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About Myanmar Travel
Bagan: It may be hard to imagine this quiet town as the center of an empire that stretched from Tibet to Bangkok. The city sits on a broad plain stretching away from the Ayeyarwaddy River. It became the capital during the first Myanmar Empire, and entered its golden age in about 1057. Thousands of pagodas and temples, dating from the 11th to 13th centuries, occupied a compact area of only about 41 square kilometers/16 square miles. During the 12th and 13th centuries, Bagan was a cosmopolitan center for Buddhist studies, attracting monks from as far as India. Schwezigon Pagoda was built to enshrine relicts of Buddha. The construction was finished between 1086 and 1090. The pagoda marked the north end of the city. The stupa’s graceful bell shape became a prototype for later stupas. Ananda pahto is one of the largest, best preserved and most revered of Bagan’s temples. Thought to date around 1105, this perfectly proportioned temple heralds the stylistic end of Early Bagan period. Bagan, capital city of then-Burma from 1044 to 1287, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with some 3.000 listed monuments.
Inle Lake: Inle Lake is nestled in a small valley rimmed with tall hills. The lake’s calm waters are dotted with islands, patches of floating vegetation, fishing canoes and about 17 stilt villages. The villages are inhabited mostly by the Intha people, who carry on their time-honored lifestyles much in the same ways as their grandparents. On the western shore, a stair pathway leads to the Inn Thein Pagoda complex and hundreds of small stupas overgrown by moss, weeds and greenery. Here, farmers still grow crops using traditional methods. Along a creek – past rice fields – is Sae Ma village, which has a primary school where visitors can meet local children and their teachers. Tha Lay is a village of weavers.
Kakku: In the southern state of Shan, the remarkable pagoda site of Kakku is reached via a scenic road, past farms of garlic, onion, potatoes, mustard and cabbage. At Kakku, more than 2,500 pagoda ruins are clustered in one small area. Legends date the site back to King Ashoka of the Indian Empire in the third century BCE, and also to the 11th century Bagan dynasty of King Alaung Sithu. The stupas are decorated with stucco figures of mythical animals, celestial beings and floral motifs. The pagoda complex is located deep inside the country of the indigenous Pa O community. Visiting the site requires an escort. It is an amazing off-the-beaten-track glimpse into a people, their traditions and heritage.
Kalaw: Kalaw is a hill town in the Shan State that was popular with the British during colonial rule. In the rolling, pine-clad hills of the Shan Plateau, the town sits to the west of Inle Lake. Every five days, people from the region come to town to buy and sell their handmade goods. Kalaw is surrounded by hazy blue mountain ranges interspersed with hiking trails. More than 300 species of birds occupy the forest. Ma Ha Mu Ni Hnyee Buddha statue was woven from bamboo strips more than 500 years ago. Other sights include Thein Taung Pagoda, Aung Can Tha Pagoda, Su Taung Pyae Pagoda and King Church.
Kyaikhitiyo: This is the place of the remarkable and mystical pagoda that is about five meters/18 feet tall and built upon a huge gold-painted boulder some 15.24 meters/50 feet in diameter. The boulder seems perilously balanced on the edge of the rock and separated from the mountain edge by a deep chasm. At a glance, it appears that the boulder will tumble off its perch with the slightest breeze. Indeed, it appears that a piece of thread placed under the rock passes through from one side of the boulder to the other side. The bolder has maintained this unlikely position for 2,500 years. A steep road winds up from the base camp to the pagoda on top. The legend of the shrine says that it houses a relic of Buddha – hair of Gotama Buddha given to a hermit residing there by Buddha himself.
Mandalay: Riverboat, trishaw and foot are still the main methods of transportation here; and water buffalo still work in the fields. Stories tell that Buddha foretold a great city of Buddhism would be founded at the base of this hill. In 1857, King Mindon chose to fulfill the prophecy by establishing a new kingdom. After the British occupied the city in 1885, the fort became the colony’s government house and British Club. Mandalay Museum and Library contain fine examples of art and historic palm-leaf manuscripts. The 19th-century Kyauktawgyi Pagoda is famed for its huge seated Buddha carved from a single block of marble. The block required 10,000 men laboring for 13 days to transport it from a canal to its current site. On the bank of the Ayeyarwady River, Sagaing is the spiritual center of Myanmar, with 600 pagodas, more than 100 meditation centers and monasteries, home to 3,000 monks.
Ngapoli: Long stretches of coast have beautiful beach resorts on the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Some 800 pristine tropical islands dot the waters off the southern tip of the country. The rich marine life provides great diving and snorkeling. Ngapoli Beach stretches between two villages – Ngapoli and Gyeiktaw. Other nearby villages and small islands are easy to explore, and golf and spa facilities are available.
Remote Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River Cruise: One of the most pleasant ways to discover a country is through its waterways. Ancient monasteries, temple ruins, and villages of bamboo huts line the banks along the river. As early as the sixth century the river was used for trade and transport and it remains the bloodline of this once isolated land, flowing north to south, before eventually emptying into the Andaman Sea. The river is just as vital today as it ever was – with goods, people and communications traveling up and down this liquid highway.
Yangon: Formally Rangoon, it served as Myanmar’s capital from 1885 until about 2005, when a new city, Naypyidaw, became the administrative capital. Yangon remains the largest and the most important commercial center in Myanmar. Even so, its infrastructure is underdeveloped compared to other major cities in Southeast Asia. Yangon rests in the fertile delta of southern Myanmar on the slow Yangon River. With its tree-lined boulevards, it is evocative of many of Southeast Asia’s former colonial cities and contains one of the largest collections of colonial buildings in Southeast Asia as well as interesting pagodas. The national museum houses the Sihasana Lion Throne, used by the last Burmese king. The Buddhist Art Museum is located in a 1952 Art Deco-style building and features an amazing lotus window. Botataung Pagoda was named after the 1,000 military leaders who escorted relics of the Buddha from India over 2,000 years ago. A highlight of any visit to Yangon, Shwedagon Pagoda dates back about 2,500 years, and was originally built to house eight sacred hairs of the Buddha. While its original shape has changed dramatically over the centuries, it remains exquisite: its bell-shaped superstructure, resting on a terraced base, is covered in about 60 tons of gold-leaf, which is continuously replaced.
Best Times to Travel to Myanmar
Festivals & Special Events:
- The best time to visit is from November to March when temperatures are relatively low, averaging between 59°F to 86°F. In December and January, temperatures can drop to near freezing at night in the highlands of Kalaw and Inle Lake. In April and May, the hottest season, temperatures often rise to over 100°F in Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan. Monsoon season begins between mid-May and mid-June, bringing frequent rains, especially in the southern and western regions that last until September.
- Ananda Pagoda Festival, in December and January, in Bagan draws people from surrounding villages, who come to the fair to sell all manner of local goods from toy characters made of clay or paper, bamboo containers, brass items and more. Entertainment is provided by dancers, musicians, circus performers and actors.
- Thingyan Festival (Water Festival) comes in April just before the New Year. The three- or four-day festival is held throughout the country. People believe that pouring water over each other during Thingyan cleans out the sins from the old year.
- Tazaungdaing Balloon Festival, usually in November, happens in Taunggyi in the state of Shan, and coincides with the national Thadingyut Festival of Lights, which celebrates the last month of Myanmar Lent, and the return of Buddha from heaven to earth. On the day before, during and the day after the full moon day, people around the country light millions of candles and hang colorful paper lanterns everywhere – in monasteries, pagodas, houses and trees.