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26 Tourist Attractions in Myanmar (part 1)

An insider's guide to the best things to do and attractions in Burma, including visiting Inle Lake and Mandalay Palace. By Gill Charlton, Telegraph Travel's Burma expert.

1. Belmond Road to Mandalay Cruise

Belmond (formerly Orient Express Hotels) pioneered short cruises on the Ayeyarwady between Mandalay and Bagan 20 years. Currently, it offers three, seven and 11 night itineraries including longer journeys downstream to Yangon and upstream to Bhamo on the Chinese border.

The 86-passenger Road to Mandalay may provide all the luxuries of a European river cruise on board but there are plenty of opportunities to engage with local people including a horse cart ride around Ava. As well as giving lectures, each guide takes care of a small group of passengers for village and temple visits. For journeys taken before December 31, Belmond is offering two free nights at the Governor’s Residence in Yangon worth £700.

Belmond pioneered short cruises on the Ayeyarwady between Mandalay and Bagan 20 years.

Belmond Road

-Address: Myo Patt (Strand) Road, Mandalay

-Contact: 0845 217 0799

-Getting there: take a taxi

-Opening times: all year

-Price: from £1,640 per person, three nights, full board

-Payment type: credit cards accepted

-Reservations: essential

2. Chindwin River Expedition

Communities on the remote Chindwin River have had little contact with the outside world over the past 50 years so expect an excitable welcome in riverside villages. I particularly liked sleepy Mawlaik with its abandoned colonial mansions and the fine old wooden tea houses and monasteries in Minkin. Tourists can now use local boats to travel upstream from Monywa but they are slow, overcrowded and ride very low in the water on a river full of whirlpools.

For a real adventure join the 12-berth Nadi Mandala, a traditional riverboat chartered each November by UK operator Wild Frontiers. The nine-night journey takes in villages, markets and remote monasteries as well as larger towns. To explore the Chindwin in more luxury with lecturers and organised excursions join the 50-passenger Orcaella (belmond.com) which offers an 11-night cruise from Mandalay up to Homalin and back down to Bagan in the early autumn. Bring audio books for teachers who value them as a way of learning how to pronounce English words correctly.

Communities on the remote Chindwin River have had little contact with the outside world over the past 50 years.

Chindwin River

-Address: Myo Patt (Strand) Road, Mandalay

-Contact: Nadi Mandala (020 7736 3968); Orcaella (0845 217 0799)

-Getting there: take a taxi

-Opening times: Jul-Sep

-Price: £4,500 per person, 11 nights, full board

-Payment type: credit cards accepted

-Reservations: essential

3. Balloons Over Bagan

At dawn each morning in the winter months, a small flotilla of balloons floats above the temple plain in Bagan as the sun rises. Passengers are collected from hotels in vintage, teak coaches before dawn and taken to the site to watch the balloons being inflated. There are four people to a basket (you can pay an extra $60 for a balloon for two). The company is run by an Australian, Brett Melzer, and his Burmese wife Omar who pioneered flights here 14 years ago using balloons made in the UK.

If there is any wind the balloons don’t fly and full refunds are given promptly. The flight lasts about an hour before landing in a field for a light breakfast with fizz. Wear warm clothing in December and January as it can be cold at dawn. You can phone for last-minute bookings, 8am-11am and 5pm-8pm.

At dawn each morning in the winter months, a small flotilla of balloons floats above the temple plain in Bagan as the sun rises.

Balloon Bagan

-Address: Nyaung-U

-Contact: 0095 616 0347

-Getting there: complimentary transfer from hotels

-Opening times: Oct-Mar: daily

-Price: $320

-Payment type: credit cards accepted

-Reservations: essential

4. Inle Lake Boat Trip

A boat trip on Inle Lake is one of the highlights of visiting Burma, not least to see the famous leg-rowers. Essentially canoes with outboard motors, the boats seat up to five people (life jackets are provided). A day trip involves about four hours on the water plus stops and is priced on distance travelled.

I would head first for Indein (for its market, temple and hilltop lake views), then shop for silk and have a late lunch in Inpawkhon, before touring Nampan village and the floating vegetable gardens. Finish at Nga Hpe Kyaung monastery which has a wonderful collection of larger-than-life Buddha images, best photographed in the late afternoon when the sun illuminates their faces.

A boat trip on Inle Lake is one of the highlights of visiting Burma, not least to see the famous leg-rowers.

Inle Lake

-Address: Inle Lake

-Getting there: take a taxi or walk to Theik Nan Bridge, Nyaungshwe Opening times: daily, dawn to dusk

-Price: Ks 18,000-Ks 25,000

-Payment type: credit cards not accepted

-Reservations: recommended

5. Shwenandaw Monastery

This is the only surviving structure from Mandalay’s Royal Palace. King Mindon originally used the building as his personal apartment and died here in 1878. His son, worried that his ghost still resided there, dismantled the structure and transported it to a nearby monastery.

There are been a fair bit of make-do-and-mend since but enough of the original woodcarving survives to show how skilled the royal artisans were. Arrive early for the best light as the sun slants in to light up the gilded interior. The entrance fee is high as it's a combination ticket for Mandalay's Archaeological Zone which includes the Royal Palace and Mandalay Hill.

Enough of the original woodcarving survives to show how skilled the royal artisans were.

Shwenandaw Monastery

-Address: 62nd Street, Mandalay

-Getting there: take a taxi

-Opening times: daily, 8am-6pm

-Price: Ks 10,000

-Payment type: credit cards not accepted

-Reservations: not necessary

6. Mandalay Palace

Don’t expect to find anything authentic within the Royal Palace as the original buildings were destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945. The replacements are poorly executed replicas built in the 1990s by the military government in an attempt to woo more tourists to Mandalay. Instead, take a turn around the five miles of crenellated walls which form a square, surrounded by a wide moat.

They are punctuated at intervals by the original gate towers which have finely-wrought, tiered roofs. Mirrored in the still waters of the moat, the buildings make a good photograph in the early morning. Join the locals for a jog around the walls in the cool morning air or swing on a keep-fit frame.

There are five miles of crenellated walls which form a square, surrounded by a wide moat.

Mandalay Palace

-Address: Royal Palace, Mandalay

-Getting there: walkable from most hotels or take a taxi

-Opening times: daily, 7.30am-4.30pm

-Price: Ks 10,000

-Payment type: credit cards not accepted

-Reservations: not necessary

7. Mandalay-Bagan Ferry

The Shwe Keinnery offers a comfortable express shuttle service on the Ayeyarwady from Mandalay to Bagan and has more outdoor space than its competitor, Malikha Cruises. I prefer it to the hassle of flying out of Mandalay Airport which is an hour from the city, and longer in bad traffic. It's easy to while away 10 hours on the river.

There's always something to catch the eye: a cluster of glittering pagodas climbing away up a hill, a lone fisherman in a worryingly small canoe, and the rips and eddies of the water itself. The boats carry up to 150 passengers and they are air-conditioned, although most passengers prefer to sit on deck. There's a bar and the kitchen produces fried rice and noodles. I would advise bringing your own snacks and having a jacket handy, as it can be cool on the water.

The Shwe Keinnery offers a comfortable express shuttle service on the Ayeyarwady from Mandalay to Bagan.

Mandalay Began Ferry

-Address: Gawwein Jetty, Myo Patt (Strand) Road, Mandalay

-Contact: 00 95 9 3311 5588

-Getting there: take a taxi

-Opening times: Oct-Mar: daily, 6.30am-3.30pm (Mandalay to Bagan); 6am-4.30pm (Bagan to Mandalay)

-Price: $40; children, 3-12, $20; 2 and under, free

-Payment type: credit cards not accepted

-Reservations: essential

8. Inwa

Formerly known as Ava, this was the capital of Burma for the best part of five centuries from 1364. Now it’s a sleepy village beside the Ayeyarwady River with some exceptional sights, including sections of wall and ruined royal palaces. The best way to get around is by hiring a traditional horse cart (Ks 8,000 for three hours), clip-clopping along the tree-shaded lanes past fields of corn, beans and peanuts.

The monastery of Bagaya Kyaung is worth the journey alone: built in 1834, it stands on a forest of massive teak posts, the largest 70ft high. Young monks study in the main hall which has wonderful carvings of birds, beasts and flowers. Try to arrive around 9am and head straight for the Bagaya Kaung as the tour groups start piling in at 10.15am.

The best way to get around Inwa is by hiring a traditional horse cart.

Inwa

-Address: Inwa Village, one mile south of Ava Bridge via ferry from Myitinge River jetty

-Getting there: taxi from Mandalay Ks 35,000 return

-Opening times: daily, 7am-6pm

-Price: Ks 10,000

-Payment type: credit cards not accepted

-Reservations: not possible

9. National Museum

The National Museum is a national disgrace: the exhibits badly labelled and poorly lit (bring a torch), and the whole place uncared for. That said, nothing can dull the magnificence of King Thibaw Min's golden Lion Throne. There are also impressive collections of royal jewellery, costumes and furniture. To understand the value of what you are seeing I would time your visit for the end of your stay.

There is a new permanent exhibition of 70 stunning photographs donated by Richard K Diran who has spent his life documenting the vanishing tribes of Burma. You can only take in small valuables (money, passport, glasses): handbags, cameras and phones must be handed over and are stored in lockers.

There are impressive collections of royal jewellery, costumes and furniture.

National Museum

-Address: 66-74 Pyay Road, Dagon Township

-Contact: 00 95 1 371 540

-Getting there: walk or take a taxi

-Opening times: Wed-Sun, 10am-4pm

-Price: Ks 5,000

-Payment type: credit cards not accepted

-Reservations: not necessary

10. Botataung Pagoda

This pagoda is at its liveliest in the late afternoon. Unusually, you can enter the main stupa. The interior is lined with gold-leaf and contains an altar displaying a hair of the Buddha. A corridor switchbacks past dusty display cases containing precious artefacts once sealed inside the original stupa, destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944. Take some food for the many terrapin in the pond outside and watch the water boil.

I find the most intriguing part of this complex is across the entrance lane at the shrine to Mya Nan Nwe, the Lady of the Emerald Palace. A treasure spirit, based on a real woman who died in Mogok in 1955, she is said to confer wealth and prevent ruin. A stream of worshippers bring flowers, fruit baskets and expensive suits of clothes for her image. Some visitors are so affected they fall into a trance.

The interior is lined with gold-leaf and contains an altar displaying a hair of the Buddha.

Botaung Pagoda

-Address: Strand Road, Botataung Township

-Getting there: walk or take a taxi

-Opening times: daily, 6am-8pm

-Price: Ks 3,000

-Payment type: credit cards not accepted

-Reservations: not possible

11. Shwedagon Pagoda

This gilded 95-metre stupa topped with a thousand diamonds is the most important Buddhist shrine in the country. Surrounding the main stupa is a wide marble platform filled with shrines and pavilions where visiting monks, nuns and pilgrims from all over Burma pray, chant, eat and snooze beneath exquisitely carved eaves. There are four entrances at the cardinal points. Most tourists use the south entrance which has both lifts and stairs. I prefer the more authentic eastern stairway.

It is worth getting there just after dawn as the pagoda is awash with tourists later in the day. After making a circuit - always in a clockwise direction - sit quietly and watch the Burmese pour water over the shrine associated with their birth day of the week. Don’t wear shorts and vest tops; it’s as disrespectful as going to church in your underwear. Shoes and socks must be removed before climbing the stairways. The ticket booths are up on the main platform.

After making a circuit - always in a clockwise direction - sit quietly and watch the Burmese pour water over the shrine associated with their birth day of the week.

Shwedagon Pagoda

-Address: Dagon Township

-Getting there: walk or take a taxi

-Opening times: daily, 6am-9pm

-Price: Ks 8,000

-Payment type: credit cards not accepted

-Reservations: not possible

12. Kandawgyi Park

This is the place to come to watch the sunset or for a run. It’s a well-maintained park popular with young people and families to want to find fresh air in this increasingly polluted city. The boardwalk that winds around the south and west sides of the lake is a popular promenade and running track for Yangonites.

The park is a good place to come across the local people who don’t work in tourism. The main entrance is on the south-east corner opposite U Aung Myat Road. The wide boardwalk to the left of the entrance is best place from which to photograph the Shwedagon as the setting sun turns the stupa a fiery gold. Alongside it is a Nature Park and café for drinks and snacks. For keen gardeners there's also an interesting plant nursery.

The boardwalk that winds around the south and west sides of the lake is a popular promenade and running track for Yangonites.

Kandawgyi Park

-Address: Kan Yeik Thar Road, Dagon Township

-Getting there: walk or take a taxi

-Opening times: daily, 4am-10pm

-Price: Ks 2,000

-Payment type: credit cards not accepted

-Reservations: not possible

13. Red Mountain Estate

Vines grow well in the Shan hills and this is the best of the vineyards in the area. Established in 2002, the vines - mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir - were imported from Spain and Israel. It’s an enjoyable 30-minute cycle ride from Nyaungshwe and after a quick tour of the winery there's the chance to taste four wines. A restaurant with far-reaching countryside views serves Asian and European food during opening hours. The grapes are harvested in February and March by Pa-O tribeswomen in their traditional costume.

Vines grow well in the Shan hills and this is the best of the vineyards in the area.

Red Mountain Estate

-Address: Taung Che Village, Nyaungshwe

-Contact: 0959 458 0315 38

-Getting there: cycle or take a taxi from Nyaungshwe

-Opening times: daily, 9am-6pm

-Price: Ks 2,000

-Payment type: credit cards not accepted

-Reservations: not necessary

* Read more: 26 tourist attractions in Myanmar (Part 2)

(According to www.telegraph.co.uk)

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