Exterior View-Bagan ,Myanmar, Myanmar


It’s futile to give a rundown of the temples, pagodas and stupas of Old Bagan, as every traveler has their own encounter with this magnificent trove of Burmese history (many date as far back as the 11th century). The main ones that figure on any itinerary are Ananda Temple, home of four massive gilded Buddhas carved out of single pieces of teak; Htilominlo Temple, a red-hued brick extravaganza; Gubyanhgyi Temple, covered in incredible murals depicting the life of Buddha; and Shwesandaw Pagoda, which can be scaled via steep stairs and is known as the sunset pagoda.

Once you have covered these highlights, take time to get off the beaten path as there are countless other temples filled with incredible art, murals and Buddha sculptures. A local guide is crucial to show you around and biking through the temple-strewn fields is the best way to explore. (Incidentally, some of the major temples, like Ananda, have WiFi.)

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Aerial View - Balloons over Bagan,Myanmar, Myanmar

Balloons over Bagan

Owned by an Australian-Burmese couple, this venerable company offers the stunning 45-minute balloon rides across the temples of Old Bagan. Their safety record is impeccable, due to the fact that they only fly when the weather conditions are perfect. If you have a chance to partake, it’s one of the most memorable experiences in this part of the world. The company employs a host of locals and is involved in a number of community projects. Reserve for the first day of your Bagan stay; that way if the weather doesn’t play along, you have a few more opportunities to make it up into the sky.

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Inle Lake

This 45-square-mile lake is rich in history, culture, flora, fauna and more. Traveling with a guide, begin your exploration by watching local fishermen hard at work, balancing on one leg on the bow of their teak canoe, with the other leg wrapped around the wooden oar while both hands work with the fishing net. Float by and weave through stilted villages, and take in the floating and hanging gardens. Pass by water-bound temples and monasteries where the Buddhist chanting glides across the water and can be heard from far away. Visit local artisans to learn about traditional handicrafts such as cigar making, boat making, paper making and weaving silk and lotus. You can also visit the workshops of silversmiths and goldsmiths, as well as important religious sites like Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, the holiest religious site in southern Shan State, or Indein, also known as "Little Angkor Wat" for its overgrown pagoda ruins.

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Local Tea Shop

A Burmese pastime, locals can spend hours socializing at their favorite tea shop, where tables and stools are typically plastic and low to the ground. If you’d like, try the local tea specialty: black tea with condensed milk, which is very sweet but tasty. Typically, local Burmese or Chinese food is served, as well.

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Mount Popa

A volcano located southeast of Bagan and about 5,000 feet above sea level, Mount Popa is best known as the site of Taung Kalat, or pedestal hill, a volcanic plug where a Buddhist monastery is located. The 900 stairs to the top are worth it – both for the views from the top and the admiration for those who built the monastery that sits 2,156 feet above sea level. Mount Popa can be visited as a day trip from Bagan or a stop on the four-hour drive from Bagan to Mandalay.

Statue at Yangon: Chaukhtatgyi (Reclining) Buddha,Myanmar, Myanmar

Yangon: Chaukhtatgyi (Reclining) Buddha

Close to the Shwedagon Pagoda, this beautifully serene reclining Buddha is massive (some 230 feet long) and housed in a soaring hall, which was nearly empty except for some worshippers when I visited.

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Launge at Yangon: Circle Train, Myanmar, Myanmar

Yangon: Circle Train

This is not on anyone’s sightseeing list and you need a local guide to help figure out timing, as the train runs on a somewhat erratic schedule. Making the loop from downtown Yangon, into the outlying suburbs and ending back in downtown, you get an incredible overview of the lay of the land and local life.

When I went, the excellent team from the Orient Express’ Governor’s Residence arranged for my group to take the train for about 20 minutes (ending in the outskirts where a bus picked us up). Within minutes of leaving central Yangon, the train runs through impoverished neighborhoods, its residents boarding with luggage and lifestock and squeezing into the compartments already filled with young and old, monks and locals. Vendors maneuver through the rattling train cars (stripped except for two wooden benches running along the sides), selling snacks and fruit. Locals did a double-take when they saw us visitors boarding but everyone tried to make room for us on the benches, a lovely gesture rarely seen in my New York City subway back home.

Launge at Yangon: Inya Day Spa,Myanmar, Myanmar

Yangon: Inya Day Spa

This Yangon day spa, which opened in 2011, is a good spot for a Thai massage, a facial or manicure. It’s not fancy but has a perfectly nice ambience and is one of the city’s trendiest spots for pampering.

Man at Yangon: Palm Reading/Numerology, Myanmar, Myanmar

Yangon: Palm Reading/Numerology

Numerology and palmistry is huge in Myanmar, where locals consult their local palm reader or numerologist before every major decision (it is even rumored that the government moved the capital from Yagon to Nay Pyi Taw due to the recommendation of one of the general’s palmists). In Yangon, any hotel can arrange for a professional to come for an appointment but more fun is to visit one of the small rooms clustered around the entrance of the Sule Pagoda. Go with a fortune-craving partner, as one of you needs to take notes for the other while predictions are being made. Come prepared with your birthday, including the exact time you were born and what day of the month, as well as with a few specific questions you would like answered. The rates range from 5000 kyat (about $5) to $35.

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Temple at Yangon: Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar, Myanmar

Yangon: Shwedagon Pagoda

Presiding over Yangon, like a gleaming golden talisman, the Shwedagon Pagoda is the country’s holiest Buddhist site (eight strands of hair of the historical Buddha are said to be enshrined here). Made of solid gold, the cupola is breathtaking as are the many shrines surrounding this massive hilltop site. Shwedagon also has an impressive history in recent Myanmar politics: it served as the backdrop of Aung San Suu Kyi’s first major political speech in 1988, the summer that countrywide demonstrations for democracy were violently cut down. It was also here that the so-called Saffron Revolution started in 2007 when hundreds of monks gathered here to protest against the regime. It is a deeply moving, powerful place and should not be missed by anyone visiting Myanmar.

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