A country emerging from decades of isolation, Myanmar is one of Asia’s most vibrant destinations. Ancient ruins and gleaming pagodas cover a landscape that varies from soaring mountains to watery deltas. Its cities are a heady mix of fading colonial grandeur and dynamic change, the welcome from the locals unparalleled.
Myanmar’s infrastructure is some way behind neighbouring Thailand. Private bus companies ply the highways north from Yangon to Mandalay, Bagan and beyond, while intercity train travel is an option if time isn’t limited. Taxis are the best way to navigate Yangon’s tangled streets and can be hired or pre–booked.
Myanmar has some of South East Asia’s most arresting sights, few more stunning than Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda. This golden temple is the country’s most sacred Buddhist site and dates back 2,500 years.
The country’s biggest city is also home to the Secretariat, a huge building from where the British Empire ran its one–time colony. Visitors can only peer through railings at this dilapidated colossus, but architecture and history buffs will be wowed by its scale and design.
Further north, the ancient city of Mandalay provides a laid-back alternative to the chaos of Yangon. Mandalay Palace is unmissable, surrounded by a moat and towering over the city. Be sure to head inside and trawl the halls of this reconstructed fort. Pilgrims and tourists flock to Mandalay Hill in the city’s northeast, a holy site where countless temples and pagodas lead up to a viewing platform with rewarding views across the plains.
Further afield, the ancient temples of Bagan are a must–see, untroubled by crowds and easily navigated by bike. First timers should also head east and take a boat out onto the glassy expanse of Inle Lake, before trekking along the mountain passes around the old hill station of Kalaw.
You only need to go a short way out of the big cities to find a very different Myanmar. The cool, hilly town of Pyin Oo Lwin is ideal for idling in teashops, its botanical gardens perfect for an afternoon stroll.
North of Yangon, the old town of Bago is home to a huge reclining Buddha. On your way north, stop off at the beautifully kept Taukkyan War Cemetery, where hundreds of servicemen who fought for Burma’s liberation during World War II are buried. Adventurous travellers should head south into the Irrawaddy Delta and the impressive Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary.
Teashops are the centre of life in Myanmar and Yangon is dotted with countless brilliant options. Bogyoke Aung San Market is home to some of the best and is also a great spot for grabbing classic Burmese dishes. You’ll find traditional noodles from Shan State in the north, as well as Indian–influenced street food such as samosas.
Further north, especially around Inle Lake, fish dominates the menus of local teahouses and street stalls. Mandalay is famed for its mangoes, so make sure you pick some fresh to enjoy with a quick brew before getting back on the sightseeing trail.