Myanmar (Burma) quietly beckons the curious traveller. To visit is to find yourself immersed in a fairytale land of forgotten empires, pristine landscapes, and unique cultural treasures. With a constant backdrop of generous smiles, this stunningly authentic corner of the Far East continues to bewilder and bewitch in equal measure.
Whether gliding down the elegant Irrawaddy River or gazing across a landscape where temples outnumber trees, you’d be forgiven for thinking the mists of time have parted to welcome you. This is, after all, a place where star readings decide weddings, where the world’s largest book is etched across almost 800 stupas and where fishermen ply their gentle trade while adjusting wooden boats with one leg. Famed for their kind-spirited nature, the Burmese are eagerly embracing an exciting future while cherishing a past steeped in ancient customs. Yangon embodies this: faded colonial buildings bow to the Shwedagon Pagoda, whose golden splendour and jewel-studded tip protects eight of the Buddha’s hairs. Downtown, markets swell with oddities while Buddhist temples breathe out incense onto streets bustling with saffron-robed monks and faces painted in cream thanakha make-up.
Head north to find Mandalay and its imposing royal fortress. This giant, moat-protected complex is best appreciated from Mandalay’s eponymous hill, where you can count the spires of Myanmar's last monarchy. Experience a sunrise balloon ride over the temple-strewn plains of Bagan, or a jungle-fringed slow boat cruise as rural Myanmar drifts unassumingly by. Ease back in a luxury lodge overlooking Inle Lake, watch silhouettes walk the slender U Bein Bridge, or drop anchor off Myanmar's sweeping southern coastline for an undisturbed beach escape. Kipling’s infatuation with Myanmar, over 100 years ago, remains relevant today; home to countless monuments, vibrant and varied landscapes, welcoming people and sights of pure tranquility, those who venture here discover a timeless beauty – Asia at its unspoilt best.
A symbol of Burmese spirituality, this 2,500 year-old pilgrimage site commands a hilltop guarded by fierce lion-like statues. By day basking in the sun, by night glimmering in the light of thousands of candles, this colossal monument is a figurative and literal highlight of Myanmar's de facto capital.
Encounter the contrast of oriental architecture with the imposing fortress walls that protect the epicentre of the old royal capital’s grid system. Dozens of east-facing palace buildings, constructed in ornate Burmese fashion, produce an arresting majesty paired with a sense of dictatorial power.
Over 3,000 centuries-old temples whose myriad peaks puncture a horizon unparalleled anywhere on earth. Each containing unique statues of the Buddha, these mysterious rust-red monuments rear from all sides, as far as the eye can see: home to staggering sunsets and infinite perspectives, our guess is you’ll never want to stop exploring Bagan.
Reminiscent of colonial backwaters, only dragonflies cut through the blissful silence surrounding lakeside retreats. Witness the incredible dexterity of traditional fishermen, visit floating markets and villages or trek the surrounding hills – Inle Lake will transport you to a forgotten era of tranquility.
Arguably the true highlight of your visit, the unfailingly optimistic Burmese attitude complements a peaceful Buddhist heritage to foster a hospitality unrivalled in the region. Traditional longyi skirts, thanakha make-up and maroon-clad monks abound in a society content with keeping the 21st century at arm’s length. You’ll leave enchanted by this unassuming, peaceful culture.
Myanmar is a gold mine for artefacts that astonish: a perfect destination to tailor to your interests. Golden rocks balance atop cloud-shrouded hills; gigantic Buddhas survey rolling landscapes; monasteries set up shop on volcanoes; and the world’s oldest teak bridge provides the main commuter line for monks and nuns. With so much that needs to be seen to be believed, Burma’s outstanding variety beckons the curious traveller.
Carve out your own slice of paradise in one of the Far East’s best-kept secrets – the coastline along Myanmar's long southern arm. Recently developed with luxury accommodation overlooking pristine white beaches, to stay here is to experience the Southeast Asia of old: idyllic palms leaning lazily over untainted and unpopulated beaches, sunsets that dissolve into empty horizons, and hundreds of islands that beg exploration.
Highlights of Myanmar
14 days from £4,500 pp incl. flights
Explore the highlights of Myanmar on balloon flights over ancient temple cities, train rides through old colonial capitals and cruises on lakes where everything from villages to whole temples are built on stilts.
Taste of the Irrawaddy
17 days from £5,800 pp incl. flights
Cruise along the Irrawaddy to Bagan’s temple riches, ride a stage coach through ruined capitals and let jeep excursions bring you to remote villages as you take in the best of Myanmar’s wealth of heritage.