Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is the largest city in Myanmar (formerly Burma). A mix of colonial architecture, modern high-rises and gilded Buddhist pagodas define its skyline. Its famed Shwedagon Paya, a huge, shimmering pagoda complex, draws thousands of pilgrims annually. The city’s other notable religious sites include the Botataung and Sule pagodas, both housing Buddhist relics.

The Shwedagon Pagoda; officially named Shwedagon Zedi Daw and also known as the Great Dagon Pagoda and the Golden Pagoda, is a gilded stupa located in Yangon, Myanmar

The Sule Pagoda is a Burmese stupa located in the heart of downtown Yangon, occupying the centre of the city and an important space in contemporary Burmese politics, ideology and geography.

Bogyoke Aung San Market is a major bazaar located in Pabedan township in central Yangon, Myanmar. Known for its colonial architecture and inner cobblestone streets, the market is a major tourist

The Botataung Pagoda is a famous pagoda located in downtown Yangon, Myanmar, near the Yangon river. The pagoda was first built by the Mon around the same time as was Shwedagon Pagoda—according to local

Kandawgyi Lake, is one of two major lakes in Yangon, Burma. Located east of the Shwedagon Pagoda, the lake is artificial; water from Inya Lake is channelled through a series of pipes to Kandawgyi Lake

Inya Lake is the largest lake in Yangon, Burma, a popular recreational area for Yangonites, and a famous location for romance in popular culture

The National Museum, located in Dagon, Yangon, is the one of the national museum of Burmese art, history and culture in Myanmar.

The Yangon Zoological Gardens is the oldest and the second largest zoo in Myanmar. Located immediately north of downtown Yangon near Kandawgyi Lake, the 69.25-acre recreational park also includes

The Bogyoke Aung San Museum, located in Bahan, Yangon, is a museum dedicated to General Aung San, the founder of modern Myanmar. Established in 1962, the two-story museum was Aung San’s last residence before his assassination in July 1947.

Mandalay Hill is a 240 metres hill that is located to the northeast of the city centre of Mandalay in Burma. The city took its name from the hill.

The Mahamuni Buddha Temple is a Buddhist temple and major pilgrimage site, located southwest of Mandalay, Burma. The Mahamuni Buddha image is deified in this temple, and originally came from Arakan.

Shwenandaw Monastery is a historic Buddhist monastery located near Mandalay Hill, Mandalay Region, Myanmar

Kuthodaw Pagoda is a Buddhist stupa, located in Mandalay, Burma, that contains the world’s largest book. It lies at the foot of Mandalay Hill and was built during the reign of King Mindon

The Mandalay Palace, located in Mandalay, Myanmar, is the last royal palace of the last Burmese monarchy. The palace was constructed, between 1857 and 1859 as part of King Mindon’s founding of the new royal capital city of Mandalay.

The Yadanabon Zoological Gardens is a zoo in Mandalay, Myanmar. The zoo has nearly 300 animals, including tigers, leopards and elephants, and plays a major part in the conservation program for the highly threatened Burmese roofed turtle

The Mandalay Cultural Museum is a museum located between 80th Road and 24th Road, in Mandalay, Burma.

Bagan, located on the banks of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, is home to the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. The shape and construction of each building is highly significant in Buddhism with each component part taking on spiritual meaning.

With regards to tour comparison between this immense archeological site and the other significant archeological gem of Southeast Asia, the Angkor sites, this analogy may be helpful:

Angkor ruins are like a Chinese Lauriat banquet where food is presented in spectacular servings with a suspenseful wait between items which are hidden beneath curtains of forests. On the other hand, Bagan is served in Spanish Tapas style, the ingredients exposed to the customer and shown in small bite-size servings, with the next attraction close and visible at hand, in shorter intervals.

Another analogy between Angkor and Bagan Sites when distinguishing temple structures is through their stupa and spire shapes.

Artichokes and corncobs = Angkor while gourds and durians (or pineapple) = Bagan.

An example is gourd for Shwezigon Pagoda and durian for Ananda, Thatbyinnyu, and Mahabodi Temples. In another way of imagining, Bagan temples are like topped with inverted ice cream cones.

As a destination, we have to admit that Inle Lake delivers. On paper the lake is 13.5 miles long and 7 miles wide but up close it’s hard to tell where the water finishes and the marshes start. Most of the time the surface of the lake seems to perpetually resemble a vast silver sheet, one interspersed with stilt-house villages, island-bound Buddhist temples and floating gardens. Commuter and tourist motorboats and flat-bottomed skiffs navigate this watery world, the latter propelled by the unique Intha technique of leg rowing – in which one leg is wrapped around the paddle to drive the blade through the water in a snake-like motion – adding to the ephemeral aura.

When eventually you do hit land, you’ll encounter whitewashed stupas or Shan, Pa-O, Taung Yo, Danu, Kayah and Danaw tribal people at the markets that hopscotch around the lake on a five-day cycle. Officially at least, the area around the lake has also been protected as the Inle Wetland Bird Sanctuary, a government-recognised bird sanctuary, since 1985 and you’ll see herons, warblers, cormorants, wild ducks and egrets. But in recent years, overuse of pesticides and diminishing water levels have begun to impact both wildlife and humans.

We’ll admit it: a giant gilded rock on the top of a mountain seems like an odd, perhaps even gaudy, destination. But there really is something special about the boulder stupa of Kyaiktiyo.

The monument, an enormous, precariously balanced boulder coated in gold and topped with a stupa, is a major pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists. Its image adorns many a local’s car windscreen or family hearth, and every good Buddhist dreams of the day he finally set eyes on this holiest of shrines.

Not surprisingly, the atmosphere surrounding Kyaiktiyo during the height of the pilgrimage season (from November to March) is charged with magic and devotion: pilgrims chant, light candles and meditate all through the night; men (only) are permitted to walk along a short causeway and over a bridge spanning a chasm to the boulder to affix gold leaf squares on the rock’s surface. And the boulder itself is stunning, especially when bathed in the purple, sometimes misty, light of dawn and dusk.

During the rainy season (June to October) the mountain is covered in a downright chilly and nearly permanent coat of mist, fog and rain. Although the area’s hotels are open during this period, most restaurants and food stalls aren’t, and the majority of pilgrims are foreigners.

There are several other stupas and shrines scattered on the ridge at the top of Mt Kyaiktiyo, though none is as impressive as Kyaiktiyo itself. Even so, the interconnecting trails sometimes lead to unexpected views of the valleys below.

Taunggyi’s culturally diverse population means that it has places of worship for a host of religions, including a number of mosques, a Chinese Buddhist monastery (Kwan Yin Si Hpaya Kyaung), and a Catholic cathedral (St Joseph’s).

Panoramic views of the entire city, and further across the plains to the north of Inle Lake, can be found at the Shwe Phone Pwint Pagoda, which sits at the top of a ridge to the east of Taunggyi. Walking there from the centre of town takes around 40 minutes, or you can get a taxi for K5000. The city’s most prominent religious monument is the Sulamuni Pagoda, a huge white stupa modelled on the Ananda Pagoda in Bagan; it was built in 1994 to commemorate Taunggyi’s centenary.

The Shan State cultural museum is a pretty dusty and basic affair, but offers some insight into the history and style of the various tribes in the area, as well as some local political history. Entry is K2000. Being located at an altitude of 1,436 metres, Taunggyi (which means ‘Big Mountain’ in Burmese) has a cool and pleasant year-round climate.

Check out our YouTube video of Taunggyi from Shwe Phone Pwint pagoda and, for a wider selection of photos, go to our Taunggyi photo album.

Visa- and Mastercard-ready CB and KBZ bank ATMs can be found near the centre of Taunggyi on the main thoroughfare, Bogyoke Aung San Road.

The abandoned city and hundreds of temples and pagodas at Mrauk U (also spelt Mrauk Oo and pronounced ‘Mrow Oo’ or ‘Myow Oo’, depending on Rakhine or Burmese pronunciation) lie across rolling northern Rakhine State hilltops and form an awe-inspiring sight, whilst providing an experience quite unlike anything else in Myanmar.

From the 15th to 18th centuries, Mrauk U was the capital of a mighty Arakan kingdom, frequently visited by foreign traders (including Portugese and Dutch), and this is reflected in the grandeur and scope of the structures dotted around its vicinity. But after the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1826, the British moved the regional trading centre down the Kaladan river to Sittwe, and Mrauk U went into decline. Today part of its allure lies in its isolation from the rest of the country; the lack of development; and that (for the moment) you are more likely to bump into a cow or a goat than into another tourist.

The monuments of Mrauk U are roughly split into northern, eastern, southern and western groups. There are many hundreds of temples in Mrauk U, many of which primarily remain day-to-day places of worship for the local Rakhine villagers; what follows is a guide to the most beautiful and historically significant structures. Most temples have name plates in English, with date of construction.

Mingun is best known for its gigantic, unfinished stupa, the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, which was meant to be the largest in the world (at a projected height of 150 metres), but now lies ravaged by earthquakes on the western banks of the Irrawaddy.
The structure is an impressive sight, and there are panoramic views from the top. Although there are signs telling you not to climb the stairs due to the damage and cracks, locals rarely stop visitors doing so and sometimes encourage it; as with all pagodas, shoes must be removed and children will sometimes offer leaves to step on in order to protect your feet from the intense heat.
A model of what the stupa was meant to look like had it been finished, called the Pondaw Paya, can also be found nearby. What is said to be the largest uncracked, ringing bell in the world, the 90-tonne Mingun Bell (with a diameter of almost 5 metres) was cast to go in the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, and holds pride of place nearby.

A few minutes walk to the north of the bell can be found the Hsinbyume (Myatheindan) Pagoda, a white pagoda that is quite different in design and style from most pagodas in Myanmar. It is named after a princess who died in childbirth, and was built in 1816 and restored in 1874, after suffering earthquake damage.

Located 80 kilometres north east of Yangon, Bago is one of Myanmar’s many ancient capitals; it was known in colonial times as Pegu.

Apart from its market and generally bustling atmosphere, the centre of town does not hold much of interest – but there are various temples and other religious sites to be found in here, including the Shwe Maw Daw Pagoda and two reclining Buddhas: the Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha and the massive 55-metre long Shwethalyaung Reclining Buddha.

The Shwemawdaw Pagoda Festival takes place in late March or early April and features a range of theatrical shows at this famous shrine. To find out more, go to festivals in Myanmar.

There are Visa- and Mastercard-ready KBZ and CB bank ATMs in central Bago.

Located on the western banks of the Irrawaddy River, opposite Inwa and 21 kilometres south west of Mandalay, Sagaing is another of Myanmar’s ancient capitals, famous for its many hundreds of white, silver and gold pagodas and monasteries that dot its hilly landscape.

The best place to take in the views is from Sagaing Hill ($3 entry ticket, also includes access to Mingun), and if you have the time, you could easily spend an entire day exploring the pagodas, temples and caves that surround it. On the hill is the most famous shrine in the area, the Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda, originally built in 1312.