Top Five Myanmar Travel Experiences

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

Increasingly opening up to adventurous travellers, Myanmar is a fascinating country that dazzles visitors with its stunning countryside, delicious food and welcoming locals. If you are thinking of visiting the land of golden pagodas, don’t miss these five essential experiences.

Exploring the temples of Bagan

With hundreds of ancient buildings dotted across the dusty plains of Bagan Archaeological Preservation Zone, you are going to want to spend a few days watching pastel-pink and deep-purple sunrises and sunsets from some of its most iconic sites. For example, the red-brick beauty that is Sulamani Paya or the vast gilded stupa of Shwezigon Pagoda, which continues to be an important pilgrimage site.

Once the capital of a royal kingdom that ruled the area during the 11th to the 13th centuries, there are more than 4,000 Buddhist temples and shrines to explore in Bagan. You can even take to the air with a hot-air balloon ride for a breath-taking aerial view. The history lesson continues at Aureum Palace Hotel, where villas are decorated with antiques, traditional teak furniture and local lacquerware, and surrounded by lush tropical landscaped gardens. The sun can be scorching in this part of the country but, rest assured, you can still see the temples from the comfort of the hotel’s large swimming pool. 

Learning to cook traditional Burmese dishes

People in Myanmar take their food very seriously, and every region has its own signature dishes and flavours. One thing everyone can agree on, however, is that the best way to start the day is with a deliciously fragrant bowl of mohinga – a rice noodle and fish soup that’s packed with lemongrass, ginger and banana stem.

Learn to make this and many more iconic dishes at Inle Heritage and its welcoming cookery school. Classes start in the stunning kitchen garden, where the ingredients required for family recipes cooked by the local Shan and Inthar populations are collected. Expect to whip up steamed banana leaf parcels packed with spring onion and rice flour, chicken and potato curry, and spicy tomato salad before sitting down to enjoy your culinary creations on the restaurant’s beautiful terrace. The wine list even features a few bottles from Aythaya Vineyard in nearby Taunggyi. This non-profit organisation not only teaches its guests, but it’s also an on-site vocational training centre for students from across the country who want to learn the hospitality trade.

Cruising on the Ayeyarwady River

Covering a 1373-mile course, this mighty river runs almost the entire length of the country. One of the most popular sections to explore starts at Mandalay and the city’s famous U Bein Bridge (the world’s longest teak structure) before travelling to Mingun with its striking white Hsinbyume Pagoda and onwards towards the temples of Bagan. You could tick off these sites by hopping between them on a bus or private taxi, or you could watch the scenery float past from the comfort of your deluxe cabin during a two or three-night trip.

One of the most handsome vessels operating on this part of the river has to be Strand Cruise, where rooms come with rain showers, French balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows so you never miss a second.

Snorkelling around the stunning Myeik Archipelago

From white-sand beaches to tropical mangroves, the islands of the largely unexplored Myeik Archipelago off the far south coast of Myanmar are home to some incredible wildlife – both on land and in the water. See for yourself by diving or snorkelling among the coral reefs where you might spot turtles, string rays and dugongs, and even a pangolin (scaly anteater) searching for termites on the forest floors and colourful hornbills swooping between the trees.

You can also paddle out on a kayak to visit the sea gypsy communities who call the area home. Make your base the Awei Pila, where thatched villas with private terraces offer beautiful beachside views. 

Checking out Inle Lake’s floating markets

At Lake Inle, life takes place on the water. Take a boat past waterside temples and houses built on stilts to see the region’s famous floating gardens and markets. On your way, you’ll pass Intha fishermen, many of whom continue their tradition of rowing and fishing while standing on one leg, and lotus flowers being collected to make hand-woven textiles. See these and many more arts and crafts being made and put to good use at the Inle Princess, where you can see the bedding, curtains and table linen being spun on a loom and mulberry pulp being decorated with flower petals before drying in the sun and used to make into pretty paper lanterns.

This relaxing rural retreat, with its collection of spacious lake, mountain and garden houses connected by a boardwalk, commits a portion of its profits to social welfare projects that benefit communities living in the area – ask to visit the nearby bamboo school to see their work in action. 

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