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23 things to do in Myanmar

Myanmar is a cultural gold mine: the plains Bagan which are strewn with thousands of temple ruins; Mandalay and Yangon are heaving with colonial buildings and glittering stupas; Inle Lake is a place of heart-stopping beauty; the golden sands of Ngapali provide a quirky Myanmar beach holiday; the remote islands of the Mergui Archipelago are little-known gems to escape to. Rudyard Kipling wrote that Myanmar is ‘quite unlike any land you know about’, and this still very much applies today and luxury tailor-made holidays to Myanmar can be hugely rewarding. Read on to discover our top 23 Things to Do in Myanmar: Shwedagon Pagoda Myanmar’s most sacred Buddhist site is the famed Shwedagon Pagoda, a glittering 2,000-year-old pagoda, in the heart of Yangon. Visit the pagoda at sunset when its gold-leafed surface is emblazoned by the setting sun and the complex comes alive with local people from the city and tourists from afar. There are usually many offerings and blessings with special costumes happening around the stunning, circular stupa too, which are interesting to witness. Exploring Yangon Whilst exploring Yangon, base yourself at Belmond Governor’s Residence, a firm tourist favourite, and spend the afternoons relaxing by the reflective pool with a refreshing cocktail and a good book. temple-Shwedagon Pagoda See the Temples Bagan is a truly astonishing landscape with over 4,000 ancient temples and stupas scattered across the jungle laden plains. Climb a viewpoint at sunset, and the temple-strewn landscapes are guaranteed to fill you both with awe and spiritual calm. The Reclining Buddha Visit the graceful and most revered reclining Buddha whilst in Yangon. The astonishing size – this Buddha is over 269 metres long – is really a sight worth marvelling at. Reclining Buddha The Irrawaddy River Hop aboard the RV Paukan and journey up the Irrawaddy River. This spacious, boutique boat is a wonderful way to take in the river, as you float past rural riverside villages, and with over 30 crew members to take care of you, you can be sure you’ll have a fantastic time. Ride a Hot Air Balloon Enjoy a sunrise hot air balloon journey over the temples of Bagan, with extraordinary views over thousands of ancient ruins and pagodas which peek out from this remote jungle. The dawn sun brings Bagan to life, picking out details on the intricate stupas and temples – no two of which are the same. It’s a truly unforgettable experience when you first set eyes on these ancient temples in their multitude, stretching all the way to the banks of the Irrawaddy River. This, in our opinion, is the best way to appreciate this archaeological wonder. bagan-Hot Air Balloons Take a Burmese taxi Hail a taxi Burmese style! Get to grips with an unusual method of transport in Mingun, where a bullock and bamboo cart taxi waits to take you to your next destination. Check out the Mingun Pagoda Head ten kilometres up the Irrawaddy River and be rewarded with the arresting sight of the breathtaking white Mingun pagoda, with its unusual wave-like terraces. mingun pagoda See the Mingun Paya Admire the remains of what would have been the world’s largest religious monument, Mingun Paya. Work was halted on this enormous structure in 1838 by a devasting earthquake. The Inle Lake Inle Lake is a place of heart-stopping beauty… Stay at a hotel on the banks, like Sanctum Inle Resort or Inle Princess, and glide through the water on a long-tail boat, observing the unique method of rowing with one leg used by the Inle fisher-folk. inle-lake Stay at the Inle Princess Admire the reflections in the crystal-clear waters of Inle Lake from the privacy of your balcony in a Lake House at the charming Inle Princess. Not only does the Inle Princess provide stunning views over the lake, the chalets are more that comfortable too, with spacious bedrooms and private terraces. Discover the customs Learn about the fascinating traditional customs in a local home on the shores of Inle Lake, and learn how to roll a cheroot style cigar, made from crushed tobacco and wrapped in tree leaves. myanmar-cigar Meet the locals Be welcomed by warm and friendly locals at every turn and discover more about the little-known minority villages that bank on the shore of Inle Lake, particularly the tribeswomen who add rings to their necks to give the impression of ‘long-neck ladies’. The New Moon Festival The New Moon Festival is an exciting time to visit and is celebrated in Myanmar (usually in November) with traditional clothing, processions and offerings. If you’re lucky enough to witness a festival in Myanmar, you’ll notice the towns get very busy and the Burmese are in a playful mood! festival-goers Burma The Marionette Show If you get a chance, watch a traditional Marionette show using hand-made puppets, a customary age-old entertainment in Myanmar. Discover Burmese schools Visit a school for nuns in Amarapura, which is a fascinating experience. Myanmar is absolutely packed with novice monks and nuns who are completely focused on their studies of ancient Buddhist scripture. The discipline and faith of the Burmese people is really very touching. girl-burma school Sail around the islands 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 unspoilt tropical destinations left on earth. Sail around the little-known archipelago in style, on the sleek and sexy catamaran, Meltimi. Visit the Royal Palace A visit to the vast Royal Palace whilst staying in Mandalay is highly recommended. Wander through these ornate moat walls to discover the ‘Forbidden City’ which contains teak palaces, throne halls and pavilions. mandalay Try an eco retreat Stay at Wa Ale, the sexy new eco-luxe retreat. Tucked away on a 9,000-acre privately-owned island in the Lampi Marine National Park, Wa Ale is intimate and truly remote, with a strong focus on responsible and sustainable tourism. Surrounded by beaches with pristine white sand, lapped by clear, calm waters Wa Ale is the ideal setting to relax and explore the wilderness. With such a keen focus on conservation, a percentage of Wa Ale’s profits is designated for various conservation efforts in the Lampi Marine National Park, including Sea Turtle Conservation and Coral Protection as well as charitable donations to education and medical programs for the local community. Head to the beach Visit Ngapali, Myanmar’s long-standing beach resort, with a wide and inviting stretch of golden sand. It’s the perfect place to unwind after a busy schedule of temple tours and even better, you still won’t find too many tourists here. myanmar Beach Travel to Kalaw Escape the heat of the coast and travel to Kalaw, a cool and charming colonial hill station, and admire the wide range of vegetables and flora grown in this luscious and fertile climate. Whilst in Kalaw visit the Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp, where working elephants are retired and cared for. Learn about Myanmar history Discover the delights of Pyin Oo Lwin, a scenic hill town in the centre of rural Myanmar. Learn more of its colonial past from buildings that still exist from the British colonial rule in Myanmar. myanmar-rural Visit the Botanical Gardens Take a horse and cart, unique to Pyin Oo Lwin, and visit the beautiful Botanical Gardens which thrive in this cool climate. James Jayasundera is Founder and Managing Director of Ampersand Travel. Ampersand Travel create bespoke and luxurious travel experiences to Asia, the British Isles and Southern Africa. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

James Jayasundera

James Jayasundera is Founder and Managing Director of Ampersand Travel in London. Ampersand Travel is an award-winning tour operator specialising in tailor-made holidays to Asia and Africa. James was raised in Rome by a Sri Lankan diplomat father and British mother, and from an early age he was travelling throughout the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Although he loves comfort, he is not blinded by five-star luxuries – the Ampersand motto is “luxury is in the experience” and it is that indefinable quality that makes something special which James is always on the look-out for. James founded Ampersand Travel in 2003, and since then the company has developed an excellent reputation for in-depth knowledge of its destinations, candid and impartial opinions on hotels and locations and a formidable network of contacts within the industry and its destinations.

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  1. With all due respect to Kew Gardens I never get too excited about Botanical Gardens. Then I visited Mauritius’ Botanical Gardens and that was a completely different experience as everything is growing out in the open and they’ve got a huge variety of massive trees. That’s given me a real taste for tropical Botanical Gardens so I’d love to follow up by spending a day at Myanmar’s gardens.

  2. Very enlightening post, there’s a lot to take in here. I’ve heard different things about Myanmar but this article helped me see the country from a different perspective. I visited southern Thailand over a year ago and the Tiger Cave temple with the +1,000 steps, at the top it was a spectacular view. So I can imagine there are some similar vistas in Myanmar. Rolling a cheroot cigar sounds great, as well as the Mergui Archipelago and Ngapali. Some really great options here!

  3. The Shwedagon Pagoda came into my head first, too. I think I know more about Yangon that other regions, though I don’t really know all that much. Friends have been there and said it was quite busy but really diverse and they enjoyed the markets and Buddhist aspects of interest. They did show me a photo of a giant statue lying down but I hadn’t realised it was this one. I also wouldn’t have guessed at 269 meters – that’s a big statue! The culture is so different, though I suppose you could say there are things that we could compare against. Like the neck rings the women wear to elongate necks. Comparably there are people here that wear ear spacers to get huge holes in their lobes, or people that get plastic surgery to get a slimmer, younger looking neck. It’s what becomes normal in your culture but it’s fascinating to see the differences, I do like that when travelling.

  4. I’m not sure why but I was surprised about the eco-luxe retreat. I hadn’t really heard of eco initiatives in Myanmar before and it just seems a little odd. Great, but unexpected for some reason. Outside of the Lampi Marine park, are there other conservation efforts in the country or any other eco hotels and retreats? It’s becoming a big deal these days and more tourists are looking for those eco credentials before travelling.

    1. Hi Alex – thanks for your message! There are other eco hotels in Burma, but not to the same level of luxury as Wa Ale. Inle Princess is another fantastic option for giving back to the local community and growing organically – another one of my favourites!

  5. The temples are very very similar to those I visited in Bangkok, even the reclining Buddha. So, for me, I’d go for the non-temple sites just to see something different. That hot air balloon ride is a check, though I am afraid of heights and would be having second thoughts about this activity. The marionette show and beaches are more likely what I’ll do here.

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