Don't Miss Places In Burma
Myanmar was called Burma until 1989. It is rimmed by forest clad mountains that surround the broad valley of the Ayeyarwady River. Most of the population lives in the delta of this great river, where the houses are built on stilts to protect them from floods and wild animals. Rice farming is the major occupation of the Myanmar people, but minority groups such as the Chin people live in the hills, where their livelihood is composed of hunting and fishing. Learn about the Buddhist temples, rugged mountainside, floating market and the history of the various empires that wield power on its land.
Here are top ten of the not to be missed places in Burma.
Yangon is located in the west of the lake on the hill of real Singuttara. The Shwedagon Pagoda is the most important pagoda in the country with a 98 meter high golden stupa that dominates the view of the city. It stands on a hill high above Yangon. It is about 2500 years old, decorated all over with gold, precious stones and bells. The great stupa is covered with about 60 tons of gold leaf. One can ascend to the temple through the central route or through an elevator that is typically the obligatory path for foreign tourists. The pointed tower has a weather vane laced with more than 1000 precious stones. Once at the top, a 60,000 sq. ft. marble platform extends to the next 60 small stupas where the shrines and figures stand. However, everyone has to take off their shoes and make this visit barefoot or with socks. One needs to dress appropriately (shorts, mini skirts and sleeveless shirts are not allowed).The floor is spotless and is constantly cleaned by eager helpers. You can shoot pictures anywhere but not during praying times. You have to bring a lot of time. Particularly impressive is a tour after the sunset, everything lights up and illuminate the majestic presence of the golden pagoda. You can sit in a magical atmosphere and admire the domes covered with gold and precious gems.
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The Chaukhtatgyi Paya is considered as the largest reclining Buddha in Yangon that is impressive due to its size and importance. The elongated posture evokes either rest or the death of the Buddha. You can check out the soles of his feet and observe the distinctive signs. There are 108 markings and they represent the three modes that dominates the world and devotion of the Buddha.
If anything can come close to the wonder that is Angkor, definitely it would be the Bagan Temple Complex. It is an immense plain that is dotted with brick stupas most of which are in a surprisingly good condition despite centuries of existence. Partially destroyed by the Mongol Army in the olden times, most of the ruined Buddhist temples still stand at the so called “City of a Thousand Temples” established since A.D. 849.The famous temples are indeed beautiful, but a visit to the little gem called the Dhamayangyi Temple is a must. The view from the Bulethi Pagoda, although it is a more petite pagoda is equally impressive and stunning. Such is the charm of Bagan, the city of at least 4,400 pagodas spread all across its vast expanse. You can enjoy a sunrise all alone on top of a temple, meditating, thinking, and contemplating.
It is a slow city, that one should take the time to soak it, taste it, and understand its magical way of being. It is clearly one of the most amazing cities in the world. See an entire plain full of temples of different structures, sizes, and colors amongst a field of green and houses. It is a spectacle worth seeing. Get on one of the highest stupas surrounded by all kinds of temples while waiting for dawn or dusk. The peace and quiet all around is priceless.
When in Mandalay a visit to the Golden Palace Monastery (Shwenandaw Kyaung) in which everything is built of teak wood and finely carved with beautiful and excellent watermarks is a definite priority. The guide narrates that during the olden times, the palace served as the official residence of famous King Mindon. After his death it was dismantled and became a monastery and called Golden Palace because inside and outside it was covered with gold. Unfortunately, almost all of the gold was destroyed or plundered especially around the exterior where it is prone to easy theft. If you get inside, there are still parts that are covered with gold leaf. The entire temple is finely carved with various statues including angels, mythical ancient creatures and flowers of various types. Every corner of this great temple built entirely of wood has something worth stopping to admire. Doors, columns, ceilings, and fixtures were all artistically done.
The Kuthodaw Pagoda and The World’s Largest Book is an interesting religious complex that requires at least an entire afternoon to understand all of its teachings. Standing alongside the pagoda, there are over 729 “white” small stupas containing a marble slab where the rules of classical Buddhism are inscribed. It imparts 2 pages of the Buddha's teachings in each stupa. The plates were studied by monks who know the dead language Pali and uniquely engraved the message on every large marble slab. An English speaking Buddhist monk guides and explain what every passage means.
The weekly floating market on Inle Lake just south of Taunggyi represents how ingeniously hard working the Burmese people is. They ply their trade on the river that consist of the produce grown by the local market such as; rice, fish, freshly harvested fruit and vegetables. You can see people of various ethnicities wearing their costumes and selling what they grow or fish. It is a true delight for the senses. Until 1990, all types of farming were controlled by the government. From then on farmers were given the right to choose which crops they can grow.
It is truly an experience to visit the Indein Village where hundreds of pagodas and stupas with an age of a thousand years stand next to each other. It looks like a magical place where you need to go through the fields and floating villages and with the nice ruins as its idyllic background. You cannot miss any of the temples even from afar. Their antiquity and imposing presence can be viewed from all vantage point of the Taunggyi region. If you go early in the morning before the tourists arrive and souvenir sellers can put up their stalls, you can walk in peace and discover this truly unique place.
Kengtung (Shan State)
The classic tour for anyone visiting Burma does not usually include the Hill Tribe Village in Kengtun, perhaps because the region is not prepared for tourism and takes a bit of adaptability to small inconveniences due primarily to the shape of the area, the rough roads and then the isolation of a myriad of small tribes that are different from each other that inhabit these high hills. To visit the tribal villages and understand what social tourism means, you take a trekking hike on the 7-8 km of steep descents and climbs through woods, streams and rice terraces.
You will have a rare opportunity of meeting the first of the Akha tribe. You can see women wearing the traditional robes and headdresses adorned with beautiful pendants and silver coins. Inside there is also a small catholic church and children go to the adjacent school. Their shaman will invite you to his home and sit with him while he played a simple musical tool to entertain his guests. Unfortunately, these tribes are abandoned by the state and the children often suffer from fungal infections and skin diseases. Do not miss seeing the village; it's an eye opening experience of the sad reality that faces the people of Myanmar –poverty. The villagers are friendly and for sure they expect tourists and want to sell their crafts, but nothing is overdone for they do not disguise themselves and really live in their traditions. The village is so far from the city proper and they need to walk for long hours to reach it. You can do this excursion with the accompaniment of a local guide and a rented vehicle.
Mingun can be reached by taking a boat trip from the dock of Mandalay (Mayan Chan Pier). The river tour and journey of about an hour and a half is pleasant and it is interesting to see the life of the people who live along the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy River. See kids who swim in the water while the women do their laundry as several small motor boats loaded up to capacity with tourists and locals cross the river. The trip costs $ 5 per official company and tickets can be purchased in a small shed at the top of the pier Mayan Chan. The boat can accommodate 20 people and leaves at 9 am everyday. Private boats can be arranged but the costs are way higher than the regular jetty ride.
When seen from the top of the jetty ride, the Mingun Paya may appear like a “strange looking hill” from a distance but upon closer look turns out to be the remains of a never-completed Pagoda during the 18th century under the empire of King Bodawpaya. A group of cheerful locals will welcome you once the boat dock on this attraction. The steep ascent stair climb to the top of the unfinished pagoda is allowed where the view is much greater. The amazing archaeological structure looks like a large stack pile of bricks with a huge carved out white entrance door. You can check out the nearby 90 tons and 4 meters high Mingun Bell that is accessible by an ox cart ride from the pagoda. Within this vicinity, the white temple of the Mya Thein Dan Pagoda is also open to the public and worth a visit.
The Shwe Oo Min Paya is one of the most incredible places that faith can generate. Located within the enormous caves of Kalaw, for centuries the pilgrims of the Buddhist faith will leave statues of the god, in every shape, size and material.
It is believed that more than 9,000 images are kept and now serves as a living testimony of the Buddhist devotion. The pagoda is a sight to behold and particularly impressive.
The Kyaik Phun Pagoda is completely different from other religious temples that can be visited on a trip to Myanmar. In particular, the temple is home to the shrine of the Four seated Buddha’s namely; Kakkusana, Konagamana, Kassapa, and Gotama seated in four positions back to back in four directions. The four statues of Buddha were built by King Migadippa of Bago in the 7th century AD and later renovated by King Dhammaceti in the 15th century AD.
The faithful come here early to pray and give many offerings, but it's a pretty quiet place and taking pictures inside comes with a corresponding fee for the upkeep of the pagoda.
The U Bein Bridge itself is remarkable not only for its length but because it is built of all teak. However, it is pleasant to take a walk to enjoy a bit of peace and stopping to talk with local people or the young Buddhist monks who curiously observe the arrival of tourists. At the entrance of the bridge, the enterprising locals have developed a trade in souvenirs of all kinds and the shore is full of bars and restaurants offering food and drinks.
You can see the bucolic scenes around the community like those of the oxen pulling the plow or the fishermen passing by with their boats full of fish.
The Caves of Po Win Taung holds a rich archeological religious complex containing over 500,000 Buddha’s and magnificent paintings of different styles and diversity. The Buddha’s were carved into the rock like paintings during the sixteenth century. Most of the entrances to the caves are carved with motifs of flowers and monkeys playing in the trees.
Discover and be in awe at the countless Buddha’s of various sizes, sitting or standing, and displayed in shadow colors that can be seen in all its intensity and splendor.