You have seen the pictures of hot air balloon rides over a dusty, temple-laden landscape where the sun rises and falls in lazy tumbles of gold. You have then searched where exactly this place was on a map (unless you paid that much attention in geography class). Now you have a blank itinerary Excel sheet in front you and you realize that it’s probably not the best to fill every cell with “Watch the sunrise in Bagan.”
A few months ago, I was there in that same travel planning conundrum and since Myanmar is rather new to large-scale tourism, the travel guides can only get you so far (if not very confused). To help you get a better idea of what travel to Myanmar means for your schedule, I am sharing with you my top 8 things to do in Myanmar when visiting Yangon, Bagan, and Inle Lake.
For more recommendations or for specific details about each activity/site, check out the Myanmar Travel Guide to be released soon.
Also, don’t forget to enter the giveaway to win a free copy of the guide!
No. 8 Visit the Workshops around Inle Lake
To be clear, Inle Lake is the lake and not a city or town. There are many neighborhoods and communities surrounding the lake. Where you stay will depend largely on your method of arriving as well as your hotel booking. I stayed in Nyaung Shwe and would highly recommend it for your visit at Inle Lake. The town is quite busy and has lots of restaurants, shops, and culture to explore when you aren’t out on the lake. But it isn’t the town that you absolutely have to experience.
Take a boat ride and request stopping at the workshops around the lake. Most boat guides will take you to these and normally have their preferred workshops. My particular boat operator took me to a cheroot workshop, paper-making workshop, silversmith workshop, and a silk lotus weaving workshop. My favorite was the paper-making workshop in which I was able to learn more about turning the bark of mulberry bushes into paper to be used for notebooks, lanterns, and handcrafted paper umbrellas.
No. 7 Explore Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon
Any quick search of Yangon will yield results on Shwedagon Pagoda. It was fairly low on my list setting out on my trip, only because I had already traveled through Thailand, Laos, and soon the temples of Bagan. There really are only so many temples or pagodas that I can take. However, when I ended up at Shwedagon Pagoda, I was blown away at the sheer size and details of the grounds. From far, it simply looks like a giant pagoda surrounded by a few trees. In reality, it is a large ground with many temple buildings, large gathering of locals simply chatting, and lots of gorgeous details. Still aren’t convinced? The grounds offer free Wi-Fi to visitors! I recommend stopping by around 4 pm so that you can get small details of the grounds in sunlight, but stick around until dusk as the entire place comes alive with glittering lights.
No. 6 Shop at Pomelo in Yangon
Located next to Monsoon Restaurant, Pomelo is a not-for-profit store that sells all locally-made products. The store is a great place for practical and quirky gifts for yourself or those back at home. The store meets with interested product makers and evaluates the quality of the product as well as the quality of their working conditions. If approved, Pomelo works with the vendors to deliver high-quality products and to improve their employees’ workplace conditions. Most vendors come from disadvantaged or disabled backgrounds.
No. 5 Eat at Green Chili Restaurant in Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake)
Hands down, this was my favorite restaurant of the whole trip. In a quiet lane not far from the center of town is the spacious Green Chili Restaurant. With inside or patio seating, Green Chili had a wonderful ambience and attentive staff. Beyond that, the food was amazing. I highly recommend the Kin-Buang-Kyaw to start with. Fried, batter dipped bites of onion, green onion, and tomatoes served with a light tamarind sauce. The vegetable spring rolls were also very good here. For mains, order the Massaman curry with its sweet coconut milk base. If you are an avid peanut fan, the Pa-naeng Curry combines the strong taste of peanut with coconut milk and spices. Beware, this curry is fairly spicy. Overall, the restaurant’s food and atmosphere were more than satisfying both times I went there.
No. 4 Adventure within the Sulamani and Htilominlo Temples in Bagan
It probably won’t take you long to realize that temple choices in Bagan are enormous and each traveler has their own preference. As for mine, Sulamani Temple was number one due to the amount of unique paintings found within the hallways of the temple. Going around 3 in the afternoon gives you perfect lighting for capturing them. Many of the other temples are dark or have been severely damaged in the earthquake of 1975.
Htilominlo makes the list as well because there is a viewing platform in the back of the temple that makes for a great landscape shot. I found that while a lot of temples had places higher up to take landscape pictures, I was often looking at the same few temples just from different angles. Htilominlo gave me a chance to get a few more landscape pictures with a different focal point. To get to the view platform, talk to some of the shop vendors off to the side or in the back of the temple. I had a few young women who showed me around and pointed out different markers. They also explained some of the customs and festivals. Of course, politely look at their shop afterwards for their hospitality.
No. 3 Witness Sunrises at both Bagan and Inle Lake
You were waiting for it and here it is at No. 3: Sunrise. Myanmar has one of the best sunrises in the world. Luckily, the sunrise actually last for quite a while so onlookers can take pictures and still revel in the beauty of it. Sunrises in Bagan are magical and tend to make the cover of most publications on Myanmar. Equally impressive is witnessing sunrise in the middle of Inle Lake while eating breakfast on your boat. Schedule a boat tour that picks you up a little before sunrise, bring your breakfast, and enjoy watching the mountains and clouds part for that magical Myanmar sun.
No. 2 Get a Custom Longyi Tailor-Made in Yangon
Everyone in Myanmar wears a longyi skirt, everyone. Experience one for yourself and take one home to truly embrace the culture. In the B Aung Market, you can get one tailor-made exactly for you. You can pick your own fabric and design, then within 10 minutes at a sewing machine, the seamstress will be handing you your own custom-made longyi.
No. 1 People Watch at a Teahouse in Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake)
Topping the list is people watching. Teahouses in Myanmar are hubs for people to meet and converse. There is nowhere better to get the feel of Myanmar and its culture. Similar to pubs in the U.K., teahouses each have their own style and environment. Any teahouse in Nyaung Shwe will offer visitors a chance to relax, drink perfect cups of coffee/tea, munch on fruit and meat pastries, and watch the locals hurry by. On my last day in Nyaung Shwe, I bounced between three teahouses in order to soak up the sights and sounds of Inle Lake. Within 5 minutes at each teahouse: cars, horses, nuns, children on bikes too big, men falling asleep in their sidecars, e-bikes, and women taking goods to the market all passed before me. To capture all that I saw and felt on my little stool with a cup of coffee lightly sweetened with condensed milk would take a trilogy, each passerby a different chapter. No worries, I’ll still try to put it into words. Look for the article on Wednesday!
Have you been? What were your favorite Myanmar moments? Planning on going? What are you hoping to do?
Don’t forget to enter the giveaway!
For more on my first experience with Myanmar, check out this article.