Highlights of Myanmar
Yangon is the gateway to Myanmar and is unlike any other Asian city today. Despite a new dawn in Myanmar welcoming a new government and encouraging foreign investment, the city has retained the charm and beauty of its colonial past whilst still providing a modern infrastructure of hotels and tourist facilities. The cobbled streets, sleepy tree-lined avenues and crumbling, moss covered buildings hark back to a bygone era of Kipling and crumpets. Yet today, visitors can immerse themselves in the chaotic street-life, thriving markets, charming tea shops or just wander round the bustling capital, in what remains an incredibly safe city. At the very heart of Yangon lies the Shwedagon Pagoda. Rising above the city, this golden marvel is visible at almost every turn. Evergreen and cool with lush tropical tree-lined avenues, shady parks and beautiful lakes, it is no surprise that Yangon has earned the name of the "Garden City of the East".
"For the wind is in the palm trees, and the temple-bells they say: Come you back, you British soldier;come you back to Mandalay." 'The Road to Mandalay', Rudyard Kipling.
Mandalay was the last royal capital of the Burmese kingdom. Geographically and culturally at the core of the country, the city was established by King Mindon as a new centre for the study of Buddhism, and today remains the spiritual artery of a devoutly religious nation. Mandalay is home to more than half of the total population of monks in Myanmar. The former royal capital is itself only 150 years old, but its poetic and lyrical name, immortalised in numerous books and poems, conjures up childhood images of the romance and mysticism of the Orient. The busy, dusty streets, full of rickshaws, old motorbikes and bicycles are bustling with activity and trade, exuding a distinctly commercial atmosphere to the city. To the devoutly Buddhist Burmese, Mandalay is the city that truly reflects their soul. On its doorstep, the mighty Irrawaddy meanders languidly past. On the far reaches of its banks, perched atop a small hillock is the ancient, whitewashed city of Sagaing, the former capital of the once independent Shan kingdom. Just south of Mandalay is another former royal capital, Amarapura, which translates to "city of immortality".
Known as the city of four million pagodas, Bagan (or Pagan as it used to be called) is the cradle of Myanmar civilisation, the first capital of the once mighty Bamar kingdom. Although Bagan's early history is shrouded in mystery, chronicles recount that the city grew out of 19 villages. The city's "Golden Era" was between 1044 and 1287 during which time thirteen kings left their signature on the area in the form of temples, pagodas, palaces and the introduction of Theravada Buddhism to the region and ultimately the country. As with most ancient civilisations, when the end came it came abruptly with the brutal sacking of the city by Genghis Khan's grandson, the enigmatic Kublai Khan. Its history unsure, all that is certain is that Bagan is a sight to behold. Unlike its more illustrious cousin, Angkor Wat, Bagan receives very little in the way of visitors making a visit to this ancient wonder doubly special.
Inle Lake is a gem. One of those places you do not want to tell a soul about in order to maintain its charm and character, but you just can't help yourself. It is a magical, enchanting place set in the hills of the southern Shan state in the east of Myanmar, near the border with China, Laos and Thailand. High hills flank the lake on both sides of the shore. The lakeside and islands are littered with villages on stilts, inhabited mostly by the industrious Intha people. There are also over one hundred monasteries and a thousand pagodas scattered along the shoreline. Crystalline waters, lush green hills, deep, cloudless skies and a calming and serene lake inhabited by a jovial and welcoming people are the perfect ingredients for an idyllic destination. The gentle and melodic way of life on the lake cannot but relax you, whether you are bobbing along in a dug out canoe visiting one of the numerous floating gardens or markets, observing the fishermen with their unique fishing style or simply unwinding on the verandah of your hotel enjoying a timeless scene illuminated by a mesmeric sunset. It promises to be an unforgettably peaceful retreat from the hectic pace of modern day life.
Kalaw, a small town surrounded by pine forests located at 1,300 meters above sea level, was a popular countryside retreat during the days of British rule. Located on the western edge of the Shan plateau, Kalaw is a popular base for trekking excursions; however, this peaceful and quiet town is worth a visit for its colonial atmosphere and multicultural history alone. The area around Kalaw is inhabited by a large Nepalese community as well as people of the Palaung, Danu, and Pao tribes making it a culturally diverse destination where one can better understand the ethnic variety of Myanmar.
The picturesque town of Hpa-An is an excellent option and beautifully situated about 300 kilometers south east of Yangon. The capital of the Kayin State, the town is a convenient base for exploring nearby colonial villages, natural waterfalls and a hot water spring where locals come to worship and pray for prosperity. As well as enjoying the beautiful countryside scenery, guest can enjoy a cruise in the afternoon to see limestone caves and mountains and take part in some local village excursions.