Myanmar Opens Up: Top 15 Things To Do In The Country

Myanmar Opens Up: Top 15 Things To Do In The Country
| 8 min read

Stepping out of its army-imposed hibernation after 50 years, Myanmar is more than ready to share its land and stories with the world. Bursting at the seams with culture and warm-hearted locals, the country is rich with its own flavour and scent. From temples with centuries of history to numerous surprises around every corner, Myanmar is a constant stream of delight. Visit Myanmar during your next holiday and engage in these 15 things to do in the spectacular country:

1. Travel tip: get around by bus

Source: Photo by Flickr user gabriella levine used under CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’re looking for a way to get around Myanmar, ditch the expensive and time-consuming train rides for the reliable bus services that are often run by private companies.

Featuring a wide range of buses from the mini 32-seaters to luxurious air-conditioned express coaches, the convenient transportation is a relief for travellers on a time and money budget. If you are shuttling between Myanmar’s four big destinations namely Yangon, Inle Lake, Mandalay, and Bagan, the overnight buses will do the trick for you. Pack plenty of snacks and drinks, or get your refreshments during the frequent rest stops, and prepare to wake up in another city all together when dawn arrives.

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2. Have a great first impression with Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Travel Burma used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Many say a visit to Myanmar isn’t complete without a trip to Shwedagon Pagoda, and for plenty of reasons so! Believed to enshrine strands of Buddha’s hair among other holy relics, the colossal structure is gold-plated at the base and crowned with rubies and diamonds at its tip. One of the most famous pagodas in the world, it is little surprise that Shwedagon Pagoda is deeply regarded as one of the most sacred and impressive Buddhist sites for the locals.

Alternatively known as the Great Dagon Pagoda or the Golden Pagoda, its stature at 110 metres (361 feet) and its gilded body are already sufficient to bring justice to its exalted name. Stepping inside, you’ll be greeted by what seems like endless of pavilions and worship halls cloaked with the warm aroma and smog of incense. An experience of its own kind, get ready to be engulfed by Myanmar’s culture in this wonder.

Shwedagon Pagoda

Address: Singuttara Hill, Dagon, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)

Price: 8 USD

Opening Hours: 4.00 AM - 10.00 PM

Contact: +603 7880 0491

Website: Shwedagon Pagoda

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3. Visit the ghost town of Myanmar’s new capital, Naypyidaw

Uppatasanti pagoda
Source: Photo by Flickr user Utenriksdeparteme... used under CC BY-ND 2.0

You may be forgiven for not knowing Myanmar’s capital, or for still thinking that Yangon is the capital city. However, Naypyidaw is Myanmar’s opulent capital today. The decade-old city was built from scratch in the middle of the jungle when the government decided to change the location of the capital. Boasting a myriad of amenities and recreational facilities, including the likes of eight-lane highways, golf-courses, a zone of Vegas-inspired hotels, malls, movie theatres, museums, and even a national zoo, it is amazing to think how this luxurious city sprung out of nowhere.

Ideal for the traveller who hates crowds, Naypyidaw is sparsely populated, housing only 2 percent of the country’s population. Take the time to learn more about the capital of Myanmar while you visit attractions like Uppatasanti Pagoda, a smaller replica of the famed Shwedagon Pagoda.

Uppatasanti Pagoda

Address: Yaza Htarni Road, Myanmar (Burma)

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4. Experience royalty at Mandalay Palace

Mandalay Palace (Myanmar 2013)
Source: Photo by Flickr user Paul Arps used under CC BY 2.0

The last royal palace of the final Burmese monarchy, Mandalay Palace is both architecturally and historically beautiful. As the original structure was destroyed during World War II, save for the royal mint and watch tower, the palace was reconstructed in the 1990s with the present timber buildings exuding an indescribable peaceful aura.

Recognised as the primary symbol of Mandalay, it is no question that the palace is a must-see. With plenty of things to see in the palace grounds and citadel, Mandalay Palace will gladden you with its royal glamour and the city’s stories.

Mandalay Palace

Address: East Gate, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

Price: 8.44 USD

Opening Hours: 7.30AM - 4.30PM

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5. Trek up Mandalay Hill

Mandalay Hill 3
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Stefan Fussan used under CC BY-SA 3.0

A visit to Mandalay warrants a trip to the hill that gave the city its name. The 240-metre-high (787-foot-high) hill is delightful in both the journey and the end destination. Laden with pagodas and monasteries along the route, Mandalay Hill has also served as a major pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists for the past two centuries. After a scenic and cultural hike up, the top of the hill rewards you with even more; enjoy Sutaungpyei Pagoda, Mandalay’s panoramas, and the waning sunset.

The four covered stairways lead you up the hill in shelter, while there is also a lift and escalator that bring you straight to the summit if you don’t fancy climbing the stairs.

Mandalay Hill

Address: Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)

Price: 0.84 USD camera fee

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6. Immerse yourself in Bagan's old charms and temples

Atardecer en el Ayeyarwadi
Source: Photo by Flickr user Guillén Pérez used under CC BY-ND 2.0

Formerly the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, this ancient city was home to over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries in the 11th to 13th centuries. Fast forward to the present day and you’ll still see the remaining 2,200 temples and pagodas that have survived time’s toll. Notably worth visiting is the Shwezigon Paya, one of Myanmar’s most significant religious buildings.

The compound has a circular gold-leaf guided stupa surrounded by smaller temples and shrines. While it has been restored several times because of the effects of earthquakes and other natural calamities, the lower level terraces have remained the same and it’s hard to think that the temple was built in 1102 AD. Also believed to enshrine a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha, this place is undeniably a gem to see.

Shwezigon Paya

Address: Nyaung U, Myanmar (Burma)

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7. Soar across the Bagan plains in a hot air balloon

Balloons over Bagan at sunrise (Myanmar 2013)
Source: Photo by Flickr user Paul Arps used under CC BY 2.0

It’s no unfamiliar scene to see hot air balloons flying across wondrous natural landscapes around the world, such as sand dunes and mountains, but what about flying in one above a legion of intricately crafted pagodas and monasteries?

Try something different and fly over the Bagan plains, brimming with culturally-rich and scenic temples. While this increasingly popular activity in Myanmar may leave a hole in your wallet, the cost may include a pickup from your hotel, a light breakfast before you launch, a glass of champagne after you land, a keepsake souvenir, and even signed certificates. Be generous, the view is worth it!

If you are interested in one of these Hot Air Balloon experiences over Bagan check


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8. Take a cruise down the Irrawaddy River

Atardecer en el Ayeyarwadi
Source: Photo by Flickr user Guillén Pérez used under CC BY-ND 2.0

The country’s largest river and most important commercial waterway, the Irrawaddy River is the epitome of nature’s magnanimity. Also known as the Ayeyarwady River, cruises are becoming increasingly popular with travellers seeking to travel between cities while admiring Myanmar’s landscapes.

Take your pick from the high-end luxury cruises to the humble traditional Burmese-style ones, and get ready to witness a wealth of Myanmar’s culture, including bullock carts, ox-ploughs, pagodas, and monasteries by the riverbanks and the thatched villages raised on stilts adorning the coast.

Don’t stay on the shore​. Try out the river cruise


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9. Cradle cats at Nga Hpe Kyaung (Jumping Cat Monastery)

20131121_Myanmar_5859 Inle Lake
Source: Photo by Flickr user Dan Lundberg used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Famous for its jumping cats that are trained to leap through hoops, Nga Hpe Kyaung is also nicknamed as the Jumping Cat Monastery. With Myanmar’s multitude of monasteries, cat-lovers will be thrilled to visit this one. Although the cats may not still be performing their routines now, you can still enjoy getting up close and personal with the furry felines.

Nga Hpe Kyaung also boasts a timeless aura. From the inside of the pagoda, one can visit the collection of ancient Buddha images and the vast wooden mediation hall built 4 years before Mandalay Palace. Step outside, and you’ll be greeted by the simple Burmese life, with humble neighbouring villages and the long neck tribes people living on the edge of the water; there is truly much to see and feel here.

Nga Hpe Kyaung (Jumping Cat Monastery)

Address: Inle Lake , Myanmar (Burma)

Price: Free

Opening Hours: Daylight hours

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10. Beachcomb at the Bay of Bengal, the largest bay in the world

Sunset over Mandarmani beach...
Source: Photo by Flickr user Abhijit Kar Gupta used under CC BY 2.0

The Bay of Bengal is the largest bay in the world and is bordered by Myanmar, among other countries. The untiring long stretch of pristine white sand is home to an array of beach resorts, from the more famed ones like Ngapali and Ngwe Saung to the quiet hidden gems like Gwa and Kanthaya.

Whichever you pick, the beaches will promise you beautiful panoramas of the Bay of Bengal, made more wondrous when the sun sets over the expansive horizon and seas. On top of the picturesque views, the beach resorts offer you a medley of activities to keep you entertained. Just think of the freshest seafood from the multitude of seafood restaurants, snorkelling adventures, and the laid-back sun-tanning pleasures. Sounds wonderful? That’s because it is!

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11. Feel nature’s rush at Anisakan Falls

Anisakan Falls near Pyin Oo Lwin (Myanmar 2013)
Source: Photo by Flickr user Paul Arps used under CC BY 2.0

While this oasis is a 40-minute trek from Anisakan town, the ravishing beauty of the falls is guaranteed to be worth the trip. Framed with dense and lush green vegetation, the plunging waters astonish visitors with nature’s views and its therapeutic sounds.

Take a dip in the idyllic swimming pools and refresh yourself in the heat. Best to visit in the day, remember to bring along bottled water to keep yourself hydrated, especially for the trek to and fro the falls.

Anisakan Falls

Address: Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar (Burma)

Price: Free

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12. Be filled with wonder at Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda

Inside Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda.
Source: Photo by Flickr user Brian Holsclaw used under CC BY-ND 2.0

Located above the beauty of Pone Taloke Lake, Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda offers a surreal journey down winding tunnels and through gaping caves. Housing more than 8,000 statues, the temple built into a cave features a wonderful collection of Buddha images, some brought over by local pilgrims centuries ago.

Enter into a realm of wonder as you visit the seemingly never-ending gilded sculptures with years of history and culture to tell. Continue your journey to the third chamber atop a hill where you can find a reclining Buddha among the many other shrines and pagodas.

Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda

Address: Shwe U Min Pagoda Rd, Pindaya, Myanmar (Burma)

Price: 2.53 USD entrance fee / 0.25 USD camera fee

Opening Hours: 6.00AM - 6.00PM

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13. Climb Mount Kyaiktiyo, famous for the huge golden rock perched at the summit

DSC037 Burma Mon State Mount Kyaik-htiyo Golden Rock (7215563582)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user DANIEL JULIE used under CC BY 2.0

Regarded as one of the three most sacred religious sites in Myanmar, pilgrims come from far and wide to worship and add gold leaf to the rock. Almost looking as though it is defying the laws of gravity, the famous huge golden rock balances on the summit of the 1,100-metre-high (3,609-foot-high) mountain. Additionally featuring a pagoda atop the rock, this interesting feature is definitely enough to pay Kyaiktiyo Mountain a visit.

Another reason why this is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike is the breath-taking views of the city beneath and the scenery around. The summit lets you witness the glorious panoramas of the surrounding Mon State mountains and the Burmese homes underneath.

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14. Cross U Bein Bridge, the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world

The sunset at Burma Mandalay U-Bein Bridge
Source: Photo by Flickr user llee_wu used under CC BY-ND 2.0

The oldest and longest teak-wood bridge in the world, U Bein Bridge is surely a marvel of architecture. Spanning Taungthaman Lake, the bridge has survived since 1850 and serves two purposes, one being an important passageway for the local people, and another being a tourist attraction. It is also interesting to note that the bridge is built from wood reclaimed from the former royal palace in Inwa. With all its history and meaning for the people, crossing U Bein Bridge carries so much more that just a means of transportation.

U-Bein Bridge

Address: Amarapura, Myanmar (Burma)


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15. Make every meal a delight with Burmese food

Burmese meal
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Wagaung used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Offering favourites like Burmese curry and biryani, eating is an attraction itself in Myanmar! Boasting Southeast Asian, Chinese, and Indian influences, Myanmar’s cuisine is wonderfully flavoured and deliciously savoury. Dishes present an interesting fusion of ingredients guaranteed to create a distinctive taste.

Start your morning right with mohinga for breakfast. This seemingly humble bowl of rice noodles soaked in a fish-based soup and topped off with deep fried fritters is reckoned to be the unofficial national dish. Light and filled with slurp-worthy goodness, this can be easily purchased from many of Myanmar’s mobile vendors.

If you are craving for something in between meals, try lephet. One of the most famed Burmese dishes, it is made from pickled tea leaves that are seasoned and served with sliced tomatoes, crunchy deep-fried beans, nuts and peas, garlic oil, and slices of chilli and garlic.

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Myanmar's warm embrace

Having once been the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia in the 16th century, it is no wonder there is a wealth of things to experience in the country. Ditch the more famous destinations this holiday and surrender yourself to the simple life Myanmar prides itself in giving.

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Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
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Megan is an ardent writer, eater and sleeper. Studying communication studies at Nanyang Technological University, she is rewarded with learning every day in school and at work. She believes...Read more

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