Under British rule, Yangon went from harbour town to thriving cosmopolitan city: At one point in the 1730s, mote immigrants were arriving here than to any other city in die world, including New York. Decades in a time capsule left die city mostly untouched by visitors, but the unexpected result is that its downtown now retains wondrous reminders of the colonial era as well as a vibrant street scene- L3ut Yangon is also modernising last and you'll find restaurants, galleries and hotels galore.
Of course, a visit to Yangon - indeed, to Myanmar - would be incomplete without » visit to Shwedagon Pagoda. Said to be 2600 years old (which would make it the world's oldest) the pagoda's golden spire rises 99 metres in the air. But resting on a hill it's visible from further away than you'd think, and moving about the city you'll often find yourself surprised by it. Go because it's said to house sacred hairs of Buddha himself, stay because it has hundreds
of smaller stupas to explore and be lost in.
Yangon also offers a number of day-trip options, in which the journeys are as important as the destinations. To the north, Bago is a good choice: Must-sees are the 177-metre reclining Buddha statue and the Kanbawzathadi Palace and museum. To die west is Twante, a small village famous for its handcrafted pottery. To the south, skip across the river to Dala Township on a ferry. To the east, try die bridges to Thanhvin, where the Portuguese once settled, and which is now adjacent the country's largest deep-sea trading port at Thilawa.
Often and fairly described as the cultural capital of Myanmar, Mandalay is a vastly different city to either bustling Yangon or the national capital Nay Pyi Taw, For many Tourists Mandalay is the stepping-off point for a tour of the country's peak tourist attractions - the stupa-dotted plains of Bagan and the idyllic Inle Lake. But the city offers so many of its own attractions that it's easy enough 10 spend a couple of days there, although it's best to plan ahead and do sightseeing outside of the hottest hours in rhe afternoon because the heat can be intense.
Mandalay has many fascinating religious sites such as the Mahamuni Pagoda and Mandalay Hill, but there is also the Royal Palate and cultural attractions such as hand weaving of silk and cotton, stone carving, gold working shops and bronze casting. Further afield are the ancient capitals of Amarapura, Sagaing, Ava, Mingun. Of these Mingun should be viewed as unmissable, with its incredible brick pagoda and gianc bronze bell sure to catch the eye of anybody visiting the area.
Nyaung U (Bagan)
Bagan is arguably the country's cop tourist destination, and for good reason - it s one of the richest archeological sites in the region and contains more than 2000 pagodas, temples and religious sites. The lone also has some of
the best hotels in Myanmar, while balloon flights provide stunning bird's eye views of the plain. Other attractions include a golf course and horse riding tours. One of the best aspects of Bagan is the ease of getting there: Visitors
Can fly into the Nyaung U airport, catch a bus from Mandalay or Yangon, hire a car to drive or hop on one of a number of boats and cruise there from Mandalay.
Heho (Inle Lake)
While almost as popular with visitors as Bagan, inle Lake is a veiy different kind of attraction - one where tourists are obliged to kick up their heels, relax and enjoy the scenery. The lake, which is nestled into the Shan plateau, is the second largest natural in Myanmar and more than 1300 metres above sea level.
Best known for its floating gardens and iconic ethnic Intha boatmen. Inle Lake offers visitors boating tours of the villages out on the water, as well as the silver and goldsmiths, and weavers who live and work there. Visitors can choose to stay in hotels on the water, in the township of Nyaung Shwe or around the edges of the lake.
Lashio is the largest town in northern Shan state and the best jumping-off point for its rugged, beautiful landscape. For visitors it offers motorcycle treks and hilcing tours into the the nearby mountains, and a prime location along the route linking Myanmar and China.
A formerly sleepy town in southern lanintnaryi Region, Dawei has lately become famous as the hub of a massive special economic zone and deepsea port proposed by Thailand. As well as its delicious fruits - pineapples, mangoes, mangosteens and durians - Dawei is also a major hub for other agricultural produce such as rubber, palm oil and cashew. Iconic Maungmakan Beach, where fishermen fish only mctics otx&rioiCf is also dose ro the tuwiii wniic the imtouched wonder of the Myeik Archipelago is only a boatiide away.
A famous border rown between Myanmar and Thailand, Tachileik is popular with tourists in Thailand
renewed. But there's much more to it than that, and visitors who go for its own sake will be rewarded. A small replica of Yangoris Shwedagon Pagoda sits on a small hill overlooking the town. The town's market is
a thriving centre where tourists cm buy all manner of cheap clothing, fashion accessories, electronics and DVDs.
The Tanintharyi Region town of Myeik was a busy seapoit during the colonial era and remains an important commerce town today. As well as hosting a large fishing fleet that trawls the Myeik Archipelago. Myeik is famous for the bird s nests harvested from shore-front buildings and the caves on its islands, as well as the pearling industry. However, there is plenty more to like about Myeik, including its incredible collection of colonial-era houses and buildings, many of which remain family homes or businesses today.
Kyaing Tong (Kengtung)
Kengtung is the heart of the Golden Triangle - a hilly region where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet. Today, the town is a trekking oasis for travellers, both from Myanmar and abroad.
The hard-to-reach hills are home to an extremely diverse mix of ethnic groups including the Akha, Lahu, Eng and Shan. Similarly diverse are the religions practiced by the different groups — ir's easy to kc small villages of one ethnic group in close proximity but separated by religion separated by their distinct beliefs, be it Buddhism, Christianity or Animism.
And within the town are the usual religious sites — Buddha images in different positions, churches and pagodas — that you can find in nearly every town in Myanmar. Further afield is the former casino town of Mong-La, which is notable today for its museum dedicated to the government s efforts to bait opium production.
Kawthaung is Myanmar's southernmost main town and sits at the mouth of Kyan River on the Malay Peninsula with the Thai border town of Ranong to its near east. Like Tachileik, Kawthaung is popular with foreigners living in Thailand who need to exit the country to renew their visa. Bur Kawthaung is so much more than that — its the most common destination to embark on one of the live-aboard boats that explore the wonders of the Myeik Archipelago, including its nearly untapped diving spots and deserted islands.
Thandwe (Ngapali Beach)
Ngapali beach, in Rakhine State's Thandwe townshjp, offers white sand beaches, delicious seafood and perfect relaxation. While other beach getaways such as Ngwe Saung ate catching up, Ngapali has an ace up its sleeve — it's less thao an hour by plane from Yangon, compared with five hours by car to Ngwe Saung. Most of Ngapali s hotels are located inside a wide and protected cove, malting tor smooth, calm and safe swimming. Once you're in Ngapali it's difficult to get around, but with small beachfront and roadside restaurants serving the freshest seafood you can eat, and with chop cocktails available at all the hotels, it's likely char heading further afield will be far from most visitors' minds.
Sittwe is the capita] of Rakhine State, and was called Akyab during the British occupation. The town is at the extremely wide mouth of the Kaladan River. As a tourist attraction in its own righc, Sirrwc docs nor offer roo much for tourists to do, but It's the jumping-off point for one of the country & most marvellous but undervisited destinations — the former seat of the Arakan kingdom, Mrauk U. And in Sittwe itself is View Point - a lookout at the far edge of the town that is beautiful at sunset — and its fresh seafood, particularly squid and prawn.
Myitkyina is the capital of northernmost Kachin State, nearly 1500 kilometres from Yangon and 785km north of Mandalay. The city is located in a flat valley that is scorching hot during the summer months and sees intense tains during die monsoon. "Hie city sirs ar the western bank of the mighry Ayeyarwady River, about 401crn downstream rrom wnere the river eirectively oegins-Myitkyina is trie rerminus of rhe railway line and a cmcial trading and administrative town within Kachin State. The city is also an imporrant location for other touristic ventures in Kachin Stare. Ir can be reached by tail, boar or air but while the railway might sound a romantic idea be warned thai a one-way trip from Mandalay is said to take at least 24 hours.