Myanmar 12.05.2013 Transindus
Myanmar is currently one of the least explored countries in southeast Asia, and it's home to some real treasures. If you're hoping to have an adventure on Burmese soil, make sure you read our top five must-have experiences, which will help you delve into the culture of this fascinating country.
1) Stare in wonder at Shwedagon Paya
Our first must-have experience is in Yangon, which is where most travellers begin their tours of Myanmar. Located on a hill that makes the stupa visible from almost everywhere in the city, Shwedagon Paya is a shining beacon - its gold-plated and gem-encrusted exterior glows throughout the day and draws visitors in their droves.
Believed to be the oldest stupa in the country (though it has been rebuilt many times), Shwedagon Paya is an incredibly sacred site, and one of Burma's most iconic attractions. You can reach it by following one of four covered walkways (though the southern entrance is usually considered to be the main one), while there are lifts available if you're not keen on tackling the stairs.
Once you reach it, you'll see that it's surrounded by smaller zesi, shrines, statues, temples and more - so there's an awful lot to see here. It is traditional to walk around all stupas clockwise, so make sure you follow that rule here.
2) Get lost in Bagan
You'll see a lot of temples and stupas on any tour of Burma, but nothing will quite compare to Bagan - an ancient city that's home to more than 4,000 of them. It's remarkable to see so many of these spectacular buildings so close together, and their obvious age helps make the place all the more atmospheric.
Perhaps what makes Bagan most remarkable, though, is its variety of temples and stupas - they vary massively in terms of size, architectural style and decoration. So, there's something new and exciting to see around every corner.
It's well worth spending a few days here so you can explore these buildings, which largely date from the 11th and 13th centuries properly. Whenever you can, nip inside them and see what you can find - anything from beautiful statues to sumptuously decorated interiors is possible.
3) Go hiking in Kalaw
Myanmar offers some excellent hiking opportunities, which give you the chance to discover another side to the country. Among the top spots for trekking is Kalaw - a former British hill station that was once used as a retreat from the heat, thanks to its cool climate.
And indeed, situated at an altitude of 1,320 m, this place still offers a refreshing break from the heat today - and a good environment for hiking. It's also the ideal base for heading on hikes in the Shan Hills, and if you're happy to trek for a few days, you can even walk to the famous Inle Lake from here.
4) Try the one-legged rowing of the Intha people
Inle Lake is, without doubt, one of the highlights of Myanmar. The home of the Intha people, it is where you will discover this community's unique one-legged rowing style - something that Inle Lake has become famous for.
The Intha people live on stilt villages and houses on the lake itself, so when you visit here you'll travel around by boat. Usually, a local person will row you from place to place, but you'll be able to give one-legged rowing a go for yourself if you wish - a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture!
5) Taste authentic Burmese food
Of course, tasting the national cuisine is part and parcel of any travel experience, so make sure you try some authentic Burmese food during your stay. Typically, meals are made up of lots of dishes, which means that no matter what you order, you'll usually find lots of side dishes come your way as well.
Rice is the staple food here, and it's the main feature of most meals - though noodles are sometimes used instead. Fish is another staple, and is a much more common ingredient than meat - though pork, chicken and mutton are popular in Mandalay and Shan State.