The land of Myanmar is opening up for the world to explore its previously hidden gems. Let’s take a look at its wonders and how to best explore emerging, but fragile Myanmar.
Bagan, a terrain of intrigue where miles of ancient pagodas peek over the trees, and an ethereal mist covers the land. It’s the age-old capital of the first Burmese kingdom and it remains intact for you to explore today. Noted as one of the greatest archeological sites in the world, Bagan truly rivals Angkor Wat of Cambodia. Its sheer magnitude is enough to impress, with over 2,500 temples, pagodas and monasteries covering around an 8 x 5 mile area (13 x 8 km).
Quick Tip for a wow-moment in an ethical way:
One of the best ways to see Bagan’s magnificence is by hot air balloon at sunrise! Balloons Over Bagan began as a tiny dream of Burmese and UK couple, Brett Melzer and Khin Omar Win. Today they employ over 100 local staff and support community projects, giving to programs that support local health, education and environmental preservation of the Bagan area. On their balloons, soar over the ancient structures as the sun rises over the horizon.
Nestled in the hills of Shan State, Inle is home to tiny stilt villages and colorful floating markets. But its native Intha boatmen surely steal the show, paddling their traditional, flat-bottomed skiffs with one leg wrapped around their oars. Inle is a snapshot of village life left beautifully untouched from modern infrastructure. This will certainly change. A huge gash on the serene shores of Inle appears today, as large hotel projects come in to multiply the number of rooms on the lake. Surely this volume is not sustainable for Inle, and the rustic simplicity that brings in tourists may fade. Go now, or maybe don’t go at all…
Quick Tip for a luxurious bungalow that supports sustainable tourism:
Spend a few nights at Thahara Inle Heritage boutique hotel. Burmese hoteliers, who wanted to offer a more personal and sustainable way to experience Myanmar, opened this gorgeous property in early 2015 featuring 6 floating bungalows. It’s definitely a splurge, but worth it for an intimate atmosphere and unique local experience, complete with jaw-dropping sunsets. Thahara supports their local nonprofit Inle Heritage Hospitality School that is training up young people to carry on Lake Inle’s tourism industry in a sustainable way. They offer all inclusive-packages for 3 or 4 nights including activities, meals, transfers and more.
West of Inle Lake is hiking paradise on the Shan Plateau. Trekking from village to village, visiting tribal settlements along the way, provides a glimpse into life that has remained unchanged for centuries. Modest farms, rolling fields, winding rivers and smiling faces are common on the trails in this region. Spend the night at monasteries that are dotted throughout the hills, or allow yourself to be beckoned into a local’s home, as some have set up extra rooms in their huts as pseudo-guesthouses, starting tiny businesses out of the one or two hikers that may pass by from time to time.
Quick Tip for playing with elephants while helping forest conservation:
A family who were born into the Burmese logging industry dreamed of making a difference. Out of genuine care and creativity, the family founded Green Hill Elephant Camp where they care for retired elephants of the Myanmar Timber Enterprise. They now offer tours for groups to interact with their cared-for animals on their conservation land in the Shan State. Each traveler is given one tree as a gift to plant at the end of the day in efforts to continue their reforesting efforts.
Yangon will surely be on your list as well… be sure to check out my guide – How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List in Yangon. Exciting social enterprises are popping up in the capital city, making it easier to support locals while exploring!
Feature Photo Credit: Thinkstock/istock/lkunl
Bagan at Sunrise: ©Peter Halling Hilborg – Flickr, Attribution – Generic 2.0
Inle Lake: © Mark Fischer – Flickr, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Shan Woman: ©KX Studio – Flickr, Attribution – Generic 2.0
Countryside Farmer: © KX Studio – Flickr, Attribution – Generic 2.0
Yangon Shwedagon Pagoda: © imke.stahlmann – Flicker, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic