Top Things to Do in Myanmar

Essential experiences not only for first-timers

During our many visits to Myanmar, the country's diversity always draws us back for more: beautiful landscapes, glittering pagodas, fascinating lifestyles and super friendly people... and we want you to feel the same.

Why You'll These Ideas

  • A land of pagodas and too many temples can be quite tiresome for western eyes. We only pick a few that say the most for you.
  • How we approach them distinguishes these common attractions. Our insider tips can be your guideline to see and experience Myanmar differently.
  • We bring you to our local friends’ houses and you will see why our past guests all fell in love with Myanmar: “The Burmese welcome us like we were one of them”.
  • They are easy to be planted into any itinerary. Your time in Myanmar won’t go wasted.

Best Experiences in Myanmar

Being one of the most isolated countries in the world might be part of Myanmar’s charm. Everybody wants to see what’s underneath its exterior after years of struggles for democracy. We’ve spent a fortune on airfares flying back and forth between Bangkok and Yangon only to be astonished by its ever-changing enchantment. Now we can say you should never miss these experiences while you are in Myanmar. 

1. Venture into an ancient temple or pagoda

Just as ubiquitous as the marching monks and nuns, temples and pagodas are all over the place in Myanmar. 90% of the population is following the path of Theravada Buddhism, which focuses on individual’s serious pursuit in utter enlightenment. Driven by this, everybody strives to build his own pagoda. If you want to know what makes the Burmese probably the happiest people in the world, visit a pagoda or temple, you will find the answer. 

Gatsby’s picks:

  • Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon: Both good for sunrise and sunset. Locals sweep the ground carefully, making it spotless just like their own living room and they would sit for hours for prayers and Buddhism rituals.
  • Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay: Every morning at 04am, the host monk would start the cleansing ritual for the Buddha image that is believed to be one of the extreme likeness of the Mahamuni Buddha himself (while two are in India and two are in paradise).
  • Ananda Pagoda in Bagan: One of the most sublime temples in Bagan that has survived earthquakes and been resorted many times in its long history of 900 years. The entire Sikhara (the rising tower of the Hindu temples) is glided,; such uniqueness is seen nowhere else.

2. Sunrise and sunset of a lifetime

Thanks to its approximation to the equator and geographic features of flat plains or lower land covering most of the country, Myanmar is widely known for awesome sunrise and sunset views. Being laid back as it is, you will always have a wide-open vista towards the horizon with few buildings, towers, power plants or whatever standing in sight. 

Gatsby’s picks:

  • Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon: Most people are there to witness the gorges sundown casting its last ray at the pagoda’s gleaming exterior. However, sunrise here is also mind-blowing. As it’s located at the west side of the city on a hill slop, sunrise there features more of azure morning sky and gentler lighting.
  • Bagan plains: One of Myanmar’s most famous icons. Thousands pagodas and temples of all ages, closed or still open, all stand in frozen time. Some best sunset-viewing locations include Shwegu Gyi Paya Temple, Pagoda 761, Ta Wet Hpaya, Thitsarwadi Temple and etc. Early mornings during October to March always attract photographers shooting for balloons floating over the plains.
  • U Bein Bridge in Amarapura: A 1200-meter teak wood bridge that has been standing for ages and also a hyped postcard photo opt. Take a private boat under the bridge and wait for the sunset with a cold drink in hand, you will see the 40-minute drive from Mandalay is totally worthwhile.

3. Visit a local market

Visiting local markets has always been our first thing to do when we travel to a strange land. This is the place you see the locals at their easiest state and learn about what they eat or use on a daily basis. The sound and smells might be tough at first but once you get past that, such a being-in-the-moment experience will change your perception on the country and its people.

Gatsby’s picks:

  • Chinatown in Yangon: The market sees its biggest volume from the evening. Despite the name, the market is actually a mixture of multi cultures that can easily remind you of Mumbai, Hanoi or Bangkok. Proceeding west for several blocks from the Sule Pagoda, its streets are brimming with everyday life that one can never get enough.
  • Nyuang U Market in Bagan: The once-sleepy town of Nyaung U, 4km from Old Bagan, owes some credit to the pouring-in travelers for today’s thriving outlook. Expending from a small wet market, now you can find almost everything there. What we love the most is its workshops where you can see how local craftsman turns a piece of wood into their divine.
  • 5-Day Market in Inle Lake: Villages around Inle Lake take turns to host the market fare on a 5-day rotation based on Burmese calendar. Ethnic minorities from hillside tribes and lakeside villages will be in their colorful customs on market days, making each fare a great place for interesting portraits.

4. Talk to a Monk

This might sound strange but monks in Myanmar are generally quite talkative. Burmese boys will be set to temples or monasteries while they are only 5 or even younger. Some will stay for a lifetime but those who wish to have a family would return to the mundane life. Either way is a path to adulthood, not an option. How they conduct their daily life, how they pursuit spiritual enlightenment and how this being-a-monk experience changed them? All the answers lie in a friendly conversation with a local monk. 

Gatsby’s picks:

  • Bargaya Monastery in Mandalay:The old and somehow dingy-looking teak wood monastery comes on top of our list not only due to its unique style; interesting life scenes are why you’ve traveled this far. It is the primary Buddhism school in the Mandalay Region and home to over 1,000 monks and novices. Young monks are eager to practice English and learn about the outside world; you’d have a good time with them. The younger novices, on the other hand, are friendly and a bit shy but they wouldn’t mind being taken photos.
  • Mandalay Hill in Mandalay:As the landmark of Mandalay, tourists are flocking on hilltop every evening for sunset view over the city. This also attracts local monks for another reason: a good place to learn English. These youngsters are from different monasteries, evident in different types of robes but overall they are quite happy to talk about their lives of being a monk.

5. Ride on Yangon's Circular Train

The slow ride on Yangon’s circular train often jogs our memories of roaming on train through Sri Lanka’s tea country. But instead of tea plantation, you see the cityscapes changing as all sorts of locals mingling around: farmers with loads of fruits, office lady, kids running around on the platform and those vendors who would share their snack with you for free. The entire ride is about 3 hours but we only pick the section in downtown area, which takes you from the heart of the city to a small local market. 

6. Boating at Sunset

The great Irrawaddy River has countless tributaries across the country. Such advantage is not exclusive to the boat ride lovers; we arrange at least twice boat rides in our trips and most of our guests claim they’d come back for another ride. Most longboats are still man-rowed, unlike those motor rafts in Guilin or engine-driven long-tail boats in Bangkok. Two passengers would be just fine enough for one boat to stay in good balance. With a cold drink in hand, cooling air on the river, that’s a good moment to kick back and watch the sunset.

Gatsby’s picks:

  • Sunset boat ride near Bagan:Right by the edge of the Bagan plains there are some abandoned pagodas by the riverside. They are little-visited and being eaten away by wind and rain. Such an apocalypse scene can only be seen with a boat ride close to the shore. Normally, when the boat trip is done, we will add an extra leg to the temples after nightfall; time to release your inner Indiana Jones!
  • Sunset ride on Inle LakeFor most of our visits to Inle Lake, sunset can be quite rare due to its high altitude. Instead of golden rays casting on the water, better chance is misty and chilly evening with the sun slowly dims out. This is also the time fishermen finish up their last toss and villagers are headed back home from markets or their floating gardens. It’s a good ride, yes for sure.

7. Spend your nights at a lakeside house in Inle Lake

No matter when you are visiting Myanmar, the heat can be unbearable and you are in desperate need for a cool retreat. That’s Inle Lake. This dreamy destination is situated on the higher land with the lake sprawling for miles and floating villages are constructed over the water. Peaceful life here reckons you of how life itself is supposed to be. A couple of leisure days at a lakeside resort is our idea of vacation in paradise. 

8. Trek through Myanmar's Remote Hill Tribes

Trekking through Myanmar's remote mountain areas brings you to parts most travellers never reach. The higher altitude is a welcome break from the heat of Bagan and Yangon. Here's more on the best treks in Myanmar.

Discover Myanmar in Your Own Sense

Myanmar is never a luxury destination although travel cost doubles other Asian countries. Military dictatorship withholds the country’s development and now more to be seen with its arms opening. 

Outlining what to expect from a trip to Myanmar, our experiences will help you discover this amazing country in your own way. Wondering what’s out there? Talk to our team now. 

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