Foremost among its many unique attractions is the beautiful “Golden Rock” Pagoda of Mount Kyaiktiyo in Mon State, which can be reached in a day from Yangon. Further south, the Mon capital, Mawlamyine (Moulmein), retains a distinct colonial-era charm and serves as the start, or end, point of cruises by old double-decker ferries on the Thanlwin (Salween) River into neighbouring Kayin State, where the striking limestone hills, caves and mountaintop monasteries around the town of Hpa-an entice increasing numbers of travellers.
The object of fervent worship for thousands of years, as well as the venue for some of the country’s most historic pro-democracy rallies in recent decades, Shwedagon Paya (the Shwedagon Pagoda) is Burma’s spiritual nerve centre and its most astounding religious monument.
Burma’s only fully fledged beach resort, Ngapali, centres on a tranquil, palm-lined bay in the far west of the country – its soft sand, translucent water and wonderful seafood offer the perfect wind-down before heading upriver to the ruins of Mrauk U.
Visible from all parts of Bagan, this massive, walled, 12th-century temple (about 1600ft east of Shwesandaw) is infamous for its mysterious, bricked-up inner passageways and cruel history. It’s said that King Narathu built the temple to atone for his sins: he smothered his father and brother to death and executed one of his wives, an Indian princess, for practising Hindu rituals. The best preserved of Bagan’s temples, it features detailed mortar work in its upper levels.
The 1990s reconstruction of Mandalay’s royal palace features over 40 timber buildings built to resemble the 1850s originals. Climb the curious spiral, timber-walled watchtower for a good general view. The palace’s most striking structure is a soaring multi-layered pyramid of gilt filigree above the main throne room . The westernmost building within the palace oval contains a minor culture museum where the most intriguing exhibit is King Thibaw’s dainty, glass-pillared four-poster bed.
Built atop an extinct volcano plug, the Buddhist monastery of Taung Kalat is one of the most breathtaking sites in Burma. To reach the monastery, visitors must climb the 777 steps to the summit. Along the way are a multitude of Macaque monkeys expecting treats. From the top of Taung Kalat, one can enjoy a panoramic view. One can see the ancient city of Bagan and the massive solitary conical peak of Mount Popa, the volcano that actually caused the creation of the volcanic plug.
Also known as Royal Lake, this artificial lake, built by the British as a reservoir, is most attractive at sunset, when the glittering Shwedagon is reflected in its calm waters. The boardwalk, which runs mainly along the southern and western sides of the lake, is also an ideal place for an early-morning jog or stroll.
Mrauk U is an important archeological town. It was originally thought to be a fortress because of the thick walls, but the walls were made to protect temples from the fierce winds, not invaders. Stone temples can be found throughout the area. The medieval town was once an important Arakan capital and was an important trading city. Getting to this remote location involves a four- to seven-hour boat ride up a tributary of the Kaladan River. Travelers may want to bring rain gear at the region gets almost 1.2 meter (4 feet) of rain annually.