Yangon was the capital of Myanmar until 2005 when the government moved to the new capital Nay Pyi Taw. However, being the capital since 1885 and the largest city in Myanmar, Yangon is the most vibrant commercial city. Yangon is where most international visitors start and end their trips in Myanmar. The most iconic monument in Yangon is the renowned more-than-2000-years-old Shwedagon Pagoda, which is also the most sacred religious site in Myanmar. You can see many religious monuments and buildings in Yangon including Sule Pagoda, Botahtaung Pagoda, Chaukhtatkyi reclining Buddha, St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral which is the largest church in Myanmar, St. John the Baptist Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church, Shri Kali Hindu Temple, Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, Bengali Sunni Jamae and Narsapuri Moja Jamae mosques. As Yangon was where British captains of industry once lived, Yangon’s downtown, especially the river front area, displays many buildings with beautiful colonial architecture. Maha Bandoola Park where the Independent Monument is standing, the National Museum, People’s Park, Kandawgyi Park, Inya Lake, Yangon Zoo, Hlawgar National Park, Htaukkyant Allied War Memorial and Bogyoke Aung San Museum are the places of interest.
Mandalay was built by King Mindome in 1859 and, the capital was named “Yadanarbon” and the royal palace was named “Mya Nan Sankyaw”. Being in the centre of the city, the palace with its wall and moat can be visited conveniently. $10 Mandalay zone ticket is required. Shwenandaw Kyaung, which was the royal apartment originally where King Mindon died is the perfectly preserved monastery. It was originally inside the palace. King Thibaw, the son of King Mindon, moved it outside and turned it into the monastery. The places to visit are Mandalay hill where the 360 degree views of the city and surrounding areas can be enjoyed, Mahamuni Pagoda which is the second most sacred religious site in Myanmar, Atumashi Kyaung, Shwe Kyaung, Shwe In Bin Monastery and Kuthodaw Pagoda. Kuthodaw Pagoda houses 729 Buddha marble stone slabs inscribing the Buddhist scriptures and being well-known as the World’s largest book in Guinness Record, it is also the World’s Heritage listed. In Mandalay, there are many gold leaf workshops you can visit and learn about the process of gold leaves - very thin leaves of gold that people in Myanmar apply to Buddha statues and pagodas.
There are two ancient cities near Mandalay: Amarapura and Inwa (Ava). Amarapura was the capital during Bodaw Phayar’s time. In Amarapura, Taungthaman Lake and the iconic U-Bein bridge are famous. U-Bein bridge is the world’s longest teak bridge with 984 teak pillars. Inwa had been the royal capital for five times from the 14th to the 19th centuries. The teak-built Bagaya Monastery, the brick and stucoo Maha Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery, the decaying Nanmyint Watchtower and the Yedanasini Paya complex are places to explore and learn about the architecture of Inwa.
Bagan, the most important archeological site in Myanmar, is situated in Mandalay Region. Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom from the 9th to 13th centuries and it was the first kingdom to unity the areas which would constitute in modern Myanmar later. It is the place where Theravada Buddhism, started to flourish in Burmese history. There were more than 4,000 ancient temples and pagodas in Bagan and nowadays, only more than 2,000 temples can be seen. Due to the government’s insensitive renovation in 1990s, Bagan has not attained UNESCO World Heritage Site status. However, with more than 2,000 ancient temples on the Bagan plain, the atmosphere and scenery of Bagan are amazing especially at the sunrise and sunset time. Taking a hot ballon ride over those temples would be a memorable experience. It can be extremely hot during the summer time and therefore, it is advisable to take measures for hot weather if you are visiting during the summer time between March and May.
Mount Popa is the extinct volcano, which is usually referred as ‘Taung Ma Gyi or the main mountain’. The original crater of the main mountain was circular but the whole of the north-western side was blown away leaving it like a horse-shoe. Mount Popa is well-known for its huge rocky outcrop known as Papa Taungkalat, which frequently appears in the postcards. There is a monastry at the summit of the outcrop and there are 777 steps from the base to the top. Popa Taungkalat is the home for 37 Nats (Spirits) and the Nat festival is held in March and in December. Mount Popa has been established as a National Park since 1983 and sandalwood forest and different species of birds and butterflies are preserved in the National Park. There is a hikking trail which climbs upto the rim of the extinct volcano, with the starting point near Popa Mountain Resort.
Pyin Oo Lwin, once known as May Myo, is located at 67 kilometers to the east of Mandalay and at an altitude of 1,070 metres on the Shan Highland. It is popular as a retreat from hot and busy Mandalay city. Once it had been a colonial hill station, many beautiful colonial buildings can be seen. The beautifully decorated horse-carts are popular transport in Pyin Oo Lwin, adding more charms to the beauty of the town. There are fascinating waterfalls near Pyin Oo Lwin and famous ones are Pwe Kauk waterfall, Peik Chin Myaung waterfall and cave and Dat Taw Gyeint Waterfall. The National Botanical Gardens established in 1915 is a lovely place and popular for its variety of flowers and trees. The flower festival is held in December-January.
Sagaing had been an ancient capital with the name of “Zayar Pura” in Myanmar history. There are many pagodas, monasteries and temples in Sagaing especially on Sagaing hill. Soon-U-Pone-Nya-Shin is the most famous pagoda on Sagain hill. Sagaing Kaunkmhutaw, Moe Hnyin Than-Boke-Day, Bawdhi Ta Htaung (1000 Bawdhi banyan trees), Mingun Temple and Mingun Bell are famous. Mingun Bell had been the world largest functioning bell weighing 55,555 viss until 2000 when the bell in Pingdingshan Province, China was made. Migun Temple was built by King Bodawphayar in 1790 but it was not completed. It is thought that Mingun Temple would be the world largest religious building if it had been finished. Even though it wasn’t finished, the footer foundations are said to be the world’s largest piles of brick. The ancient Pyu city, Han Linn, can also be seen in Sagaing. Shwe Bo was once the capital in Kong Baung dynasty (1115-1753). Shwe Bo Thanakha, the traditional cosmetic past from Thanakha tree, is famous among Myanmar People due to its sweet smell.
Naypyidaw is the capital city of Myanmar since 2005 after the government decided to move the capital from Yangon. Naypyidaw means ‘Abode of Kings’ and as per the Constitution, it is administered as the Naypyidaw Union Territory. It is located about 320 kilometres north of Yangon and 3.2 kilometres west of Pyinmana. Naypidaw is divided into different zones including three hotel zones. Uppatasanti Pagoda was buit in 2009 and it is the replica of Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda but it has domed shaped interior. Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, Myanmar’s 31-building parliament can be visited through a guided tour of the building with pre-arranged permit. Water Fountain park, Naypyidaw Zoo, Safari Park, Planetarium, National Landmark Garden and Defence Services Museum are places to visit. Since the buildings, including shopping centres and malls, were constructed not near to each other, it is not possible to walk around to go from place to place and you will need a scooter or taxi to get around.
The UNESCO World Heritage listed Sri Ksetra (Thayekhittaya), the ancient Pyu city, is located to the east of Pyay. It was the city of Pyu from 5th to 9th centuries and the remains of the royal palace, tombs, pagodas and other religious sites with different architectural style can be seen. Pyay is the small town 290 kilometers to the north west of Yangon and can be reached from in 5-6 hour by car. Pyay Shwe San Daw is the famous pagoda. To the south west of Pyay is Akauk Tuang (Customs Hill) where the Buddha images were carved into the cliffs and you can take a pleasant boat trip in Ayawaddy river to see those Buddha images and then go up the cliff to the hilltop pagoda to enjoy the scenic view of Ayawaddy river and surrounding plains. Shwe Taung is a small town to the south west of Pyay. Shwe Nat Taung Pagoda and Shwe Myet Mhan (Golden Glasses) Pagoda are famous. Shwe Myet Mhan Pagoda wearing the big golden glasses has an interesting story about how donating glasses to the pagoda and paying homage can cure the eye slight loss.
Chaungtha and Ngwe Saung are two beaches on the coast of the Bay of Bengals. Although they are not more beautiful than Ngapali beach, because of their proximity to Yangon (5 hours drive), the beaches are popular for Yangonites. Ngwe Saung has clearer water, white-sand beaches and quiet environment, when Chaungtha offers more affordable accommodations and wider beach fun activities. You can get good seafood at both beaches. You can hire a motorbike and ride between two beaches along the coastal track. Pathein is the passing point to these popular beaches Chaungtha and Ngwe Saung. Pathein hand-made parasols are unique and beautiful and Pathein Halawa is a popular snack in Myanmar.
Mt Victoria (Mt Khonuamthung or Nat Ma Taung) is the thirst highest mountain in Myanmar (the first and second are Mt Kakaborazi and Mt Ganlanrazi in Kachin State), with the peak at 10,016 feet. It is the ASEAN Heritage National Park and home to rare flora and fauna. It is a famous place for nature lovers to do bird watching and to see flowers, especially Rhododendron white, yellow and red species. It is said that Rhododendron white specie is found only at Mt Victoria. To climb Mt Victoria, you can take shorter trail or longer trail. The shorter trail starts from the base camp to where you can take 45 minute drive from Kanpetlet. The hike takes about five hours to the summit and back to the camp. For longer trail, you can take 10 mile walking trail from Kanpetlet. For even longer trekking options, there is the circular route between Kanpetlet, Mt Victoria and Mindat (five days, four nights) or a direct route to Mindat from Kanpetlet (two days, two night) with overnight stays at village houses. You will need a guide to do overnight trekkings.
Myitkyina is the capital and largest city in Kachin State. It is situated on the west bank of Ayarwaddy river, just below 40 kilometers from Myitsone, the scenic confluence of Maikha and Malikha rivers joining together to form the mighty Ayarwaddy river. Myitkyina is the northernmost river port and railway terminus in Myanmar. Kachin Manaw Festival is held in Myitkyina in January. Thousands of Kachin people come from villages and towns to take part in the tribal custom mass dance. There are diverse religious places in Myitkyina such as Sutaung Pyae Pagoda complex, standing and reclining Buddhas, impressive golden Hindu temple and churches.
Indawgyi, the largest lake in Myanmar, is located in Mohnyin township and is accessible from Myitkyina. It is the beautiful pristine destination for nature lovers. The Indawgyi wetland wildlife sanctuary was established in 1999. Many resident water birds and migratory birds can be found and therefore, it is a destination for birdwatchers. Other popular activities are kayaking, cycling, motorbiking, trekking, boating and fishing. Shwe Myitzu Pagoda is famous and the pagoda festival is held in March. On the north shore, Shwe Taung (Golden mountain) offers a great view of the lake and surrounding area. Trekking, cycling or motorbiking to lake-side villages is an interesting trip. Foreigner-licensed accommodation can be found in Lonton village on the west shore.
Putao is the northenmost town and located in the Himalayan foothills. It is accessible by road during summer and all year round by air. From Putao, all year round breathtaking snow-capped mountain ranges are visible. Serious adventure activities such as white water rafting, trekking, mountaineering, skiing and hiking to Kakabo Razi base camp and Himalayan valleys can be done. However, the costs are high and there is no budget option. Putao is also famous for its flora and fauna. The rare “Black Orchid” is seen on the mountains around Putao. Kakabo Razi is the hightest mountain in Southeast Asia with 5881 meters elevation and is covered with ice and snow. The Kakabo Razi National Park was established in 1996 and some of the world’s endangered butterfly species can be seen. The second tallest mountain called Ganlan Razi is also situated in Kachin State. Currently, Putao is off-limit to foreigners due to the security situation.
Hpa-An is the capital of Kayin State, situated on the eastern bank of Thanlwin river. It is a picturesque town with surrounding mountains and religiously significant caves. Shwe Yin Hmaw Pagoda is well-known and having built on the bank of Thanlwin river, you can enjoy a beautiful view of the river from the pagoda. Kayin Cultural Museum can give you some ideas about the background on local cultural and history. Kawgun cave, Yathaypyan cave, Kawkathaung cave and Sadan cave are famous caves around Hpa-An. Kyone Htaw waterfall is a beautiful waterfall in Hlaing Bwe township. The beautiful Mount Zwegabin (16 kilometers south eat of Hpa-An) is the symbolic mountain of Kayin State. The best views of Mount Zwegabin can be seen from Kan Thar Yar lake, which can be found near town centre, and also from Kyauk Kalap which is on the way to Mount Zwegabin. Kyak Kalap is a unique pagoda sitting on the top of an unusual shaped rock in the middle of a man-made lake. Climbing Mount Zwegabin takes 2-4 hours to reach the summit.
Thandaung is a town in the northern-west part of Kayin State. Although it is in Kayin State, the town is best accessible from Taunggo, Bago Region. Thandaung Gyi is a beautiful part on Bwihikho mountain range at 4050 feet above sea level. It was the hill resort town in British colonial time and therefore, you can see few colonial style buildings including Tea Factory which supply tea rations to Myanmar military army. You can trek around tea plantations in the town and also to nearby mountains. Naw Bu Baw Mountain is not only an important religious site for Kayin Christians in the area but also a popular attractions among travelers. Thandaung Lay is the base part of the town at the mountain base. It takes about two and half hours from Taunggo through Thandaung Lay to Thandaung Gyi along the snake-like road to the hills through forest. The scenes along the road are spectacular and you can see teak plantations on the way. Pathi spring and waterfall is near the base camp and it is also a popular picnic spot. It is important to carry a copy of your passports to give to police at the checkpoint in Thandaung Lay.
Loikaw is the capital of Kayah State, which has recently opened up to foreigners after ceasefire agreements of fifty-years civil war between Burmese Army and ethnic militaries. Taung Kwel (Broken Hill) Pagoda, the signature monument of Kayah State, is located in Loikaw. Taung Kwel Pagoda is the collection of nine gilded pagodas on the top of nine limestone outcrops. Form the pagoda, you can enjoy the scenic Kayan mountain ranges and Loikaw city. Demoso is the second largest town and the Demoso morning market is the interesting place to explore. The tribal people from nearby villages come and sell their goods at the market. There are ten native tribes including Kayah, Kayan and Kayaw. Among them, the Kayan tribe is unique and well-known for its long-necked ladies wearing copper rings. You can take day trips to the tribal villages. Overnight stay outside Loikaw is not allowed at this stage.
Mrauk U is a second famous archaeology site after Bagan, with hundreds of temples and pagodas. It was the capital of Arakan Kingdom between 15th to 18th centuries by the name of “Danyawaddy” but it had been abandoned for many years. Now, it becomes famous again for its spectacular and unique picture-perfect sceneries and beautiful structures. Among hundreds of temples and pagodas, Shitthaung temple, Htuukkanthein temple, Koethaung Temple, Andaw temple, Ratanabon Zedi, Maha Bawdi Shwegu, Lattsaykan Lake and Gate, Zinamanaung Pagoda, Shwe Taung Pagoda, Sakya Mamaung Pagoda, Phara Ouk, Mong Khong Shwe Pagoda, Ratasanrway and Ratahmankeen temples, Pitaka Taik (library of Buddhist Scriptures), Old Palace with crumbling walls and Archaeology Museum are points of interest. It will take about two-three days to visit all famous pagodas and temples. The best part is watching sunrise and sunrise over the mysterious looking land. From Mrauk U, you can take a day trip to Wethali, a small village which was the capital of an ancient kingdom over thousand years ago, Hsu Taung Pyae Pagoda and Mahamuni Pagoda or you can take a boat trip to the Chin villages along Lay Myo River, where you can find the elder Chin ladies with facial tattoos.
Hsipaw is another famous trekking town and it is situated in the northern Shan State. The train from Mandalay to Hsipaw crosses a gorge via the Goteik viaduct which was built during British colonial times and the train journey can be quite an experience. You can take short trek or a bike tour in the town and to the surrounding places such as Little Bagan, a collection of pagodas to the north, the Chinese cemetery, the Shan Palace where the last Shan Prince (Sawbwa) resided, waterfalls and pools in the nearby hills. The Dohttawaddy River Confluence is a beautiful and popular picnic spot and the confluence is referred as the second conflucence of Myanmar after Ayawaddy Confluence. The one-hour boat ride to the confluence from Hsipaw is very pleasant and Shan villages on the way can be visited. Trekking from Hsipaw to Namhsam, the tea capital of Myanmar, is a long trek with beautiful scenery but you can’t do it independently and need a special permit.
Ngapali is the most popular beach in Rakhine State which lies on the coast of the Bay of Bengal and has many beautiful beaches. Ngapali beach is lined with beautiful stretch of white sand and palm trees. There is Ngapali Water Sport Centre where you can find out about water activites in Ngapali. You can hire local fishing boats for the boat tours. Or, you can do motorbike tours, cycling tours, hot air balloon tours and rafting tours.
The renowned Inle Lake is situated in the southern Shan State. It is the fresh water lake surrounded by Shan Hills and is the second largest lake in Myanmar. Inle Lake is famous for its the locals who lives on water with floating villages, floating garden, floating market and their unique rowing style with one leg. Nyaung Shwe is the town located about five kilometres to the north of Inle Lake where you can find the budget and mid-range accommodation with a number of restaurant and bars. The more luxurious and expensive hotels are lined along the shore of the lake. You can take the boat trips to visit in the lake. The famous spots are Ywama village and Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, Nampan village and floating gardens, Indein village and its atomospheric groups of ancient pagoda, Nge Hpe Kyaung monastery, Inthar Heritage House and other souvenir shops where you can see the traditional silversmith, cloth making and other crafts. You can enjoy the bike tour around the lake or the hot air balloon tour over the lake. Red Mountain Estate vineyard, one of only two vineyards in Myanmar, is situated in the hills to the east of Inle lake, from where you can enjoy the beautiful scene of Inle Lake especially at the sunset. From Inle Lake, you can do the long trekking to Kalaw. It will take about two - three days depending on the route.
Kalaw is a beautiful hill station town to the west of Inle Lake, with the pleasant weather. Long trekking between Kalaw and Inle is the popular activity. It will take about two - three days depending on the route. During the trekking, you will see the local tribal people and their lifestyle. Moreover, you can also trek from Kalaw to Pindaya. Trekking in Kalaw is popular as the sceneries are beautiful with the lovely weather and the locals are friendly. Short trekking can be done without local guide but for longer treks, local guide is needed as you will have to sleep at the villages and monasteries during the trekking.
Tanintharyi Region facing Andaman Sea is famous for Myeik Archipelago with more than 800 islands with white sand beaches, spectacular marine life, untouched coral reefs and the sea gypsies Moken or Salone people. There are many great spots for snorkeling and diving and also multi-day boat trips to islands with hiking and trekking on the islands and diving and snorkelling can be done. Some popular islands are Lampi Island (Sullivan Island), 115 Island (Frost Island), Cocks Comb Island, Nyaung Wee Island, Phi Lar Island and Myauk Ni Island. 115 Island is popular for hiking, snorkeling and kayaking. Among many diving sites, the Burma Banks, Black Rock and Shark Cave are famous for serious divers. Foreigners are only allowed to go around in Archipelago through the organized tours. You can start your trips from Myeik or Kawthaung. The water is clearer in the south, towards Kawthaung.