By Cecilia Yee.
Rudyard Kipling once wrote, “This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about.” It’s hard to imagine a place being so unique that you can’t compare it to other places. But that’s Burma.
If you can afford to take off the whole week, I recommend going for the full 6 days to cover everything – Yangon, Bagan, and Inle, Lake. The best times of year to go are October to March.
Best flights from Hong Kong to Burma - Dragonair has launched direct flights toYangon from Hong Kong. For indirect options, consider Thai Airways (flying via Bangkok) or Singapore Airlines (flying via Singapore). It’s easiest and fastest to take domestic flights between each city. However, it’s also possible to travel around by bus and train.
If you arrive in the evening, I recommend staying the night in Yangon at The Strand, and starting your travel around Burma bright and early the following morning, starting with …
Bagan: temples and pagodas
The history of Bagan dates to 11th century when King Anawrahta converted to Theravada Buddhism, and set out to spread this doctrine to his people. His passion for this resulted in the construction of thousands of temples and pagodas which continued throughout the period of the Bagan dynasty until its destruction by the invading armies of Kublai Khan.
You can spend hours exploring the temples, learning about Buddhism, the history of Bagan, and what life was like back in the 11th-13th century. It never gets old, hopping from one temple to another, admiring the frescoes, intricate details of carvings, buddhas and nats. Head to Pyathada Temple in time for sunset, and watch the sun cast an orange glow on the horizon.
For dinner, go to Be Kind to Animals The Moon (bizarre name, I know). They serve excellent dishes, but my favorite one is the tomato curry.
Inle Lake: relax
The gentle way of life on the lake is meditative, whether you are visiting one of the floating gardens by boat, observing the fishermen with their unique fishing style, or simply relaxing on your balcony enjoying the serenity and tranquility only found in this little gem of a place.
We stayed at Viewpoint Eco Lodge in Nyaung Shwe. Its luxurious cottage suites are built in the traditional Shan style – stilts on a lake. The staff paid close attention to every little detail so that our stay was a memorable one.
We hired bikes from the hotel and went for a wander. The road was rocky and bumpy, but the pedaling soon paid off when we got the first glimpse of the scenery. It was absolutely gorgeous! After getting lost a few times, we stumbled upon Red Mountain Vineyard and stopped for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
The following day, our boat ride took us to a local market and the floating gardens. The lakeshore and islands are littered with villages on stilts, inhabited mostly by the Intha people. In the afternoon, visit Indein Village in the west coast of the lake. You will feel lost in a sea of ancient Shan style pagodas encrusted with vines. An absolute must visit!
Yangon: the heart of Myanmar
The gateway to Burma, Yangon is where contemporary and colonial Burma coexists. I don’t recommend spending a lot of time in Yangon, where the main attractions – the pagodas and colonial buildings can be done in a day.
Restaurant recommendation: Le Planteur is a real gem. It serves quality French food in a fantastic setting. For a more local eatery, Feel Myanmar is a great place to try local Burmese cuisine.
We concluded our trip with a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the architectural masterpiece that dominates Yangon. Despite the number of people that flock the pagoda, there is a sense of calmness around it. Visit at sunset – the sun casts a magical glow on the gold stupa, which makes it stand out beautifully from the dark blue sky (photo opportunity!).
It’s impossible to pinpoint my favourite part of Burma, as each portion offers something unique. Go to Bagan to experience the “historical and architectural” part of Burma, the outdoor adventure, responsible tourism in Kalaw, and the cultural aspect in Inle Lake and the cultural transition in Yangon. I fall in love with the country more and more with each visit back. The warmth and friendliness of the people fill me with peace and contentment.