After I visited 70 countries around the world I arrived in Myanmar (Burma) that quickly became my favorite. The main reasons were that the country was still not so touristy, people were friendly, the culture and landscapes were unique. I travelled in Myanmar in 2015, one year after the E-visa was launched to tourists of 41 countries. To understand the numbers, in 2012 the country had 1 million visitors, while in 2015 almost 5 million. On the other hand, Thailand received about 30 million tourists in 2015.
The best strategy is entering in Mandalay and leaving from Yangon (or the other way around). I visited the cities: Mandalay, Mingun, Ubein, Sagaing, Inle Lake, Meiktila, Bagan and Yangon. I did not visited Kalaw (famous for a hike) and the coast (that by that time had a restrict access).
Mandalay and surroundings (3 days)
The city has this name because of Mandalay Hill, a 240 metres hill that is located to the northeast of the city centre, providing views from its summit, which is reached by covered stairway. In its center is the restored Mandalay Palace from the Konbaung Dynasty, surrounded by a moat. Stay in the city center of Mandalay that will allow you to visit most of the sights by walk.
At the foot of the Hill, the Kuthodaw Pagoda houses hundreds of Buddhist-scripture-inscribed marble slabs.
Two cities not far from Mandalay are a must to visit on a day trip: Mingun, that has the second biggest bell in the world and Ubein that has the longest wood bridge in the world.
Located approximately 11 km (6.8 mi) north of Mandalay on the western bank of the Irrawaddy River, Mingun has Pahtodawgyi, an incomplete monument stupa and the Bell, the second largest ringing bell in the world
The Mingun Bell, has 90 tons and can be played with a wood stick.
U Bein Bridge is a crossing that spans the Taungthaman Lake near Amarapura 11 kilometers south of Mandalay, in Myanmar. The 1.2-kilometre bridge was built around 1850 and is believed to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world.
Sagaing (2 days)
Coincidently I visited Sagaing in the same week they were celebrating 700 year anniversary of the city. It was a beautiful event with the participation of the president, and all sorts of people and presentations.
Beside the festivity, Sagaing has incredible temples to be visited. Kaunghmudaw Pagoda located in the northwestern outskirts of Sagaing is known for its round design and stands out among more traditional-style, pyramid-shaped Burmese pagodas. The pagoda is 46 metres (151 ft) high and has a circumference of 274 meters.
Sitting high on top of Nga-pha Hill, Soon Oo Pon Nya Shin Pagoda was built in 1312 by Minister Pon Nya, after whom it’s named. A few things stand out in the main prayer hall. You can’t miss the giant statue of Gautama Buddha that dominates one end, tower higher than the walls around him.
Sitagu International Buddhist Academy, a major intellectual centre for Theravada Buddhism, was set up in 1994 to educate the brightest young monks. The centrepiece is a Sanchi-style hemispherical stupa, gilded and embossed with dharma-wheel patterns. In the surrounding arcade are photos of Asia’s great Buddhist sites, often shown as holiday-style snaps featuring the university’s founder-monk U-Nyan Nate Tara.
I also visited a local guitar factory, Heimin Sagaing Guitar and ordered a personalized guitar with a graffiti of myself.
Meiktila (2 days)
Even though Meiktila was not in the standard tourism route, I went there because of the opportunity to be hosted by a Monk in his monastery behind Nagayon Pagoda. Meiktila is a city in in central Burma, on the banks of Meiktila Lake. Because of its strategic position, Meiktila is home to Myanmar Air Force central command.
Phaung Daw U Pagoda in Meiktila is a gorgeous Golden Duck in the Main Street of the city.
Bagan (3 days)
One of the top attractions of the country Bagan is know for its ballon flights over a forest of Buddhist temples. Stay in Bagan Central Hotel, a great spot for solo travellers. The best way to explore is to rent an electric motorcycle and drive trough the dirty roads around the forest. You are allowed to enter in most of the temples and to climb to the top in a few of them. Since the area is enormous, divide your exploration into days instead of checking everything in the first day.
Inle lake (3 days)
One of the highlights of my trip, the Inle Lake region is a large lake (13.5 miles long and seven miles wide) surrounded by floating gardens, house villages, Buddhist temples and various local factories.
The best way to explore the are is negotiating with one of the boat drivers a 1 or 2 day touring all the lake has to offer. The Inle Lake market is the perfect place to adquire local souvenirs such as the colorful bamboo pottery, tradicional Burmese art.
Here is the place to see the famous Burmese Fishermans and their unique technique to catch them.
Around the villages is also possible to met Kayan people, famous for using neck-rings. A 2004 estimate puts the population at approximately 130,000. In the late 1980s and early 1990s due to conflict with the military regime in Myanmar, many Kayan tribes fled to the Thai border area. Among the refugee camps set up there was a Long Neck section, which became a tourist site, self-sufficient on tourist revenue and not needing financial assistance.
An at last but not least, it is possible to visit many local factories such as tobacco, umbrella, textile, silver, breweries and much more.
Yangon (2 days)
Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) is the largest city in Myanmar. The brand new Little Yangon Hostel is a great spot for backpackers. A mix of British colonial architecture, modern high-rises and gilded Buddhist pagodas define the skyline of Yangon. Its famous Shwedagon Pagoda, a 99 meter high gold plated stupa, shimmering pagoda complex, draws thousands of pilgrims annually. The city’s other notable religious sites include the Botataung and Sule pagodas, both housing Buddhist relics.
To register my love by Myanmar I tattooed a passport stamp in my arm with some sentences written in Burmese. I went to Golden Dragon Tattoo Studio after a lot of research to see if it would be safe.