Friday, 9th December 2016
The hidden delights of Burma
While many people enjoy heading to the busy, tourist-filled areas of Burma, there are always going to be those who like to discover something new that few people are aware of. Luckily, the country is full of these hidden wonders. In amongst Burma's busy towns and beautiful landscapes are a range of gems that most tourists don't know exist.
If you are planning a trip to Burma and looking to venture off the beaten path, here are some suggestions of places to visit. Be warned; some of them are difficult to access, which is often the reason why few tourists visit them. However, they are well worth it once you arrive.
While a lot of travellers have heard of the archaeological marvel of Bagan - a site containing thousands of Buddhist temples - far fewer are aware of its neighbour Mrauk U. This abandoned city was once the capital of an independent kingdom lasting from the 15th to the 18th century before falling into decay.
Visiting the hundreds of temples and pagodas is a fascinating experience, with labyrinths full of stone Buddhas and elaborate carvings there to greet you. You will probably have it mosty to yourself, as only around 5,000 people per year visit Mrauk U. This site is likely to become more well-known in the next few years, so get there now before the rush of tourists!
Maymyo and Hispaw
These two towns are full of everything you can expect from Burma at its best: good food, beautiful architecture and friendly locals. However, they are unique in several ways. Maymyo is an old colonial hill settlement, and the homes there are interesting in themselves. You can view the buildings from a horse-drawn carriage ride, as these serve as the local taxis.
Hispaw is a lovely market town that also produces tea, and it has its own sights. The nearby Dokhtawaddy River, for example, is beautiful. However, the trip to the town from Maymyo is one of the most memorable experiences you will have. The train you will take goes over the Gokteik Viaduct, which is the tallest trestle bridge in the world.
If it's beaches you are after, you can't do much better than Ngwe Saung. While many of Burma's seaside towns are busy and expensive, this hideaway is a hidden paradise that has a much smaller tourist presence.
The resort is roughly five hours away from Yangon, and features many wonderful beaches opening onto the Bay of Bengal. On the way, you could stop in at Pathein. This city is the centre of Burma's parasol production industry, so there are plenty of workshops all over the place where colourful umbrellas are being painted by hand.
The Mingun Pahtodawgyi
Finally, one of Burma's greatest oddities is the Mingun Pahtodawgyi. This is an enormous stupa - a common Buddhist monument - that, despite being over 50 metres tall, is unfinished. It was created by the famously eccentric King Bodawpaya, and the story goes that he deliberately failed to complete it.
This was due to a prophecy that claimed he would die - or in some tellings, Burma would fall - when the monument was fully constructed. As such, construction was slowed down, lasting from 1790 until the king's death in 1819. It was originally intended to be around three times the size!
However, despite being unfinished, it still contains the second-largest ringing bell in the world. It weighs just over 90 metric tonnes, is over 16ft in diameter and 12 ft tall. The bell has no cracks and was the largest in the world up until 2000, when it was overtaken.
Related news stories:
A guide to Burmese festivals ? one for every month of the year (6th June 2016)
Mrauk U - an archaeological gem at the end of the Kaladan River (8th September 2015)
Top 10 Burma sunset spots (18th August 2016)
A complete guide to the Inle Lake leg rowers (7th March 2016)
A look at Burma's relatively new flag (23rd October 2015)