In late 2007 Yangon was the centre of huge nationwide fuel protests, which were led by Buddhist monks. The protests quickly escalated into antigovernment demonstrations, which resulted in the deaths of many protestors and worldwide condemnation. In May 2008 the worst natural disaster in Myanmar’s recent history hit the south of the country.
Mandalay & Around
The natural focus of Mandalay (မႏၱေလး) is an abrupt hill, rising above a vast moated and walled square. It once contained the sprawling royal city but apart from reconstructed Mandalay Palace at the very centre, this is now a sparse, mostly out-of-bounds area of military encampments.
Bagan & Central Myanmar
The central plains of Myanmar may lack the iconic sights of places such as Bagan and Inle Lake, but the towns in this area are a rewarding way to escape the tourist trail. The region is primarily an agricultural heartland, but there are some historic towns to break up the long cross-country journeys, and you’ll meet incredibly friendly locals along the way.
Teetering on the brink, the Golden Rock of Kyaiktiyo draws a few visitors off the main trail, but there is more to the southeast than this sacred and surreal stone. Mawlamyine offers glimpses of old Burma and is the launching pad for the beautiful boat ride upriver to Hpa-an.
Inle Lake & Around
Western Myanmar, home to the proud Rakhaing people, is a land unto itself. Isolated and inaccessible from the rest of the country, this enigmatic region is in many ways closer to Bangladesh than Burma. Sittwe is only accessible by air or water and ‘baby Bagan’, the atmospheric temple city of Mrauk U, is reached by a boat ride inland.
Placid Inle Lake (အင္းေလးကန္) ranks among Myanmar’s top five tourist attractions, which ensures that visitors come here in droves. The once-sleepy village of Nyaungshwe at the north end of the lake has grown into a bustling traveller centre, with dozens of guesthouses and hotels, a surfeit of restaurants serving pancakes and pasta, and a pleasantly relaxed traveller vibe.
One of Myanmar’s top attractions, the area known as Bagan (ပုဂ) or, bureaucratically, as the ‘Bagan Archaeological Zone’, occupies an impressive 26-sq-mile area 118 miles south of Mandalay and 429 miles north of Yangon. The Ayeyarwady River drifts past its northern and western sides. The area’s most active town and chief transport hub is Nyaung U, in the northeast corner.
The southern half of this state, which can also be spelled ‘Rakhine’, is the only part that foreign tourists can reach by bus, in addition to by air. Here you’ll find some of Myanmar’s best beaches. The northern part of the state, home to the capital Sittwe, must be accessed by air or boat.
Mandalay to Lashio
For an easy escape from the heat and smog of Mandalay, do what the colonial Brits always did – nip up to Pyin Oo Lwin. And once you’ve got going, why not continue further across the cool Shan Plateau to discover some of Southeast Asia’s most satisfying short hill-tribe treks from Kyaukme or Hsipaw.
Tanintharyi (Tenasserim) Region
The deep south of Myanmar, known as Tanintharyi Region (တနသၤာရီတိုင္း), appears to be a beach bum’s dream. The coastline consists of a seemingly untouched archipelago of bridal-white beaches, and is said to be home to over 4000 islands, though British surveyors recognised only 804.
Thazi to Inle Lake
The rolling hills between Mandalay and Inle Lake have attracted travellers ever since Myanmar first opened up to international visitors in the early ‘90s. From the junction town of Thazi, a pitted highway cuts east across a series of mountainous ridges, divided by broad valleys covered in a multicoloured patchwork of fields, villages and hedges.