Before I took the flight from Bangkok to Yangon in September 2011 I was told that life, standard of living and infrastructure in Myanmar is similar to life in Thailand 30 years ago. Very excited about the upcoming 14 days, I was curious if this statement really was true. I decided to visit the so called “big four of Myanmar” which are: Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake.
I picked some of my best photos of my two week trip around Myanmar that show this last best kept secret of Southeast Asia (maybe along with Papua New Guinea and Borneo), its outstanding natural beauty and the hope of its warm and hospitable people for political reforms, freedom and prosperity.
Even though Yangon is one of the most polluted and dirty cities I have ever visited, the moment I entered the incredibly beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda I didn’t regret to have started and ended my trip in Myanmar’s capital. The golden stupa is 99m high, said to contain eight strands of hair from Gautama (the historical Buddha) and made out of pure gold which is more than the Bank of England holds in its vaults.
The temple exists for more than 2,600 years and is therefore not just the oldest, but also the most important religious monument for the Burmese people.
Other attractions of Yangon include and the fishmarket at the harbour, the 2,500 year old Sule Pagoda and the fine views of downtown on top of one of the business buildings (last two pictures).
Manadaly was the last capital of the Kingdom of Burma from 1857 to 1885, before Great Britain invaded the country and took it as its colony.
The main attraction in Mandalay next to its numerous temples is the holy Mandalay hill. I woke up early at around 4:30am to meet my self-organized tuk-tuk driver that took me up to the top of the hill (230m) where the Su Taung Pyi Pagoda can be found. Sunrise is at about 6am year-round and the views over the calm town and the plains are beautiful (first picture).
However the highlight of my trip to Mandalay was visiting U Bein Bridge in Amarapura, a small town 11km south of Mandalay. With a total length of 1.2 km (about 0.75 mi) this is believed to be the longest and oldest (1850) teakwood bridge in the world. I went on a boat cruise on the Taung Tha Man lake for sunset with another Australian traveler – a wonderful experience.
Formerly called Pagan, Bagan is an ancient city that was the capital of the first Myanmar Kingdom, the Pagan Kingdom, from the 9th to the 13th centuries and the first kingdom to unify the different Burmese regions under King Anawrath. Bagan therefore is of similar cultural and historical significance for the Burmese people that is Sukhothai for the Thai people.
On a site that measures 13 by 8 km more than 10,000 temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed between the 10th to 14th centuries, of which about 2,500 are still existing today.
The best way to explore the temples of Bagan is by bicycle and that’s what I did, find below my best pictures of my full day exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site – the day after playing football with some local monks in the park’s closest township of Nyaung U.
4. Inle Lake
With 116 sq km (44.9 sq mi), Inle Lake is Myanmar’s 2nd largest lake. It’s also one of the country’s highest (880m, 2,900 feet) and deepest (average water depht 2.1m, 7 feet, deepest point 3.7m, 12 feet). Sounds interesting, but you might still be wondering why a lake can make it on the list of Myanmar’s top 4 attractions?
That’s the good thing about a photo essay, I’m sure if you just look at the pictures below you will know why you shouldn’t miss out this place on your travels around Myanmar.
Inle Lake is home to several ethnic groups and by going on a full day river cruise from the township of Nyaungshwe you will experience their fascinating villages with wooden and woven bamboo houses built on stilts and cultural traditions such as floating vegetable gardens, cigar production and the famous rowing style fishing.
I hope you enjoyed reading my photo essay about Myanmar’s Big Four, maybe you feel inspired experiencing these wonderful places by yourself.
If you do think about traveling around Myanmar, you might also find my post about Advice on Budget Travel in Myanmar useful.