This was my first visit to Myanmar, and I wasn't sure what to expect. Myanmar is a southeast Asian nation with over 100 ethnic groups. I had heard a little about this country from some of my other travel agent friends, but I was still mostly in the dark. When the opportunity to visit Myanmar came up I jumped on the chance to find out for myself whether this might be a new destination I could add for my travel clients. I arrived in the late evening at Yangon which is the largest city in Myanmar (formerly Burma), and took a taxi to my hotel, Sule Shangri La where I was immediately checked in and taken to my very comfortable room. I wanted to get a goods night sleep because I would be meeting with about 15 other travel agents in the morning to begin our journey thru Myanmar. We had a nice eclectic group of travel professionals from all over the world including Vietnam, Malaysia, Slovakia, Austria, Germany, Israel, Norway and of course the USA. The following are the cities and areas we visited with a brief history on each.
Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar with a mix of British colonial architecture and modern high-rise buildings all offset by gilded pagodas defining its skyline. Yangon is renowned for its famous Shwedagon Pagoda which is also known as the Golden Pagoda which was built about 2,500 years ago. This pagoda has 4.32 tons of real gold and jewels and it shimmers in the daylight, and looks spectacular at night when it is all lit up. There is also the Sule Pagoda (A Burmese Stupa) which is located in the heart of downtown Yangon. Legend has it that the Sule Pagoda was built during the time of the Buddha which makes it over 2,600 years old. Kandawgyi Lake is one of two major lakes in Yangon. It is located east of the Golden Pagoda. The lake is man-made with water funelled from Inya Lake through a series of pipes. It was created to provide a clean water supply to the city during the British colonial administration.
The Botataung Pagoda is another famous pagoda located in downtown Yangon near the Yangon river. It was built by the Mon also around 2,500 years ago, and was known as Kyaik-de-att in the Mon language. There is a very beautiful park located downtown called Maha Bandula Garden which is a public park.
Our next stop was a short flight to Bagan which was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan from the 9th to the 13th century. This kingdom was the first to unify the area now known as Myanmar thus establishing the Burmese culture and ethnicity as well as Theravada Buddhism. Over 10,000 temples were built on the plains surrounding the capital next to the Irrawaddy River. The thousands of temples are the most impressive testament to the religous devotion of the Myanmar's people. Bagan has been hit by earthquakes over the years with extensive damage leaving only approximately 3,800 monuments of varied sizes in varying states of repair. We visited the local market while in the main town. Bagan is famous for its lacquerware which is all done by hand, and which we had the privilege of getting to see it made.
Another quick flight and we arrived in Mandalay. Unlike the many ancient capitals spread around the country, Mandalay is a relatively new city, having been built in 1857 when King Mindon was trying to re-establish Burmese prestige after the country's defeat in the Second Anglo-Burmese war. It was built on a grand scale, and the size of Mandalay Palace is a testament to this. This walled citadel, surrounded by a large moat, is situated in the middle of the city. It looks very imposing from the outside, but was extensively damaged by bombing during the 2nd world war - along with much of Mandalay. It has been reconstructed with a somewhat heavy hand. In contrast the reconstructed Mandalay Palace (Shwenadaw Kyaung) which is a perfectly preserved monastery has recently undergone restoration work overseen by the World Monuments Fund. Called the Golden Palace monastery in english, it was originally the royal apartment in which King Mindon died and was situated within the palace walls. It is made out of teak (despite its name) and intricate carvings adorn its walls. Mandalay Hill is the place to be at sunset, and offers a 360 degree view of the whole city. Mandalay Hill is a holy site, and it is believed to have been climbed by the Buddha. The Eindawya Pagoda and Zegyo Market are like the heart of the city with the Pagoda a living and breathing community in itself with shops liming its entrances, monks playing games along with people worshipping. Zegyo market is the largest market in Mandalay and is as old as the city itself. Shwe In Bin Monastery is a beautiful and ornate Teak monastery constructed in 1895 by Chinese merchants featuring many impressive woodcarvings and traditional art works. One of Myanmar's most religous sites, the Mahamuni Buddha Temple, is set in a large religous complex that is most famous for its seated Buddha which stands at 3.8 metres tall. It has been adorned by so much gold that its body is now a mass of golden blobs.
A 20 minute flight and we arrived at Inle Lake. My favorite part of Myanmar was visiting Inle Lake. Inle Lake measures 22 km long and 10 km wide. It sits in a valley between two mountain ranges which are excellent for trekking tours. Inle Lake is famous for its floating villages and gardens along with the unique way of life of the local Intha people - with their living communities based completely on the water. It was unlike the other parts of Myanmar we visited....almost a different world. Fishing, traditional handicrafts, silk weavers and silversmiths all ply their trade on the lake. Of course religion plays a massive part in local life with numerous pagodas and monasteries all over the lake. Travel around the lake almost entirely is by long-tail boat, and you get to see the fantastic floating gardens. The lake is only between 3-5 metres deep, and is a natural hydroponic garden where vegetables and flowers are grown by farmers on the lake. One of the holiest places on the lake is Phaung Daw OO Pagoda which is visited by Buddhist worshipers from all over Myanmar. The shrine itself is huge and features five ancient golden Buddhas. We visited Nampan village and the floating gardens with its houses built on stilts over the water. In the village there are local cigar factories and the oldest pagoda on the lake (Alodaw Pauk Pagoda) which is a large gem-encrusted shrine. We visited many villages, marketplaces, restaurants all on the lake. We also visited the famous Nga Hpe Kyaung monastery better know throughout the years as the jumping cats monastery because it is said the monks taught the cats to jump through hoops (This is no longer done).
I hope the following photos give you an idea of what traveling through Myanmar can be and they are in the same order as listed above. I would recommend visiting in September, October and November when it is a little cooler than in May where the temperature was well over 100F with extremely high humidity.
Truly Myanmar is a place I would recommend visiting, but definitely utilizing our sister company, Tour & Travel Organizers Ltd. so that we can maximize your itinerary and get to see and enjoy what I saw on this familiarization trip.
A TOUR THRU MYANMAR