Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a Southeast Asian nation with more than 100 different ethnic groups, sharing borders with India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand.
With the opening of the land border a couple of years ago, and the ease of obtaining an E Visa, travelling to Myanmar from India has become quite hassle-free and affordable.
I was lucky enough to have visited Myanmar for New Year’s, where we toured through the 4 big destinations, i.e. Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake and Yangoon, which also form the famous Golden Kite Itinerary of Myanmar.
Each of these destinations is unique in itself, and while, Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the country's largest city, is home to bustling markets, numerous parks and lakes, and the towering, gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, which contains Buddhist relics and dates to the 6th century; Bagan, on the other hand, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to countless temples and Pagodas, including the Shwezigon Pagoda.
The first place we explored was the Kyauktawgyi Pagoda which is located near the southern entry gate of the Mandalay Hill. The Kyauktawgyi Pagoda was built by King Mindon in 1853 on the model of the Ananda Temple at Pagan. The pagoda was completed by the year 1878. The highlight of the Kyauktawgyi Paya is the huge seated Buddha sculpted from a single block of pale green marble brought here from the Sagyin quarry twelve miles north of Mandalay.
It is believed that it took about ten thousand men about 2 weeks to transport the stone block from the Ayeyarwaddy River to the site where it is today.
Next, we started climbing the stairs up to Mandalay Hill which took us around 30 odd minutes. We primarily went for the views. And it didn't disappoint us at all
While we were up there the multiple white stupas caught our attention, and that is where we headed to after climbing down the stairs.
The stupas, slabs inscribed with Buddhist teachings and the large golden zedi is known as the Sandamuni Pagoda. As the large golden zedi was under restoration, we weren't able to see the largest iron Buddha statue in Burma. However, the multiple white stupas made for an amazing setting as the sun decided to give us a little peek a boo before going down. On our 2nd day in Mandalay, we explored the different foods items, in the by lanes of Mandalay with ‘Beyond Boundaries Myanmar’, the travel agency we had hired, and it gave the kick-start to our Myanmar Trip.
As we had an amazing time with the travel agency of Myanmar in Mandalay, we decided to explore Bagan on the last day of 2019 with these guys, and what a day it turned out to be! We visited the 5 places mentioned above, and then headed for lunch in a local house in a village, after which we took a Boatride over River Ayeyarwady and witnessed the last Sunset of 2019.
After witnessing the first sunrise of 2020 in Bagan, we found ourselves in a Minivan, headed towards Inle Lake in the Shan State of Myanmar. As we had limited time in hand, we had to skip out on the 2-day hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake, which is a popular choice among many backpackers and travellers. After a full day of travelling we found ourselves at Viewpoint Ecolodge and were delighted to be spending the first few nights of 2020, in the lap of luxury, and being pampered by the hospitable staff here. Time at the Ecolodge was spent either trying out different food items from the Shan cuisine, getting pampered at the spa or just appreciating the beauty of the moment, sitting by the waterside and listening to the sounds of nature. We managed to explore the beauty of Lake Inle when we stepped out of the Ecolodge, in our private speed boat.
Yes, we saw the famous fisherman of Inle Lake, strike a pose for the tourists with their traditional bamboo nets. We also visited the Lotus Stem weaving factory and the Cigar Making factory and interacting with the long-necked women - Kayan Tribe was the highlight. One of the experiences which stood out was having our lunch on a boat in the middle of the lake, being prepared by the cooks on another boat, and being brought to us on yet another boat.
The whole experience of trying out the unique Shan Cuisine coupled with the fantastic wine was too good to be true, and we managed to gulp down the entire bottle by the end of our meal. We also visited the Red Mountain Winery, which provides an awesome panoramic view of Inle Lake and the surrounding mountains, making it the perfect spot to chase the sunset.
Yangoon was our last destination in our Myanmar Itinerary, and as we were short on time, we could hardly spend a day in Yangoon. But we managed to do quite a bit in one day, thanks to our travel agency, such as visiting both the Sule Pagoda and the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, exploring the old colonial area on foot, and the village of Dala across the river in a trishaw.
We were lucky that the hotel where we decided to stay in Yangoon –Esperado Lake View Hotel, had a rooftop dining area and a bar, from where we enjoyed panoramic views of the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Yangoon Skyline during our Breakfast and Dinner there. If your hotel doesn't have a rooftop area, I would highly recommend you go to any of the Rooftop Bars and Restaurants for one of the meals.