Where is Myanmar and What to Do There?

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Although nestled between two popular backpacking destinations, many people aren’t aware where is Myanmar and how to have fun there. You aren’t at fault though, Myanmar is mostly untouched. 

Although it’s showing rapid development, Myanmar people still have maintained their culture and traditions well. And, among the numerous pagodas and temples, also are a bunch of natural attractions in the bag of this Southeast Asian country.

Want to learn more about the Burmese people? We've prepared an interesting read for you!

There are lakes, there are caves, there are high mountains, and there are untouched beaches. Then, there also is the culture and food which you may have experienced never before.

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
– Anita Desai

Now, let me start with Myanmar history and geography.

Where is Myanmar?

Where is Myanmar? It can be called as the western entrance to Southeast Asia.
Where is Myanmar? It can be called as the western entrance to Southeast Asia.

Situated between the beautiful regions of India and Thailand, Myanmar (previously, Burma) is no less impressive. But, because of the political tension, the tourism industry in the country couldn’t develop well. It experienced being ruled by several empires over time, including the British and even went through a military dictatorship.

And the military even built a new city, Naypyidaw, which is the new capital of Myanmar, replacing Yangon, in 2006. Myanmar also shares its borders with China, Bangladesh, and Laos. Compared to its neighbors, Myanmar is a developing country but is rich in cultures and traditions.

Buddhism is the dominant Myanmar religion, and beautiful stupas and pagodas are scattered all over the country. And it is slowly opening itself up for the tourists to drool over those man-made beauties and its natural attractions.

Time to explore one of the hidden gems of Southeast Asia!

Places to Visit in Myanmar

Where is Myanmar, there are numerous places to visit, and here are just a few of them!

Now that you know where is Myanmar, I think it would be just perfect to learn about a few places that you should visit while being in Myanmar.

1) Mandalay

If you're in Mandalay, make sure to visit the Shwenandaw Monastery!
If you're in Mandalay, make sure to visit the Shwenandaw Monastery!

Mandalay is one of the most important Myanmar districts. You can feel Buddhism all over Myanmar, and the same is true for Mandalay. There are numerous pagodas and monasteries for you to visit. The Shwenandaw Monastery, however, is a must visit place in Mandalay. It’s a part of the royal history of Myanmar and is adorned with intricate teak carvings.

This monastery is a place where you would be looking for some relaxation. Another area of interest in Mandalay is the Mahamuni Pagoda. It is one of the important Buddhist pilgrim sites in Myanmar and houses a 4-meter tall Buddha statue covered in gold leaves. The Mandalay Hill and the Mandalay Palace is also worth your time.

Read more: 5 Essential Things to Do in Mandalay!

And when you visit Mandalay, don’t forget to visit the U Bein Bridge in the nearby Amarapura Village.

2) Bagan

Dhammayangyi Temple impresses with its majestic size.
Dhammayangyi Temple impresses with its majestic size.

Bagan is an ancient city in the Mandalay region with over 2000 pagodas, all crammed to fit in. Among the important Bagan temples is the majestic 12th-century Thatbyinnyu Temple in old Bagan. It’s one of the highest building there. Then, there is the Dhammayangyi Temple, among the largest ones in Bagan.

Built around the same time and architectural style are the monuments like Gawdawpalin Temple, Sulamani Temple, and the Htilominlo Temple. Other prominent ones are the Ananda Temple and the Gubyaukgyi Temple, known for its frescoes.

The highlight and one of the most memorable things in your Myanmar trip though would be the hot air balloon ride in Bagan. Watching over the pagodas from a balloon is magical and equally majestic is to watch the sun, rising from the horizon.

Read more: What to Do in Bagan after Visiting the Famous Temples?

Another recommended thing to do in Bagan is to take a trip to Mount Popa. It’s a sacred monastery situated on an extinct volcano about 50 km away from Bagan.

3) Yangon

Downtown Yangon, and Sule Pagoda in the distance.
Downtown Yangon, and Sule Pagoda in the distance.

The old Myanmar capital, Yangon, is an important Buddhist pilgrimage place. The Shwedagon Pagoda is the most important religious site at Yangon and also among the remarkable Myanmar temples. This golden structure dominates Yangon’s skyline but to enjoy the Shwedagon Pagoda architecture; you need to be up close.

The 2500-year old Sule Pagoda is another prominent place to visit in Yangon. It’s in downtown. And if you wanted to where is Myanmar government offices, downtown is the area. Another must visit place in Yangon is the reclining Buddha in the Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda.

Read more: 5 Must-Do Things to Do in Yangon!

The statue there is 65 meters high… long, and is put under a metal shed. Yangon also has the National Museum if you’re interested in the historic arts and crafts of Myanmar.

4) Inle Lake

Inle Lake is a joy for a fisherman.
Inle Lake is a joy for a fisherman.

If you are thinking of where Myanmar’s natural attractions are, visit the Inle Lake. It’s a freshwater lake and the second largest lake in the country. The boat ride in the lake is a joy in itself. You will pass by the stilted houses and also get to see the floating gardens.

On these floating patches of lands, farmers grow local vegetables and fruit. The lake is also home to different varieties of fishes and snails. Then, passing through the villages on the banks during the Inle Lake Tour, take a break at Indein Village.

The highlight of the village is two groups of small ancient stupas – Nyaung Ohak pagodas and Shwe Indein pagodas. Only a few of these structures have been restored, but the journey towards the village itself is rewarding.

The Kakku Pagodas group nearby is on the off-beaten path but is a must visit too. There are more than 2500 pagodas there.

5) Kalaw

Shwe Oo Min Pagoda hides a cave that is adorned with numerous images of Buddha.
Shwe Oo Min Pagoda hides a cave that is adorned with numerous images of Buddha.

Kalaw is a hill town near the Inle Lake. Set up during the British rule, Kalaw is a favorite spot for trekkers and the adventure lovers. Instead of the heat of the plains and going through pagodas, you will find cool breeze and a lot of greens during your Kalaw trekking.

With appropriate help, you can get yourself homestays with locals and also, enjoy Myanmar food cooking in a traditional setup. About 50 km from Kalaw is the famous Pindaya Caves. The cave is adorned with over 8000 images of Buddha in different sizes. There also is the Shwe Oo Min Pagoda, at the entrance of the caves. 

6) Mergui

Myeik Archipelafo is made of over 800 islands.
Myeik Archipelafo is made of over 800 islands.

Then, comes the Mergui (or Myeik) Archipelago among the places to visit in Myanmar. It comprises of over 800 islands in the Andaman Sea and thus, is an excellent place for those who are looking for some island hopping in Myanmar.

From mangroves to untouched beaches, there is a lot to explore. Ask around the jetty or at your hotel, and you may find yourself an island free from any crowd. The port also bustles with sailors and fishermen, and thus, Myeik is a great place to treat yourself with some fresh Burmese snacks.

Among the fishing villages and the uninhabited rocks, you will find ample opportunities to enjoy water sports – snorkeling, diving, yachting, and many more.

If you want to learn about more unknown destinations in Myanmar, we've prepared a guide for you!

Things to do in Myanmar

Where is Myanmar, there is a plethora of things to do and experience for sure!

There are quite a few interesting places to visit in Myanmar, aren't there? But, what should you do in these places? Here are some tips for you!

1) Irrawaddy River cruise from Mandalay to Bagan

Why not jump on an authentic Irrawaddy River cruise and lower your eco footprint?
Why not jump on an authentic Irrawaddy River cruise and lower your eco footprint?

Land trips and flights are quite frequent these days, but Myanmar also offers you a 12-hour river cruise. The Irrawaddy River is over 2000 km long and provides an excellent opportunity to traverse the country on water. There are many cruise companies, and all take a different route.

But no matter which one you choose, you will be able to see the daily life of Myanmar by waters. On the way, there would be several stops depending on the cruise you choose. You will pass many villages, many towns, and some more pagodas. But it would be all in peace, without any hustle bustle.

Do get on an early morning cruise to watch the sunrise from the river.

2) Probing the Chinatown in Yangon

Chinatown in Yangon is a heaven for food lovers.
Chinatown in Yangon is a heaven for food lovers.

Where is Myanmar food paradise? It’s in Yangon’s Chinatown. Known as Tayoke Tan among the locals, it’s heaven for the foodies. It’s an area near the Sule Pagoda with lines of barbeque shops, street food stalls and a hungry crowd.

You will get all kinds of barbequed meat and fish, chips, snacks and beer. And the area smells of spices that would excite your stomach for sure.

“Your body is not a temple; it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”
– Anthony Bourdain

Chinatown is also a place where you can find souvenir shops. Get into Chinatown to get a glimpse of the nightlife of Yangon.

3) Visit the ancient villages near Mandalay

The unfinished Mingun Pagoda is one of the largest in Myanmar.
The unfinished Mingun Pagoda is one of the largest in Myanmar.

Around the historical town of Mandalay are the ruins of a few ancient royal capitals of Myanmar. These ancient cities – Amarapura, Innwa, Sagaing, and Mingun – also have several historical sights and monuments.

The ancient town of Amarapura is to the south of Mandalay. There you will find the Mahagandayon Monastery, ruins of the royal palace and the long U Bein Bridge. It is the longest teakwood bridge in the world and a daily path for the locals. But the thing is that it’s photogenic and also offers a majestic view of the sunset.

Another ancient town to the south of Mandalay is Innwa. Situated on an artificial island, Innwa also has the remains of the royal palace and a monastery, entirely made of teak wood. The unique attraction, though, is the beautiful panoramic view from the boat. Yeah, it takes a short boat trip to reach Innwa.

Then, on the opposite side of the Irrawaddy River is the ancient Myanmar capital, Sagaing. It is also an important center for Buddhist meditation. Over 500 hundred pagodas are scattered on the hills there. The prominent ones are the U Min Thonze Pagoda and the Kaungmudaw Pagoda. The view from the top is spectacular, by the way.

Another notable place around is the ancient Mingun Town. You can reach the place by ferrying across the Irrawaddy River and on the bank itself is the massive Mingun Pagoda. Although unfinished, it still is enormous.

4) A trip to the capital

Uppatasanti Pagoda is a sight to behold.
Uppatasanti Pagoda is a sight to behold.

The Burmese capital, Naypyidaw, is still in the process of creation. But it has got a few tourist spots like the Uppatasanti Pagoda which is worth a visit. Then, worth the mention are the Zoological Garden and the Safari. There also is the Water Fountain Park, which has water shows at night.

Naypyidaw was built in 2005 and most of the places, even the roads, are devoid of people. You can find plenty of people in Myoma Market though.

5) Explore Sri Ksetra

Sri Ksetra is home to the ruins of the long lost Pyu Kingdom.
Sri Ksetra is home to the ruins of the long lost Pyu Kingdom.

The region of Sri Ksetra is home to the ruins of Pyu Kingdom and is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Myanmar. It doesn’t look as impressive as Bagan but has a historical significance. Apart from the ruins of the palace and the walls, there also are a few stupas spread across a large area.

Visit the museum to know more about the place and see what all the archaeologists found here.

Myanmar traditional food

Myanmar has very delicious and diverse cuisine, so it's best to just enjoy it!
Myanmar has very delicious and diverse cuisine, so it's best to just enjoy it!

“Food is a central activity of mankind and the single most significant trademarks of a culture.”
– Mark Kurlansky

Now, you know where is Myanmar and what things to do here. So, let’s settle down with a beer and some Burmese cuisine. But what? Time to explore.

Burmese cuisine is influenced by Chinese, Indian, and Thai cuisine, and uses a lot of fish and fish sauce in it. While seafood is common in coastal areas like Mergui, you will find more of meat and chicken in inland places. They also eat plenty of rice.

The national dish of Burma, however, is Mohinga. It’s not official, but people love eating it for breakfast. It’s a type of noodles served in a fish broth which is topped with fried fritters and boiled eggs.

Mondhi (noodles with pieces of chicken and fish) is another variety of noodles which is popular in some places.

Apart from plain rice, Burmese also have Biryani (rice cooked together with vegetables or meat) and Naan (oven-cooked flatbread). And equally acceptable is Thali (rice served with dal, curry, pickles, and other side dishes). Burmese curries have a mild flavor and aren’t very spicy like their Indian or Thai counterparts.

Then, there is Hkuauqsweh-thouq, a noodles dish (mixed with chili sauce and spices) found mainly at the street food stalls. Samosas and tofu rolls also are popular as snacks. Both are potato and vegetable-stuffed deep-fried dishes. Meat fillings can also be found.

Burmese specialties though, are a variety of salads (athouq). These are spicy and tossed with raw veggies, fruits, and even tea leaves. Laphet-thouk is the national favorite which has tea leaves tossed along with sesame seeds, fried peas, peanuts, and other ingredients. It’s crunchy and saucy as well.

They can serve anything and everything as a salad. There are pickled ginger and lemon juice that go well with many variants whether it’s Tamin-thouk (rice salad) or Nangyi-thouk (a salad with noodles). You can find tomato-cabbage salad and onion salad too with a Burmese style treatment.

How to go to Myanmar?

Flying to Myanmar is the best option to get there.
Flying to Myanmar is the best option to get there.

Now, I would like to wrap this article about where is Myanmar and what to do there. Myanmar, no doubt, is a beautiful Southeast Asian country, but the international connections aren’t that good.

Although it shares boundaries with India, China, Thailand, and also Bangladesh, it’s comfortable to fly directly into Myanmar. Getting land entry visas are a bit difficult, and the process is more time-consuming.

By the way, instead of taking a direct flight, connections from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok are better. There are frequent flights from those hubs to Yangon and Mandalay.

The capital Naypyidaw is still in the development phase. But the rest of Myanmar is quickly turning into a renowned tourist destination of Asia. The pace isn’t overwhelming, and the country has the right mix of urban and rural life. There aren’t a lot of travelers and Myanmar climate is pleasant enough to welcome you anytime.

The locals are gentle, friendly, and helpful. And when you return home, there would be a part of Myanmar in you.

Abhijeet Kumar a freelance content writer for aSabbatical.com
We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.