Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been isolated for decades but now the door is open and tourists are flooding in. It is on a slew of “Best Places to Visit” lists including National Geographic’s “Best Trip 2013.” No one leaves disappointed. Most visits start in Yangon where the prime tourist attraction is the impressive golden Shwedagon Pagoda that dominates the skyline but first-time visitors should visit the following places.
1. Bagan is an archeological wonder. During its heyday from the 9th to 13th centuries it was a capital city with over 10,000 monuments, but only about 2,200 have survived. The view over the dusty plain with the sun highlighting the temples is awe inspiring.
2. Lake Inle, home to the famed leg rowers. It is located in the cooler highlands. The leg rowers are the big draw but there is also a great market that has not been spoiled by over commercialization. My room at the Paramount Inle Resort was built on stilts in the water and I enjoyed watching the boat traffic and fishermen from my porch.
3. Mandalay was immortalised by Rudyard Kipling even though he never visited the city that was the last royal capital. Mandalay Palace was destroyed during World War II but was rebuilt in the 1990s. Mandalay is the center of Buddhism in Myanmar so there are a lot of religious sites to visit. A favorite fun activity is to see the Moustache Brothers’ zany comic routine.
4. The Ayeyarwady River is the country’s largest and most important river. There are several river cruises but the most luxurious is the “Road to Mandalay” boat operated by the Orient Express. Feel like you are on your own National Geographic special as you watch daily life along the river pass by in slow motion.
5. Ngapali Beach is one of the world’s most beautiful and unspoiled beaches. Every trip to Myanmar should end with several days relaxing on the Bay of Bengal. There are a variety of hotels in several price categories in the area but one of the best is Amazing Ngapali Beach Resort Hotel.