Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Must See Places in Burma

There is a Kiplingesque cadence to so many Burmese names: Shwedagon, Rangoon, Mandalay, Irrawaddy, Chindwin, and Maymyo. Names that stir half-memories of Eastern romance and Imperial adventure.

Unsurprisingly, these are the places that still form the heart of most itineraries to Burma - and rightly so. There is Kingly Pagan now rendered Bagan with its vast dry scrub plain, with orange-coloured outcroppings framing an atmospheric skyline, crowded with the domes and spires of temples and pagodas, and the Irrawaddy or Ayeryawady River flowing below.

Rangoon or Yangon remains Burma's premier city, and to appreciate this quintessentially colonial city which still houses perhaps the greatest collection of colonial buildings in the East, one has to spend a couple of days luxuriating at the Strand. Of course, the highlight of Rangoon remains the vast gilded, shimmering bulk of Shwe-Dagon pagoda. Situated on Singuttara Hill it dominates the skyline.

For tours, I strongly recommend getting away from the rutted track of the 'highlights' and experiencing the south from Mawlamyine (Moulmein), which is in the heart of the Mon country. Enjoy a luxury cruise up the Salween River and navigate peacefully through wetlands of paddy in a kayak.

Mandalay has a famous name but it is not a place that I would recommend - instead go east, into the Shan Hills. At the turn of the 20th century, Colonel May of the Indian Army established the popular hill station of Maymyo (May Town), now more liltingly named Pyin Oo Lwin. Take the train from here to Hsipaw crossing over the vast Gokteik Viaduct, which is one of the highest in the world - a real highlight. The Shan Hills are delightful, and staying at Hsipaw allows you to explore the charming rural communities around Kyaukme.

A cruise for a couple of nights down the Irrawaddy is a must. This great river once knitted the country together, and the steam-boats have been replaced with increasingly luxurious vessels that allow for a fantastically relaxed exploration of the idyllic villages with their traditional ways, arts, and crafts along the river.

End your tour at Bagan. This is where the great Bamar king Anawrahta embarked on a great spree of pagoda building to mark his conversion from Mahayana to Theravada Buddhism. His successor continued this building and the result is a great 'Pagoda City'. Kalaw and Inle Lake are other must see highlights.

I do then, however, strongly recommend heading west to Arakan (Rakhine State) to enjoy the charming old-world Sittwe and evocative and atmospheric Mrauk-U before spending several days chilling out on the silken sands of Ngapalli beach.

No comments:

Post a Comment