10 Images That Will Make You Want to Visit Myanmar

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This may not be the best time to visit junta-controlled Myanmar, but its potential as a top tourist destination in Southeast Asia remains.

The country has a list of yet unspoiled landscapes and jungles. Its well-preserved culture holds more appeal to foreign visitors. The styled pagodas and stupas, the Burmese monk sightings, the long-neck women, and the Thanaka-covered cheeks of Burmese people – all make Myanmar unique.  So even as flights to Yangon remain expensive and hotel rates are high, these distinctive features of Myanmar have continued to spark curiosity in many tourists.

1. Shwedagon Pagoda

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The Shwedagon Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world

Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the most visited attractions in Myanmar. History says the Shwedagon was built 2,500 years ago. It has four key stairways in all cardinal directions leading to four main Buddha temples – Konagomana Buddha (south), Kassapa Buddha (west), Gautama Buddha (north), and Kakusandha Buddha (east).  

The 14-acre complex has a walking path for visitors as footwear is not allowed inside. It has three terraces but many visitors only visit the main terrace or the middle level where the massive golden stupa is. This most photographed structure is 326 feet high and surrounded by small stupas. ASeveralshrines, pavilions, and bells are on this level. Worshipers would nonchalantly find their spot, sit on the marble slabs and offer flowers, candles, or incense before a Buddha shrine. Monks and novices in maroon-colored robes wander around the complex – worshiping, taking photos, or sometimes, just taking notice of the merry chatter of tourists around them.

2. Inle Lake

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Intha men fishing from Inle Lake to sell their catch to tourists

This freshwater lake in Nyaungshwe Township of Taunggyi District of Shan State is a perfect spot for photographers. Any time of the day, one can spot fishermen hauling their nets across the water. The lake is mostly covered by lotus, water hyacinth, and other floating plants. The mountains surrounding the lake can be mirrored on the water, making it more alluring to shutterbugs. Villages are lined up along Inle Lake. Traders sell their goods on small boats, from silk fabrics hand-woven from lotus plant fibers to various tools and carvings. The lake, however, is not as tranquil as one could hope, as vessels with blaring engines ferry tourists in succession.

3. Bagan

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This is Bagan, the largest sacred landscape in Myanmar

There is no shortage of picture-perfect spots in Bagan, which people tagged as a “sea of temples”. There are thousands of Buddhist monuments spread out in the entirety of its 104-kilometer area. Balloon rides are the best way to soak up the exquisiteness of Bagan. Sunrise and sunset watchers will not be disappointed, as long as they carefully research (or ask their guides) for the right spot and the right time. Bagan is listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.

4. The Kayan Women

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Women from the Kayan long neck tribe

As Myanmar strives to stay on with the developing world, tradition remains for the women in remote villages. I’m referring to the women of the Kayan Lahwi tribe, “giraffe women” to many tourists. Their practice of wearing neck rings continues to draw tourists. Brass coils are placed around the neck, giving the impression that it is elongated. Wearing these coils starts at the age of five.

Historically, the Kayan people are refugees from a conflict between the Karenni rebels and the Burmese army. The other state in Myanmar where the Kayan people fled is the Kayah State. But throughout the years, what should be “refugee camps” in the Shan State have evolved into tourist villages. The long-necked women of the tribe have become accustomed to the stream of tourists in their village as they would willingly sit still or weave on their loom for photo opportunities. Amid protests from human rights advocates, this exotic tribe continues to lure tourists to the Shan State.

5. Burmese Monks

 

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A group of monks doing their daily alms round in the city

The monks, in their dowdy maroon-colored robes, walk barefoot for their traditional alms round.  They go either singly or in a group.  Each carries an alms bowl.  They combine the collected foods in a bowl and share them with other monks in the temple.

The alms round is an obligation of every monk and should not be misunderstood by tourists as their excuse for free food. Even if abundant food is available, the Buddhist monks would still make rounds for alms. The giving and receiving of alms connect the monks to the lay people spiritually.  Tourists cannot physically touch a monk but can take his photo.

6. Thanaka-painted Faces

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That yellowish-white cream painted on people’s faces certainly captures the lens of every traveler. Locals call it Thanaka, widely used by men, women, and kids. They proudly wear it to work, school, the market, and sometimes even at home. It is for cosmetic purposes, believed to protect the skin from acne and sunburn. Working women apply thanaka on top of their foundation and usually create beautiful patterns on their cheeks.  Locals grind the fragrant bark of thanaka trees into a paste.   This ritual of preparing the thanaka cosmetic paste has slowly faded as commercially prepared thanaka creams are now available throughout the country. Even a tourist can buy this cream and paint it on her cheeks to blend in with the Burmese.

 

7. Mandalay

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A row of stupas in Mandalay, the second largest city next to Yangon

Tourists flock to Mandalay, the second largest city after Yangon. It’s on every tourist map. Like Bagan, Mandalay has an abundance of religious pagodas and monasteries. It’s easy to fall in love with the old architectural designs around the city. Tourists should keep in mind that most of these structures are places of worship, and we should behave. Mandalay Hill is the best spot for a scenic sunrise or sunset with the entire city as the backdrop.

A bus ride from Bagan to Mandalay takes up to 6 hours, and 9 hours from Yangon.

8. Burmese Foods

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Photo by Best Price Travel

Like any other Asian dish, Burmese cuisine has a distinct but delicious taste. Most foods in Myanmar are nothing but spicy, from curry to sauces. If you’re not into hot foods, you can opt for noodles, salad, and sweet desserts.

I also tried Myanmar Lager Beer that’s neither too sweet nor too malty. There’s no shortage of restaurants or pubs in Burmese cities where you can have an ice-cold beer.

9. Sunrises and Sunsets

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Photo by Ban Yido on Unsplash

Myanmar has a shortlist of scenic spots where you can view a perfect sunrise or sunset. The photo above shows the sunset over U Bein Bridge across Taungthaman Lake.  U Bein is believed to be the world’s longest wooden bridge. In Myanmar, you only need to get near a lake just before sunrise or sunset to achieve an Instagram-worthy shot.

10. Burmese people

A floating market in Shan State (Photo by Shakti Rajpurohit on Unsplash)

No one can truly know a country unless he sees its people. By “see” I don’t mean just by looking. See how they live, how they speak, how they laugh, and how they find joy in small things. Southeast Asia isn’t just a destination where one discovers exotic traditions and culture. What’s most notable (not to mention admirable) among Southeast Asian people, is their resilience amid economic struggles and global discrimination.

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