For being the least exploited country in Southeast Asia, Myanmar is surprisingly rich of places worth going for. After being closed for tourists for a long time, the former British colony is slowly opening up to the world. And that means opportunities. Go here and find undeveloped tourism ranging from ancient Buddhist temples to tropical islands. A 1950 version of neighboring Thailand and the holy grail of Southeast Asia.
1 Mergui Archipelago. The string of islands in southern Myanmar is probably one of the best kept secrets in Southeast Asia. The archipelago, still unknown to the vast majority, is what Phuket, Phang Nga Bay, and Phi Phi Island were fifty years ago. That is, hundreds of secluded beaches scattered in the Andaman Sea, surrounded by crystal clear water, thriving corals, and limestone rock formations. Small, local, and undeveloped.
2 Bagan. Few days will be so rewarding as getting up at 4 am, board a hot-air balloon, and silently flow over the temples of Bagan. As the wind will direct the path of the balloon, chances are you touch down in the middle of a surprised farmer’s backyard. Back on ground, check in at Thande Hotel and watch the river turn purple as the sun sets over the horizon. The hotel was immortalized by the Prince of Wales who stayed there during a visit to Myanmar in 1922.
3 Yangon. What makes the cultural capital of Myanmar unique is the traffic free zone due to a strict motorcycle ban. Flâneur the colonial quartiers and go for lunch at The Strand, a beautiful Victorian-styled hotel since 1901. Follow the monks to the Shwedagon Pagoda, a sanctuary place yet not affected by mainstream travel. End the day at the Bogyoke Aung San Market, where you buy yourself a “longyi”, the traditional long skirt worn by both men and woman in Myanmar.
4 Irrawaddy River. There is something special about a slow boat cruise along the Irrawaddy River, winding through the inner depth of Myanmar. Being a convenient way to travel from Mandalay to Bagan, it’s also a great way to see the countryside. Visit the small villages scattered along the river and get a unique insight into the day-to-day life. Artisans making hats, a man rolling a Burmese cigar, and children painting each other with “thanaka”, the traditional face decoration made from tree bark.
5 Mandalay. Although the colonial touch has faded over the years, Mandalay still have lots to offer. Head to the U Bein Bridge, one of the longest teak-wood bridges in the world, and enjoy the street life at the Zegyo Market. For a different experience, cross the river and visit the Mingun Pagoda. Planned to be the largest Buddhist temple in the world, even bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza, the construction ceased and the building was abandoned. It was later cut in two pieces during an earthquake. Sounds intriguing? It is.
Written by Erik Ekberger. Photography: Erik Ekberger
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