NORTHERN AND EASTERN
In the north and east of Myanmar are several small towns still not easily accessible for general tourism. For the time being, hotels and other facilities are extremely limited. For the adventurous traveler however, such destinations as Hakha (the capital of the Chin State), built on mountain terraces and surrounded by magnificent pine forests or Tongzan, the cultural center of Chin tribes, as well as the 2,704-meter high Mount Kennedy near Teedeim, may soon become accessible. In Bhamo visitors can see hill tribe people from the surrounding regions. Travelers can reach the mountainous region around Lashio, an important trading center,by train or road from Mandalay. Points of interest are the beautiful scenery and the hot springs. Visitors will enjoy the colorful local market where different ethnic groups meet to sell and buy regional products and add a very exotic touch to the scene.
Bagan is one of the richest archaeological and historical sites in Asia, a large area with more than 2,000 pagodas and temples, all set in a vast plain beside the legendary Ayeyarwaddy River. During the Bagan Era (11th to 13th century), Burmese was written for the first time. Bagan was the origin of Buddhism, as still practiced nowadays, and was the seat of religious learning for clergy and laity. Mingalazedi is one of Bagan's last great stupas to have been erected and is a fine example of the skills of the temple builders. It is also a favorite spot to catch the sunset. Foreign visitors to Bagan can be found on the steep steps waiting for the magical moment; as the sun sinks behind the already misty Ayeyarwaddy, cameras shoot almost simultaneously and slowly the small crowd disperses.
Mount Popa is an extinct volcano and with 1,500 meters the highest point within the Bago Yoma Range. The main attraction of this region however is the smaller, 730-meter high conic rock Popa Taungkalat, also known as the "Olympus of the Nats" because it is the home of Myanmar's legendary 37 "Nats" (or spirits). To reach the top of the volcanic plug with its many shrines and a monastery, one has to climb up 700 steep steps accompanied by a crowd of monkeys. This effort will be rewarded many times by the extraordinary panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. Around the area of the Popa Yoma Mountain, there is the Popa National Park with dense sandalwood forests and rare species of birds and butterflies worth a walk or a trek. Other attractions include two important "Nat Pwes" (or festivals) held each year (one in May-June and one in November-December) when people from all parts of Myanmar come to appease and worship the spirits. These spirits are evoked by so-called "Nat Gadaws" (or mediums) and offer their bodies to get possessed. The Nats still play an important part in many Myanmar people's lives in spite of the dominance of Buddhism.
Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar and is situated in the hot and dry central region of the country. Mandalay is the cultural center of Myanmar and the last royal capital. It is surrounded by other ancient royal capitals, Sagaing, Ava (Inwa) and Amarapura, which are highly interesting sightseeing destinations due to their historical and religious importance - in ancient times as well as at present. In Mandalay, visitors can watch traditional handicrafts being made, such as Kalaga tapestries, marionettes, bronze casting, stone and woodcarving. Mandalay also houses the most revered Buddha statue in the whole of Myanmar, the Maha Myat Muni. The Buddha Himself is said to have breathed onto the just-finished image thus giving it some of the Buddha's power. People believe that the image is somewhat "alive" and it is therefore treated with the utmost respect. Every early morning, monks and people come to the pagoda to wash the image's face and to make offerings of water, food, flowers, candles and incense. Another interesting sightseeing point is the 230 meter high Mandalay Hill, from where one has a scenic view of Mandalay, the plains surrounding it, the Shan Mountains, as well as the Ayeyarwaddy River. The site is famous for beautiful sunsets. Mandalay Palace was destroyed by a fire in 1945 and has been largely reconstructed in recent years. Its grounds can now be visited as a museum. Another interesting attraction is Kuthodaw Pagoda (also called the largest book in the world), built by King Mindon after the Fifth Buddhist Council, where the entire Buddhist Canon is inscribed on 729 marble stone slabs. Mandalay has excellent air, road and river connections to all parts of Myanmar and is the ideal base from which to explore the rest of Upper Myanmar.
Monywa lies on the banks of the Chindwin River, 140-km northwest of Mandalay. It is the gateway for excursions to the cave temples of Po Win Taung, situated across the river and reached by ferry. The caves are famous for their Buddha statues, mural paintings and woodcarvings. There are quite a few legends about the caves, related mostly to Nats (the Myanmar spirits). There are supposed to have been over 400,000 Buddha images carved out in the caves. Another highly important attraction is Thanboddhay (or Sambuddha Kat Kyaw) Pagoda, completed in 1951 after 12 years of construction with over 800 small stupas on and around the pagoda. There are also reportedly 582,357 Buddha statues on the ceiling, walls, archways and in niches in and on the temple compound.
Pindaya lies in an altitude of 1,200 meters surrounded by hill tribe villages. Its main attraction is the natural limestone cave that branches out widely, displaying more than 8,000 Buddha images made of wood, marble, lacquer, brick, stone and bronze. Many devoted Buddhist pilgrims have placed them there over the centuries. The collection of these images in such a setting is unique and well worth seeing. Pindaya also features the picturesque Boutaloke Lake, beautifully set amongst huge old trees. A major handicraft industry in Pindaya is umbrella manufacturing. The making of these pretty hand-made paper umbrellas can be seen in several workshops in town.
The Inle Lake is roughly 20-km long and of outstanding beauty within its natural surroundings. One of its many unique features is the cultivation of floating gardens where flowers as well as tomatoes, beans and cucumbers grow. Local villages and markets are interesting sightseeing spots. The beauty of sunrise as well as the sunset observed from this idyllic lake with the Shan mountain range as backdrop enchants all visitors. Every year, on the eve of the full moon day in October, the annual Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda festival is held. The pagoda's most revered Buddha images are displayed on the grand golden Karaweik, a replica of the ancient Royal Barge, and are being taken to several villages around the lake for 18 days until they arrive back at their home shrine again. Unlike other pagoda festivals in Myanmar, most of which last for three days only, this one lasts for 18 days and features the famous Inle Boat Races that attract spectators from near and far. The races provide exciting additional entertainment and are well worth watching. Both men and women participate in the races with separate events for each.
Kalaw was a favorite hill station during the British colonial era. It is a picturesque village surrounded by pine forests and has some of Myanmar's most beautiful gardens. From Kalaw there are good trekking and hiking possibilities to the neighboring hill tribe villages, which still function the same as they did centuries ago. Fans of natural beauty and peaceful sites will surely get their money's worth. The roads leading to Kalaw and Pindaya offer breathtaking sights of the landscape and are somehow reminiscent of the beautiful Alps region in Europe.
Located high in the Shan Hills at the center of the Golden Triangle, it is one of the country's most remote outposts and probably the most scenic town in Shan State. At one time Kyaing Tong was the Shan capital and this ancient city is the gateway to rugged journeys and exotic sights. More than a dozen different tribal groups live around Kyaing Tong. The hills and the vast valley floor are dotted with small villages, home to at least ten different tribal groups. Living almost side by side in small communities are groups of Ang, Lahu, Ahka, Akhu, Padaung, Kala, Shan, Chin, Lishu, Pao, the headhunting Wa, Khun and Laui. All are living in different stages of development, some still following very traditional ways. Days of change will soon be coming to this remote area.
The capital and largest town of Kachin State is an important trade center between China and Myanmar. It is an ideal starting point for excursions to tribal villages, jade mines and the Myitsone River confluence (40-km from Myitkyina), where two Himalayan streams (Mehka and Malikha) meet to form the mighty Ayeyarwaddy River. Kachin State is renowned for its scenic natural beauty; from untouched jungle areas to the Himalayan Mount Hkakabo Razi (the highest point in Myanmar at 5,889 meters) with its year-round snow-capped peak (first climbed only in 1996). This mountain area in the far north is literally yet untouched by tourism, but represents a strong potential for future eco-tourism. At present, an important part of this region has become a National Park as some rare wildlife species - declared extinct elsewhere in the world - have been discovered there.
A new destination on Myanmar's tourism map, Ngwe Saung Beach offers its visitors unspoiled beaches and tranquility on the coast of the Indian Ocean. A few entrepreneurs have begun developing accommodation for local and foreign visitors. The destination is still in its early stages of this development process. Ngwe Saung can be reached by car from the capital Yangon in approximately seven hours. The journey takes travelers along a partly bumpy and pothole-laden road across the Ayeyarwaddy Delta region. A stop can be included in Pathein, a busy trading town on the banks of the Pathein River. As an alternative to road travel, it is now possible to travel from Yangon to the Pathein River by boat, a journey of approximately 16 hours. Float through picturesque scenery, passing by houses and villages that dot the riverbanks. The vast and fertile Ayeyarwaddy Delta is connected to countless larger and smaller river tributaries; it's an ideal area for rice cultivation. Up to today, Ngwe Saung Beach has remained a largely unknown destination, a jewel for independent travelers seeking nothing more but sand, sea and tranquility.