Our guide to Myanmar's top places, plus lesser-known favorites
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 center, 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 center 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 among rolling hills.
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.