field outside the Shan capital of Taunggyi becomes the venue for a spectacular hot-air balloon competition. The event becomes more raucous into the night, with drinking, dancing and gigantic balloons laden with thousands of fireworks that sometimes blow up in unplanned ways.
Cruise along Irrawaddy River
The 2000-meter-long Irrawaddy (navigable all the way from Yangon to Putao near the Chinese border) is one of the world’s most fabled rivers, carrying barges and passenger cruise ships. Many activities of local people rely on The Irrawaddy. Local ferries make the journey from Mandalay to Bagan in one day but there are also more comfortable options along the same route with overnight stays and cabins available. Hop aboard the luxury cruises and journey up the Irrawaddy River is a wonderful way to take in the river, as you float past rural riverside villages, and watch local life unfolding along the way.
Get off the beaten track to visit ethnic groups
With 135 ethnic groups, travelers have many chance to discover authentic culture and tradition which are not much influenced by outside world. If you are a bit stressed with religious sites, take time to travel out of cities to interact with local people.
Kalaw is an old hill station with a welcome cooler climate in Northeastern Shan State. It is a popular based for trekking lovers. From Kalaw, you can do one to few days to nearby villages where you can visit different tribes as Pa O, Danu, Palaung… To fully appreciate the charms of rural Myanmar, trek over the rolling hills from Kalaw to nearby Inle Lake. You will have a chance to stay in local monastaries, being lulled to sleep by chanting monks whilst during the day watch the farmers planting, tending or harvesting their crops – rice, chillies or corn depending on the season.
Closed for over half a century and only recently opened to visitors, Kayah state is home to nine distinct ethnic groups who still practice their indigenous customs, handed down for centuries and dress in their traditional costumes. The most well – known group is Kayan. The Kayan women wear many brass coils around their necks to make the necks longer. They believe that longer necks will make them more beautiful. The sleepy capital Loikaw is a base to visit this tribe.
Chin State is homeland of Chin people who is known for tattooed face. Many of the women here sport full facial designs denoting which Christian-animist tribe they belong to. They were tattooed when they were just nine years old. It was an ancient custom to prevent invaders from stealing away the local women. To visit Chin people, you need to take 8-hour car journey from Bagan.
Relax on beautiful beaches
With Myanmar’s location next to the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, Myanmar offers many stunning beaches to travelers.
After touring Myanmar’s main sites, laid back Ngapali Beach is a place to unwind, enjoy the balmy blue waters of the Bay of Bengal. Unlike some resorts in neighbouring Thailand, Ngapali is still relatively unspoilt with just a small number of beachfront hotels. Travelers can take a boat trip for a spot of snorkelling and visit the traditional fishing villages that line the coast.
The Mergui Archipelago, a group of 800 islands scattered in the Andaman Sea off the western shore of Myanmar’s remote south, is one of the last untouched and unspoiled tropical destinations left on earth. Travelers can choose to stay in some cruises or eco resorts which are located in remote islands. Whether you stay on cruise or eco resorts, you will have a chance to immerse yourselves in clear and calm waters of Andaman sea, explore the wild jungles and visit the indigenous Moken people, also known as sea gypsies. In addition, surrounded by unexplored corals, fish and sea life, Mergui is the best place to do snorkeling and scuba diving which are provided by any cruises or resorts in Mergui.
Experience train journeys in Myanmar
Myanmar has very outdated railway system which make traveling by train uncomfortable and long. So, it is not a preferable mode of transportation to travel. However, there is no better way to really experience the Burmese culture than taking a train. If you mind long train which may take the whole day, just take a short ride in the Circular Train in Yangon.
Probably one of the cheapest trains in the world (only $0.13), the circular train will take you through local neighborhoods, villages and markets. Along the way, you’ll find yourself in the thick of local life, with all its chaos and color and excitement. As the train will make its way through Yangon and its suburbs, local vendors selling fresh fruits, vegetables and local dishes will come through the wagons. From the windows, you will see kids going to school, housewives doing their groceries and people going back home from work.
A train crossing Goteik Viaduct has gained popularity among tourists. Gokteik Viaduct is one of Myanmar’s most stunning man-made marvels built by the colonial British. It is on the railway which connects Mandalay and Lashio, a principal town near China border. Priced at $4, the train ticket is worth every cent for the magnificent landscapes it passes.
Visit Buddhist caves
Famed for limestone terrain, incredible landscapes, and uncharted cave systems, you should not leave Myanmar without going underground and seeing beneath the surface of country.
Laid-back Hpa An, close to the Thai border, is home to impressive karst mountains similar to Vietnam’s famous Halong Bay – but less crowded. The highlight is Sadan Cave, a towering place full of pagodas and Buddhas, where you can walk under the entire mountain and take a tiny wooden boat back through the paddy fields.
Boasting more than 8,000 images of Buddha from a variety of different time periods, the Pindaya cave is a unique attraction in Shan State. An overwhelming amount of Buddha figures covering the walls, corners, and ceilings of the cave, many visitors walk through the area slowly and silently to soak in the unique views of this stunning labyrinth. The cave is situated in a limestone hill near Inle Lake.
Phowintaung is another amazing cave complex in Monywa. The complex contains 947 small and large richly decorated caves. It is carved into a sandstone outcrop and contains numerous carved Buddha statues and mural paintings of geometric patterns and Jataka stories. The statues and paintings have been dated to between the 14th and 18th centuries. The drive to Monywa is 140 kilometres from Mandalay and takes around three hours.