Things to Do in Myanmar
The mountainous border regions of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand come together in the exotically named Golden Triangle—a haven of Buddhist architecture, lush forest, and colorful riverfront villages. Located in the Chiang Rai province at Thailand’s northernmost tip, the Golden Triangle is thick with wonders, both natural and man-made.
Topped by a gilded spire that can be seen from across Yangon, Shwedagon Pagoda is considered Myanmar’s most significant Buddhist landmark. Visitors mingle with locals visiting shrines, lighting candles, and praying in meditation halls around the central stupa. There’s a lot to see here, from religious traditions to gorgeous artwork.
Encrusted with diamonds and other precious stones, Chaukhtatgyi Paya’s (Chauk Htat Gyi Buddha massive reclining Buddha is an awe-inspiring sight. A viewing platform gives visitors a good look at elegant detailing on the Buddha statue’s feet, which contain 108 segments—a sacred number that’s deeply significant for Myanmar’s Buddhists.
Located southwest of Mandalay Hill in Myanmar, Mahamuni Buddha Temple honors the Mahamuni (Great Sage) expression of the Buddha. The pagoda, arguably the most important to the residents of Mandalay, was built to house a 12-foot (3.8-meter) tall statue of the Buddha that was already ancient when King Bodawpaya conquered Arakan and claimed it in 1784.
According to local legend, the statue was cast while the Buddha was still alive, but it was more likely cast some six centuries after his death, somewhere around 150 AD. No matter its origins, the statue is highly venerated by devotees — evidenced by the inches thick layer of pure gold leaf that has been added to the metal statue over the centuries.
The pagoda courtyard houses six more statues, Khmer bronze pieces of lions, elephants and warriors, that were taken as war loot from Angkor Wat during the fifteenth century. It is believed that rubbing these statues imparts healing.
Located in the heart of downtown Yangon, Yangon City Hall is the official seat of the city’s administrative body, the Yangon City Development Committee. A historic and architectural landmark, the building is widely considered one of the most beautiful examples of mixed British colonial and traditional Burmese architecture.
Come to the bustling Yangon Chinatown to see vendors hawking fresh treats and to visit import shops and lively sidewalk cafes. Early evenings draw a festive crowd to 19th street, which runs through the heart of this colorful neighborhood. This is where to find some of the city’s finest street food, from barbecued kebabs to steaming bowls of soup.
Stalls burst with colorful cloth, souvenirs, gems, wooden carvings, and other wares at Bogyoke Aung San Market. Built in the waning years of British rule, the market’s cobblestone alleys and historic façade draw a lively mix of visitors and locals. A food court offers a colorful feast, from spicy noodles to ultra-fresh salads.
Bago lies about 85 kilometers north of Yangon and was founded in 573 AD. The city was one called Pegu by the British and used to be the capital of the powerful Mon Kingdom for centuries. According to records, Bago was then still connected to the ocean and was actually known as Burma’s largest seaport. Travelers from far and near boasted about its size and beauty when returning home from their journeys. These days, the power of the once important empire can only be guessed at by visiting the many sights Bago has to offer. Among those are many small and big Buddha statues, pagodas, ceremonial items and gardens.
One of the biggest and oldest reclining Buddhas in the world, which was only rediscovered in 1881, when workers started clearing the jungle for a new train route from Yangon to Bago can be found in the city. Even older are the four 27-meter-tall Buddhas, which were built by King Migadippa in the 7th century, sitting back to back at the entrance to the city. They guard Bago rigidly, greeting people who enter and leave from all directions. Food for thought offers the Kya Khat Wine Monastery, where the 1,000 monks line up soundlessly and in orderly queues every morning at 11am for the last meal of the day. When witnessing the monks exact routine, speaking and interfering is not allowed and visitors have to adhere to a strict observing only policy. During the afternoons though, the monastery is a lot less crowded and might appeal more to people who like the tranquil setting.
An oasis of green in central Yangon, Kandawgyi Nature Park offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Spanning 260 acres (105 hectares, including Kandawgyi Lake, the park is a popular recreation and relaxation spot and a great place to enjoy the scenery, people watch, and experience local culture.
Traffic whips past the gleaming spires at Sule Pagoda, a Yangon temple set in the center of a busy roundabout. Believed to be even older than the landmark Shwedagon Pagoda, Sule Pagoda is far less crowded and well worth the stop. Come to visit shrines, send a prayer card into the towering stupa, and see brightly painted Buddha statues.
More Things to Do in Myanmar
Step into Yangon’s last synagogue to see beautifully restored 19th-century architecture. Subtle detailing highlights the white interior, and the synagogue has a noteworthy collection of Torah scrolls on display. With a convenient location near Sule Pagoda, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the heritage of Yangon’s tiny Jewish community.
The Burmese-style roofs atop Yangon Central Railway Station are a landmark in downtown Yangon. For most travelers, though, they’re just a starting point in an onward journey on Myanmar’s rail network. From here, catch the Yangon Circular Train that loops around the city, or hop a ride towards the country’s most remote regions.
About 11 kilometers south of Mandalay, just between the Taungthaman Lake and the Ayeyarwady River, lays the small town of Amarapura, another former capital of the old Burmese kingdom. Apart from pagodas and the ruins of the ancient palace, the city offers one of Myanmar’s most photographed sights: the narrow, 1,200-meter-long U Bein bridge, which made entirely out of teak wood. The gangly looking bridge was built in 1784, but is still in mint condition and never needed any serious repairs. It was named after its founder, a former mayor, and was built from over 1,000 teak logs, partially even with the ruins of the abandoned royal city. Thus, for its incredible length spanning the lake, the U Bein bridge is recognized as the longest teak wood bridge in the world. Sunsets are especially popular, as the setting sun creates a beautiful silhouette of the bridge, photos of which adorn many a living room at home.
Sporadically, platforms, pavilions and benches are built into the bridge to offer travellers some rest and protection from the burning Southeast Asian sun. Apart from crossing on foot, it is also worth it to head to the Mahagandayon Monastery, which is located right at the beginning of the bridge. The monastery is one of the biggest in Myanmar and houses up to 1000 monks, some of which can often be seen strolling across the teak wood bridge in their billowing red robes. Visitors are welcome to glimpse into the life of these devout Buddhists and wander through the hallways, although it gets almost too busy during mealtimes.
Thousands of Allied troops died in Myanmar—then called Burma—during two world wars, and Taukkyan War Cemetery is their serene memorial. With beautifully tended grounds and an imposing monument at the center, the Taukkyan War Cemetery is the largest of Myanmar’s Allied cemeteries and is easy to reach from Yangon.
Immerse yourself in the food and culture of Myanmar with a dinner and traditional dance performance at Karaweik Palace. Located on the eastern shore of Kandawgyi Lake facing Shwedagon Pagoda, this glittering restaurant was designed in the shape of a royal barge, and is a landmark in Yangon and popular tourist attraction.
The Bogyoke Aung San Museum is dedicated to General Aung San, the founder of modern Myanmar and is located in the very building where he and his family lived for only two years before he was assassinated in 1947. Regarded as Myanmar’s greatest hero, in what was then Burma’s struggle for independence from Britain, General Aung San is also the father of Suu Kyi, one of today’s most recognizable figures and leader of an anti-government faction that fights against the government her father helped put in place.
The museum was established some 15 years after his death, but everything is still displayed as if the general, his wife Daw Khin Kyi and the three kids were living there. Everyday memorabilia such as books, handwritten correspondences, furniture and family photos decorate the home, Daw Khin Kyi’s dresses can be admired and one of Aung San’s cars still stands in the garage. While the personal effects are interesting to see, the most impressive part of this home turned museum is actually the house it is located in. Apparently, Aung San was a frugal man and the museums interior reflects this by being very sparse, but he did live in a beautiful two-story colonial villa. This museum offers a glimpse into the life of Myanmar’s national hero, who, despite his power was apparently a very honest and selfless man who preferred a simple lifestyle.
Looping through residential areas, vivid markets, and dozens of stations, the Yangon Circular Train is daily transit for many locals, but it’s also a fascinating way to see the city. With plenty of chances to stop and explore, you can step off the train to shop for souvenirs, taste Yangon cuisine, or photograph bustling neighborhoods.
Just across the river from Mae Sai in Thailand sits Tachileik, the main border town between Northern Thailand and Myanmar. Due to its position close to Thailand and not far from a border crossing with China, Tachileik has become a bustling, modern town with an international flare quite unlike any other place in Myanmar.
Since tourism regulations have only recently loosened in Myanmar, Tachileik only has a few things to do, making it fun for a quick stopover. One of the most popular attractions is the labyrinthine border market popular with day trippers from Thailand. Shwedagon Paya, the town’s gilded pagoda, is also worth a look.
Found nearly at the exact center point on the map of Myanmar, the town of Mingun is famous for the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, which is an unfinished pagoda that was being constructed in the 1790s. The construction on the pagoda was never completed because of a claim made by an astrologist that as soon as the construction was completed, the ruler, King Bodawpaya, would die. Visitors to Mingun will also notice the cracks that run through the rock. These cracks are the result of a massive earthquake that hit the town in the 1830s. Travelers are welcome to climb the unfinished building and although there is obviously little to see in the rock itself, there are stunning views of the region and the impressive Mya Theindan pagoda below to be had.
Local tour guides claim that the pagoda is actually the world's largest unfinished stupa and that if it had ever been finished, it would be the largest completed one. Finished and very impressive is the Hsinbyume Pagoda, a pure white structure with seven terraces and many niches filled with mythical monsters, which was dedicated to the favorite wife of a king. Along with the pagodas, there is also a ringing bell that was cast during the same period on the orders of King Bodawpaya. Fitting in with the realm of “everything is bigger in Mingun,” the bell is the largest ringing bell in the world.
The Golden Rock, also known as the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda because of the Stupa on top of it, is just what it sounds like: a somewhat surreal looking, gold shimmering boulder that seems to completely defy gravity, threatening to drop into the adjoining 1,100-meter deep abyss at any moment. The legend says that for over a thousand years, a single hair of Buddha has been holding the roughly head shaped piece of granite in equilibrium. While the legend stands in contrast to the geological explanation, the reason why the rock seems to be made of solid gold is noticeable immediately. Women aren’t allowed to touch the big nugget, but men crowd around the bottom, sticking golden flakes on the stone, kneeling in prayer and wrapped in the smoke of incense.
Buddhism is omnipresent in Myanmar and accordingly the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the country. Up to 50,000 people visit on important days to see the rock that has survived centuries of weathering, earthquakes and erosion, while an average day usually attracts around 15,000 pilgrims. Although there is an air of devotion surrounding the site, the area has also been developed into a true tourist site providing everything you might need on the mountain, from accommodation, platforms, various buildings to food stalls selling delicious pancakes, skewers, fried fish and rice noodles.
With a history that stretches back to the colonial era, Little India is a buzzing neighborhood in Yangon that’s known for great street food, open-air fruit sellers, and the magnificent Sri Kaali Amman Hindu Temple. Set out on foot to find Indian-style teahouses, restaurants, and shops—they’re a glimpse of Yangon’s impressive cultural diversity.
The glittering blue waters of Inle Lake lie at the heart of the Shan Highlands, surrounded by verdant hills. Myanmar’s second-largest lake is a popular destination for intrepid travelers, who come to cruise the lake, soak up the scenery, and experience local life in the lakeside fishing villages.
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