On first sight, Mandalay is a typical Asian metropolis: heavy traffic, concrete skyscrapers, smog, and lots and lots of noise. However, when one digs deeper, they will find a deep reserve of Burmese culture within the city. This history and culture manifests itself though monasteries, pagodas, various workshops, and traditional Burmese teahouses. In a country where freedom is a relatively new lifestyle for its citizens, Mandalay has become a place where people can speak their minds and join together as they begin to rebuild their nation.
Amarapura (City of Immortality) is the ancient capital of Myanmar and can be reached from Mandalay. Amarapura is set on a wide shallow lake and it full of wide roads and twisting alleyways that transport visitors back to the age in which Amarapura reigned supreme as the royal capital of Myanmar. The U Bein Bridge is the main attraction here, but there are several other sites scattered throughout the area.
U Bein Bridge
This bridge is one of the most iconic sites in Myanmar. Near the ancient capital of Amarapura (which can be reached from Mandalay), the U Bein Bridge spans more than one kilometer and is supported by over 900 teakwood posts. The bridge is one of the favorite places in Myanmar to watch the sunrise as the impressive and historically important bridge is highlighted against the sun on the horizon.
Located in the city of Mandalay, Mandalay Hill is the one peak the disturbs the otherwise flat landscape. Visitors to the hill will remove their shoes before climbing the staircase to the top. There are plenty of opportunities for shopping or for prayer along the way. When you reach the top, gaze out at the beautiful landscapes and, on a clear day, the sunset is unforgettable.
Travel from Mandalay to Mingun for a half-day tour of Mingun’s unique sites. Visit the famous Mingun Bell, the biggest functioning bell in the world, and the Mingun Paya, a huge unfinished stupa. You can reach Mingun by land or by cruising along the Irrawaddy River. Mingun never fails to provide visitors with a memorable experience.
This riverside temple-town has become the main tourist attraction since Myanmar’s tourism industry has expanded in the last several years. The entire archaeological zone covers 26 square miles and includes the towns of Old Bagan, New Bagan, the village of Myinkaba (famous for its lacquering workshops), as well as the 3,000 temples that Bagan is most famous for. Though Bagan provides most basic tourist amenities, it is by no means a party town like other temple-towns in Southeast Asia and guests should plan accordingly. Despite this lack of nightlife, guests will keep themselves busy wandering through the temples and gazing at the amazing views from the top of Mount Popa as hot air balloons soar past over the horizon.
Temples of Bagan
The archaeological site of Bagan is the most popular tourist destination in Myanmar. The city itself is located on the banks of the Irrawaddy River and the countryside around Bagan is full of approximately 3,000 ancient Buddhist temples and pagodas that date back thousands and thousands of years. You can spend as much time as you would like exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site and enjoying the magical and mystical atmosphere of Bagan. Some of the most popular temples and pagodas include: the Ananda Temple, the Shwesandaw Pagoda, and and the Dhammayangyi Temple.
Yet another solitary peak in Myanmar is Mount Popa, located southeast of Bagan. The top of the mountain is covered in golden stupas and Mount Popa is known as an incredibly spiritual place in Myanmar and is the most popular place for Buddhists to go for Nat worship (worship of the 37 spirits). In addition to learning about the spirituality surrounding the mountain, guests can gaze out at the beautiful surrounding views of Bagan and the Irrawaddy River.
Welcome to the mystical Inle Lake. Located in the center of Myanmar in the town of Nyaungshwe. The lake is the second largest in Myanmar, spanning 116 square kilometers, and is one of the main tourist attractions in the country. Most visitors to Myanmar do not consider their trip complete without a cruise on this beautiful lake. Hop on board and drift through pristine waters, visit some of the stilted villages, and wander through the temples that lie on the shores of the lake.
Indein is a lakeside village that is well known for its stupas that have been there for hundreds of years. Following a narrow canal, guests will reach the first stupas that have begun to crumble but still display ornate and intricate engravings and designs. Continuing along, visitors will reach a staircase that will lead them to the top of Shwe Inn Thein Paya where many more stupas are located and where one can gaze in awe at views of the lake and the surrounding landscapes.
Nga Hpe Kyaung (Jumping Cat Monastery)
One of the most popular sites around Inle Lake is the Jumping Cat Monastery. The monastery is home to cat that have been trained by the monks to jump through hoops during long hours between recitation of scriptures. Though the cats that currently dwell in the monastery seem to have acquired a taste for laziness rather than jumping, another reason to visit the monastery is the collection of ancient images of the Buddha.
One of the iconic sites that Inle Lake is known for; Maing Thauk is a small village of which half is located on dry land and half extends into the water. The buidling are supported by stilts that keep the water from entering people’s homes. If you continue past the village you can reach a hilltop monastery that offers excellent views of the beautiful lake below.
Another iconic site around Inle Lake are these famous floating gardens. It is here that the Intha farmers grow flowers, tomatoes, squash and other fruits and vegetables on long wooden trellises supported by floating vegetation. At several times throughout the day, the farmers can be seen floating between the rows as they tend to their crops.
Kalaw and Pindaya
Kalaw and Pindaya are two smaller cities located in the center of Myanmar. Pindaya is a sleepy little city with a landscape of fields and hedges. Pindaya acts as a base for many treks into the surrounding forested areas as well as the nearby villages. Just over an hour away (by car), surrounded by hills, is the relaxing and cool (temperature-wise and otherwise!) town of Kalaw. Another popular base town for surrounding treks, Kalaw and the surrounding hills are the only place where backpackers can come to trek without prior permission from the government.
These caves are located in the Shan State and are a Buddhist pilgrimage site and tourist attraction in Myanmar. Of the three limestone caves, only one is accessible to the public. The cave is full of 8,000 images and statues of the Buddha, some dating back thousands of years. There is a great deal of Buddhist mythology surrounding the caves and any tour guide will be able to fill you in on the history and the legends behind the caves, giving you a sense for the spiritual atmosphere surrounding this area of Myanmar.
Kalawy Market is vibrant and bustling hub where tourists can go to shop or even just sit and watch the world go by. Every five days, the tribes from the surrounding hills descend from the mountains to sell their wares in the Kalaw Market, making this market experience especially unique.
Thein Taung Paya
A small hilltop monastery, inhabited by a small group of very friendly monks, Thein Taung Paya also offers excellent views of the city centre and the market in Kalaw from above.
Activities in Central Myanmar
Many of the cities in central Myanmar offer cycling tours. What better way to see the famous sites than from a bicycle as you slowly cycle along. Much faster than a walking tour and with the added benefit of getting some exercise along the way, you cannot go wrong with a cycling city tour!
Whether you are learning how to make traditional Burmese pottery in Yandabo Village or whether you are learning about the traditional Cheroot cigar-making process on Inle Lake, there are plenty of different workshops offering information about how these industries thrive and survive in Myanmar.
A trip to Myanmar is not complete without a trip along the Irrawaddy River. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the views as you cruise along. Stop in local villages to learn about the history, culture, and daily lives of those who live along the river. Enjoy the beautiful landscapes. And keep an eye out for the famous Irrawaddy
Cooking classes are an excellent way to learn more about Burmese culture. Start with a visit to the market with your chef as you gather the ingredients for your meal and then head back to the kitchen to learn about the flavors and cooking strategies that make Burmese food so unique.
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