Alterative adventures from well-known routes
Though Myanmar has a rich and varied landscape and history, it’s all too often that travellers find themselves treading the same old routes. Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay are indeed worth the visit, but nearby are some lesser-known travel treasure troves that are often over-looked, but are well worth discovering. Edwin Briels, MD of Khiri Travel Myanmar shares his 15 years of knowledge and experience to inspire you to take the road less travelled.
When in Mandalay…
Visit the Ayeyarwaddy River, Mingun, Sagaing and Inwa
The check-list of what to see in Mandalay can be found in a quick Instagram search; a selfie amongst the chalky white pagodas, another one at the wooden monastery, a visit to the palace and a snap of U Bein Bridge. But to me, Mandalay is also worth visiting to learn more about the Ayeyarwaddy River and the places that lie on its banks.
If you’re interested in archeology and history take a boat and visit Mingun to see the incomplete stone stupa Mingun Pahtodawgyi, the white Hsinbyume Pagoda and the Mingun Bell. North of Mingun is where the more interesting part really starts. From here go on an overnight boat and camp on the riverside to see the endangered Ayeyarwaddy dolphins. To the south lies Sagaing, which is home to a hill speckled with golden pagodas, and the ancient city of Inwa which has the spectacular Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery which was built by the wife of King Bagyidaw of the Konbaung dynasty, Queen Me Nu, in 1818.
When in Bagan….
Extend your trip to the Mandalay Region while visiting the temples of Bagan to discover the secrets of Salay. Just over an hour’s drive from Old Bagan, Salay is home to a stretch of temples that were built by the settlers of the area, who were expelled from Bagan by the first king for refusing to convert to his style of Buddhism in the 12th and 13th centuries. With a charming small-town atmosphere, a carved wooden monastery and riverside café, the town has an excellent home stay community that will give you the opportunity to explore rural Myanmar and see how the vast majority of people live in the countryside. You can visit Salay by bike on a 2-day trip, by car, by boat or a combination of any of these.
When in Inle Lake…
Visit Samkar Lake, Pekon Lake and Pindaya
What’s makes Inle Lake really interesting is the surrounding villages in the mountains with fantastic views of the lake. Go for a guided trek to the Pa O villages or take a bike trip to go further away. South of Inle Lake is a small river that leads to the second and third lakes of the region: Samkar Lake and Pekon Lake, it’s best to travel there by boat and return by car. While here you can visit the ancient stupas of Hmawbi, Taung To and the sunken stupas of Samkar. On the shores of the lake you find the amazing Phaya Taung Monastery, home to over 1,000 children, as described in Children of the Revolution by Feroze Dada.
North of Inle Lake lies Pindaya, a small town wrapped around the banks of a lake. Home to the Pindaya Inle Inn, which has a good restaurant and an even better pool, you can take your time here. The main attraction of the area is the Pindaya Caves, a vast network of caverns that go deep into rock face above the town. Filled with thousands statues of Buddah, from the miniature to the enormous, you can wander through this mystical garden grotto. Legend has it that a giant spider once lived in the cave and captured a Princess, who was later rescued by a Prince who killed a spider. Keep an eye out for the spider sculpture at the mouth of caves.
When in Ngapali beach…
Visit Andrew’s Bay, Maung Shwe Lay Beach and Kyaukkalat Beach
The shores of Ngapali Beach may be picture-perfect, but while you’re there be sure to go on a boat trip to explore Andrew Bay to the south. Here you’ll find great snorkeling and fantastic remote beaches, like Maung Shwe Lay Beach and Kyaukkalat Beach. Have lunch with a local family and take a guided stroll through Maung Shwe Lay village and see what life is really like in southern Rakhine.
During a daytrip you have time to chat with the local monk and visit the local library set-up with the support of travel agents. A short ox cart ride leads to a traditional Rakhine house where you’re greeted with home cooked food that includes of course a lot of seafood, fish and some Rakhine spices. If you think he journey to get there is part of the fun I definitely encourage you to do the scenic drive from Yangon to Ngapali and stop along the way to discover the turtles in Gwa, walk with some rangers in the protected nature reserve and spend a night at Arakan Nature Lodge on a remote beach.
When in Yangon…
Visit the Old Dhammazadi Road and Bago
While in Yangon, either as an ex-pat or a traveller, make the time to explore the old Dhammazedi Road. Allegedly used by King Dhammazedi to travel from his palace in Bago to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the road runs from Thanlyin to Thongwa, Khayan to Ohn Hne to finally Bago. The three-hour drive will give you a day in the countryside with possibilities for biking, a home cooked lunch and some sightseeing. Visit the ruins of the old Portuguese church in Thanlyin and be amazed by the Nat dance performances in Bago. Cap your day off by booking into the charming Han Thar Gardens hotel where the curries are excellent. Take the slow but scenic train back to Yangon the following day to skip all traffic jams.
Starting from January, Edwin Briels, MD of Khiri Travel Myanmar will share his experiences travelling in Myanmar in a monthly column.
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