Places to visit in Burma
There are an incredible variety of places to visit in Burma. Most holidays will include the main highlights but there is also scope to visit a few hidden gems, which are completely off-the-beaten-track. If you or your children have particular interests, let us know and we can recommend areas that might particularly appeal.
Most visits to Burma will start with Yangon. Although this is not in fact the capital, it hosts the main international airport and is the biggest city in the country. As soon as you arrive, the children will be agog at the hustle and bustle. There are pavements crammed with stalls, newspaper sellers spreading out their papers on the pavement, old women sitting on low stools cooking vegetable pakoras in steaming woks to serve to passers-by and noisy tea shops that are open to the elements, serving up hot sweet ‘chai’ to locals perched on plastic stools.
Whilst in Yangon, the must-see site is Shwedagon Pagoda, the centre of Buddhism in Burma. This is a beautiful temple and there will be many pilgrims making offering of flowers and incense. This is a great place for a spot of people watching and the ideal place to introduce the children to Buddhism. If you visit around sunset, stay and watch as millions of bats fly out of the pagoda grounds just after dusk, in search of food.
Also worth a visit is the Bogyoke Market which is packed full of tiny shops selling just about anything you could possibly want. This is a great place to buy souvenirs so avid shoppers might want to ensure a free afternoon at the end of the trip to spend here.
This is Burma’s star attraction and has to rate as one of our favourite sites anywhere in Asia. The location is beautiful, a huge plain dotted with tamarind and palm trees that stretches into the hazy distance to a backdrop of mountains. Cutting a green swathe across the centre are the slow moving waters of the Irrawaddy and everywhere, as far as the eye can see, are hundreds of ancient temples.
Some of these are well preserved and you can climb up precipitous stair-cases to watch the sunset over the temple plain from narrow perches at the temple top. Others are in a state of complete disrepair but perhaps this is part of the charm. Children can seek out Buddhist carvings and frescoes that are hidden in dark corners of tumbledown ruins and follow narrow corridors by torchlight to see where they lead.
Older children will enjoy exploring the area by bike, following narrow goat tracks across the plain and stopping at some of the less visited temples. Younger children may prefer to explore in a horse-drawn cart, particularly lovely in the late afternoon as the setting sun throws long shadows across the verdant fields.
Mandalay is a big thriving city but the chief attraction here is not the city itself, but the ancient ruins that are dotted around the surrounding countryside. This is the cultural heartland of Burma, and the area is home to glittering temples, ancient cities, working monasteries and historic pagodas. Here you can spend a morning watching orange-robed monks chanting in a monastery and the afternoon in a horse-drawn cart exploring the atmospheric ruins at Ava.
The city also lies on the edge of the Irrawaddy (or Ayeyarwaddy as it is known locally) and a highlight for children is the chance to take a boat ride along the river to the giant bell at Mingun. The river is teeming with life and you can watch boats laden with produce navigating past bamboo rafts en route to distant markets. Villages line the riverbanks and children play in the water whilst mothers wash their clothes and monks walk past on the way to temple.
One of Burma’s most iconic sights, the teak bridge at U-Bein is also found near Mandalay. You can walk across the bridge at sunset, stopping to chat to the locals or perhaps take a boat ride to get the perfect photo.
Nestled amidst the hills high on the Shan Plateau, Inle Lake is one of Burma’s most picturesque destinations. A huge shimmering expanse of water fringed by marshland and dotted with temples, the lake is also home to many floating villages. The locals use the lake to transport produce from their floating gardens and the waters are always a hive of activity. Wooden boats chug past laden with vegetables, fishermen gently pole their fishing boats along, casting their nets, and monks head past on the way to temple. You can spend a wonderful day on a long-tail boat, exploring the lake itself and the many narrow channels that lead off to small village communities.
There are bustling village markets that operate on a 5-day rotation around the lake, so if your visit coincides with market day, we will include this. Children always really enjoy the hustle and bustle with cows and bullocks filling the streets en route to the animal market, stalls piled high with fruit and vegetables, and hill-tribe people in traditional dress browsing for goods.
Also well worth a visit are the beautiful pagodas at Indein. Spilling down the side of a mountain these offer sublime views over the lake. There is plenty of opportunity to escape the crowded central corridor and explore the crumbling outlying pagodas.
There is spectacular walking and cycling in the area around Inle and older children will enjoy mountain biking on quiet country roads or perhaps taking an overnight hike to a remote mountain village.
Ngapali Beach and Ngwe Saung Beach
Ngapali is one of the most beautiful beaches in South East Asia, and the kind of place that is almost impossible to find in the more touristy destinations of Thailand and Vietnam. Imagine idyllic white sand lapped by calm turquoise water, a few swaying palm trees and a smattering of beachside cafes and you are starting to get the picture.
The beach shelves very gradually, so there is a lot of shallow water making it ideal for swimming for all ages. There is a bustling market nearby, as well as some interesting temples and a great little boat trip that you can take.
Ngapali can only be reached by plane but there are regular flights in and out from most other destinations in Burma.
Ngwe Saung is another lovely beach resort, closer to Yangon and therefore popular at the weekend with visitors from the city. It can be reached by car in around 4-5 hours depending on the state of the road. Again the beach here is gorgeous, a huge swathe of white sand dotted with small hotels, beach-front restaurants and occasional fishing boats.
If you think that your children’s inner Indiana Jones won’t have been satisfied exploring Bagan, then head for Mrauk U. This is a remote but spectacular site covered with an incredible array of ruined temples. You can spend hours clambering around the ruins, exploring completely deserted temples.
This area is also home to the Chin people, who traditionally cover their face with an intricate spiders’ web of tattoos. The children will be entranced!
Kalaw is an old British hill station set up in the hills not too far from Inle Lake. It is an attractive town with picturesque temples and some lovely walks up into the hills.
This is also a great place to start a trek and there are various durations available depending on how active you are. Younger children can do a day hike, which offers a great introduction to the region and can take you to peaceful hill-tribe villages with stunning views over the mountains. Older children will be able to tackle a longer route, heading far off-the-beaten-track to remote Danu and Pao tribal villages. Stop for a game of football with the local children and spend your nights in very simple guesthouses or monasteries. Throughout the views are superb.
Kalaw is also the base for a visit to the fantastic Green Hill Elephant Centre. This is a very responsibly run centre that was set up in 2011 to provide care for elephants no longer able to work in the logging trade. Here you can help walk the animals down to the river where you will wade in to help the mahout scrub their wrinkled leathery skin. This is a great activity for children of all ages and always a highlight of any visit to Burma.
Kyaiktiyo and the Golden Rock
The Golden Rock is a major Buddhist pilgrimage site as it is located in the place where a hair of the Buddha was donated to the king by a hermit in the 11th century.
Children will enjoy joining the many pilgrims en route to the top. Many people in this area will have come from far away in Burma, and may well not have seen foreign children before, so your climb will take longer than normal as you may need to stop every few minutes to pose for a picture!
This is a beautiful and peaceful town nestled in a remote mountain valley in the famous Golden Triangle that continues over the border into Thailand and Laos. It is the main access point if entering Burma from northern Thailand.
The area is home to many different hill-tribes who all have very different lifestyles and traditional dress. Visit an Aka village where the women still wear elaborate silver headdresses, their faces framed by large silver beads, or a Loi community that is home to heavily tattoed men. Follow a mountain trail to meet Eng women, renowned for their black teeth and impressive ear ornaments or stop by a Palaung Village where the women wear brightly embroidered clothing.
This area is very considerably less touristy than over the border in Thailand and offers a really unique opportunity to witness authentic hill-tribe communities.
Call us and we will be happy to provide you with a free-of-charge no obligation itinerary and quotation designed for you.
Burma in pictures
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