Myanmar

Shwezigon Pagoda

Myanmar, the largest nation in Southeast Asia, was a very unknown land to travelers for decades while the country was under military rule. But with the easing of restrictions within the country in 2010 visitors began to journey to this deeply rich and fascinating country. Myanmar, because it was closed off from the modern world for so long, still moves at the quieter, gentler pace of an earlier time and that quiet pace is even more pronounced in Myanmar since it is a land where Buddhism suffuses every aspect of life.

Here, people still occasionally travel by horse and carriage and ceiling fans turn slowly in grand old colonial buildings. Here, large stretches of the country remain in a pristine natural state, ancient temples fill the landscape, and robed monks can be seen almost everywhere you turn.

Myanmar is famed for the gentleness of its people, the wealth of its history, the beauty of its buildings, and the lushness of its lands. It stands now at the crossroads between the old and the new, and visitors who travel to this long-fabled place will be among the first to once more experience its wonders.

YANGON

Different times in Myanmar’s history have brought different capitals: First it was Bagan and Mandalay and then, with the coming of colonial rule, the British shifted the country’s capital to Yangon (which they called Rangoon). While the capital has again shifted and Yangon no longer remains the government seat of power, Yangon is still Myanmar’s largest and best-known city and a must-see for travelers. Yangon is home to extraordinary Burmese temples, including the most famous of them all, the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is said to house relics of four Buddhas. It’s incredibly ornate stupa is crowned with a 76-carat diamond.

Yangon is filled with other sites for travelers to explore. The Reclining Buddha statue at the Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda is over two hundred feet long, done in a typically ornate Burmese style, on the soles of the Buddha’s feet are carved 108 sacred symbols of the Buddha.

Also, not to be missed in Yangon is the Bogyoke Aung San Market, the most famous market in the city, home to a huge selection of crafts made by Myanmar’s artisans, including lacquerware, carvings, tapestries, fabrics and jewelry.

BAGAN was the capital of the first Burmese empire, a magnificent Buddhist city that reached its zenith between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. In its heyday it contained some 13,000 temples and it was said to be the greatest religious city that ever existed. Marco Polo visited Bagan in 1298 and wrote of its temples: “Really, they do form one of the finest sights in the world, so exquisitely finished they are”.

Balloons flying over Bagan

Today some 2,200 of those exquisite temples remain, spread out across a plain on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. Visitors to Bagan will have an opportunity to tour a number of temples including the city’s most famous Shwezigon Pagoda, which is home to a magnificent gilded stupa where relics of Gautama Buddha are said to be enshrined.

INLE LAKE, the second largest lake in Myanmar, sits at almost 3,000 feet elevation, surrounded by hills. Time here offers travelers a chance to relax and take in some of the country’s natural beauty. There are numerous small villages around the lake, and the people of the region, the Intha people, still fish in the lake in traditional ways and farm the surrounding lands. They are also renowned for their weaving -their expertise and creativity is so great that they are even known to weave special Buddhist robes from the fibers of the lotus plant! Inle Lake, like the rest of Myanmar, also contains a number of temples and monasteries, and a visit to the region will include time exploring these sacred sites.

MANDALAY

Shwenandaw teak monastery, Mandalay

Rudyard Kipling famously wrote of “the sunshine and the palm trees and the temple bells on the road to Mandalay” in his homage to the East. Mandalay, which sits just at the center of Myanmar, was established by King Mindon in 1857 on a large plain the shadow of Mandalay Hill. It was the last royal capital of the independent Burmese kingdom, and today the city remains the cultural and religious center of Burma. It is home to a number of venerated temples including the Mahamuni Paya Shrine, home to a massive Buddha covered with over six tons of gold leaf, and also Kuthodaw Paya, which contains the entire Buddhist canon carved onto 729 tablets, each of which is contained in its own shrine.  In addition to its shrines and temples visitors to Mandalay can explore the royal palace compound and the Shwenandaw Kyaung teak monastery.