This heartland of the Bamar people has been the location of three former Burmese capitals – Bagan, Pyay and Taungoo – plus the latest surreal one, Nay Pyi Taw. Of this quartet, it’s Bagan with its wondrous vista of pagodas and stupas, many dating to the 12th century, that’s the star attraction. The tallest and most majestic of Bagan’s temples, built of brick, decorated inside with beautiful frescoes and topped with gilded hti pinnacles, mix Hindu and Buddhist images with locally brewed nat (spirits) in nooks and crannies.
Most visitors fly directly to Bagan, but central Myanmar also provides scenic rewards for adventurous travellers. It may be known as the ‘dry zone’, but the region is far from a desert. Beside highways and rickety train tracks amble ox carts through rice fields and rolling plains, all rimmed by the Shan Mountains to the east and the snaking Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River to the west, creating scenes that hark back centuries.