Sunset over the U-bein bridge

Our guide to Myanmar's top places, plus lesser-known favourites

Myanmar is shaped like a kite. The northern tip touches the foothills of the Himalayas, while 2,100km south, the tail forms a narrow strip of coastline down the Malay Peninsula.

The largest country in Southeast Asia straddles a striking range of topographies. In the centre, a horseshoe of mountains surrounds an arid plateau. Fertile farmlands spread to the east and west, while everything gets that bit more humid and tropical amid the jungles and limestone karsts of the south.

Slicing Myanmar in two is the mighty Irrawaddy River, used for trade and transport since the 6th century. There’s a timelessness to the Irrawaddy, and its main tributary, the Chindwin. On the water, men fish from dugout canoes. Along the shore, you’ll see gold pagodas, teak monasteries and fields tended by ox and cart.

Tourism is still in its infancy in Myanmar. Much of the country remains out of bounds for security reasons or lack of infrastructure. But there’s more than enough to pack an itinerary in the centre and south.

The classic sights – Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake – are easily connected by domestic flights. Shan State deserves special attention for its hill treks and ethnic minority villages. The south holds the most remnants of the colonial era and World War Two. All along the coast, the beaches are pristine, untouched and little visited, quite unlike anything we’ve seen in Asia.

The Irrawaddy River bisects an arid plain, home to Mandalay and the temples of Bagan. Around Inle Lake, you can hike to ethnic minority villages hidden amongst rolling hills.

Image
MYANMAR MYANMAR YANGON DAWEI KALAW MAWLAMYINE MERGUI ARCHIPELAGO MONYWA NGAPALI PYIN OO LWIN HPA AN GOLDEN ROCK PINDAYA INLE LAKE LOIKAW BAGAN SALAY MANDALAY DAWEI CENTRAL MYANMAR CENTRAL MYANMAR SOUTHERN MYANMAR 140% MANDALAY MONYWA BAGAN SALAY KALAW LOIKAW INLE LAKE PINDAYA PYIN OO LWIN
Central Myanmar

Bagan is an ode to Buddhism: 3,000 terracotta temples across a vast plain, built in a game of spiritual one-upmanship in the 11th to 13th centuries. This is the zenith of Myanmar’s golden age and our favourite spot in the whole country.

Central Myanmar

Welcome to beautiful Inle Lake, home of the Intha people who spend their whole lives farming, fishing and living on the water. Hop in a longboat to explore their stilted villages, floating gardens, pagodas and ethnic minority markets.

Central Myanmar

High in the mountains of Shan State, this British era enclave is now Myanmar’s premier hiking destination, offering you the chance to explore ethnic minority villages on foot.

Central Myanmar

Loikaw is the capital of Kayah State, a tiny city in a land of rolling hills and farms, far from the well-trodden trail.

Central Myanmar

Forget what Kipling said, Mandalay is certainly no oil painting. But scratch the surface and you’ll find bags of history and culture amid the monasteries, temples, markets, gold leaf workshops and teahouses of Myanmar’s second largest city.

Central Myanmar

A non-descript town belies an ancient wonder: the myriad cave temples of Po Win Daung. It’s Myanmar’s third largest archaeological site, full of hand-carved caves, Buddhas and frescoes, yet no one has head of it, which makes us like it all the more.

South of Yangon, the Irrawaddy Delta melts into tropical jungle and karst mountains. Along the coast are glorious, pristine and little-visited beaches, coral reefs and uninhabited islands.

Image
MYANMAR SOUTHERN MYANMAR CENTRAL MYANMAR SOUTHERN MYANMAR MYANMAR MERGUI ARCHIPELAGO DAWEI YANGON MAWLAMYINE HPA AN GOLDEN ROCK NGAPALI YANGON DAWEI KALAW MAWLAMYINE MERGUI ARCHIPELAGO MONYWA NGAPALI PYIN OO LWIN HPA AN GOLDEN ROCK PINDAYA INLE LAKE LOIKAW BAGAN SALAY MANDALAY
Southern Myanmar

Dawei is a sleepy town of colonial architecture, palm trees and mangroves. It’s a great base to explore nearby fishing villages and minority communities deep in the jungle.

Southern Myanmar

Balancing precariously at the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo, Golden Rock is one of Myanmar’s most sacred sites, drawing devout Buddhists from across the country.

Southern Myanmar

Once a tropical sea, now coral deposits have formed limestone karsts that rise dramatically from the lush forests and rice paddies around Hpa-An.

Southern Myanmar

Some things have not changed since Kipling came to Malwamyine (then Moulmein) in 1889 to see the old pagoda by the sea. You’ll still find fishing boats zipping along the waterfront, merchants trading spices.

Southern Myanmar

A strip of 800 tiny, jungle-clad islands lie off Myanmar’s southern coastline in splendid isolation.

Southern Myanmar

Can we be so bold as to call this the best beach in Southeast Asia? Go and decide for yourself. Lapped by the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal, Ngapali’s palm-fringed coastline has barely a soul in sight.