16 Reasons To Visit Burma In 2016

29 November 2015
Read Time: 4.0 mins

Burma (Myanmar) is a land of dazzling stupas, ancient teak monasteries, temple-dotted plains and a curious, welcoming population.

The country also offers tourists python monks that give blessings, jumping cats, cheap beer and the world's largest reclining Buddha. With tourism in the country on the rise, here are 16 reasons for adding Burma to your travel to-do list.

1. It has one of the world’s greatest archeological sites

The big draw is Bagan, a vast temple site to rival Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat.

"The setting is sublime," said writer Tim Jepson, "a verdant 26 square-mile (2700 hectares) plain, part-covered in stands of palm and tamarind caught in a bend of the lazy-flowing Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) river and framed by the hazy silver-grey of distant mountains.

"Rising from the plain’s canopy of green are temples, dozens of them, hundreds of them, beautiful, other-worldly silhouettes that were built by the kings of Bagan between 1057 and 1287, when their kingdom was swept away by earthquakes and Kublai Khan and his invading Mongols."

 Bagan ... a host of beautiful temples

2. And holy rocks that defy gravity

Thousands of Burmese make a pilgrimmage at any time of year up Mount Kyaiktiyo to the sacred Golden Rock. This gold leaf-decorated boulder seemingly defies gravity as it perches at the edge of a cliff.

Men are allowed to walk up and pray next to it while women and children sit and light candles or picnic nearby.

 Men pray at the holy rocks

3. There's a python that gives blessings

There is a monastery in Bago where an enormous Burmese python lies stretched out in one room, as it is believed to be the reincarnation of a monk.

Other monks can take you into a room with it and present an offering of money, which it will apparently bless, with a flickering tongue.

 The sacred snake likes a gift of money

4. And nuns that wear pink

South-east Asia is famous for its monks. Males who have entered into Myanmar's monastic profession wear saffron-red robes.

But you are almost as likely to see nuns walking around in their delicate pink robes. These women also shave their heads and join the order as children.

 In the pink ... nuns collect alms

5. It's got one of the world's most bling stupas

The 110-metre high stupa at Shwedagon Pagoda is covered with hundreds of gold plates while the top is encrusted with 4531 diamonds; the largest of which is 72 carat.

The 2,500-year-old pagoda is found in the pleasant, crumbling, former capital of Yangon and is one of Asia's most striking sights. Don't leave without also visiting the golden-walled corner that contains an enshrined piece of Buddha's hair.

 It's one of Asia's most startling sights

6. You can take a spectacular hot air balloon ride

If you ever wanted to treat yourself to a ride in a hot air balloon ride, a sunrise journey over the 200 or so temples that dot the plains at Bagan is probably about as atmospheric as one can get.

At dawn each morning in the winter months, a small flotilla of balloons floats above the temple plain in Bagan as the sun rises. Passengers are collected from hotels in vintage, teak coaches before dawn and taken to the site to watch the balloons being inflated.

There are four people to a basket (you can pay an extra $75 for a balloon for two).

7. Or the ultimate cruise

The Irrawaddy is one of the world's most enigmatic rivers, and cruises use historic teak riverboats for added atmosphere.

You can experience the river in the company of award-winning photojournalist, Nic Dunlop, and author and political activist, Ma Thanegi, on a Telegraph tour aboard the luxurious Sanctuary Ananda.

Set your watches back 100 years. Step Back In Time At Inle Lake, Myanmar

Nation wrapped in human kindness. Kindness All Around In Myanmar

8. It's got the world's largest reclining Buddha

Bago is where you can see the world's largest reclining Buddha statue. At 60 metres long, it was reclaimed from overgrown jungle in 1880.

 The world's biggest reclining buddha

9. And a balloon animal festival

Visit Inle Lake this month to see giant paper balloons, often in the shape of animals, floating up into the sky in a series of competitions. The Taunggyi Hot Air Balloon Festival, takes place around the lake between November 20-25. It is very popular, so book accommodation in advance.

Also this month, on November 25, the Tazaungmon Festival, takes place countrywide. It's a one-day full moon festival with robe-weaving competitions and parades of community donations to monasteries, including kyat notes pinned to giant wooden frames.

10. You can watch Man Utd play over a cup of tea

Burma is famous for its tea shops where you can sit on plastic stools and sip sweet milky tea, accompanied by doughnuts, samosas or steamed buns.

Many have televisions hanging from the roof on which you can often see English Premiership football matches being broadcast, leading to the slightly surreal experience of watching the ever-popular Manchester Utd play a game in the company of local monks.

 You can even watch Man United play over a cup of tea

11. They have their own homemade sunscreen

If you've ever wondered what the cream is that is smeared on to the cheeks of local Burmese, it's an ingenious form of sunscreen, made from yellow paste from the bark of the Thanakha tree.

It also tightens the skin and prevents oiliness.

12. And remote riverside communities

Communities on the remote Chindwin River have had little contact with the outside world over the past 50 years so expect an excitable welcome in riverside villages.

Tourists can now use local boats to see them, traveling upstream from Monywa.

However, they are slow, overcrowded and ride very low in the water on a river full of whirlpools.

For a real adventure join the 12-berth Nadi Mandala, a traditional riverboat chartered each November by UK operator Wild Frontiers.

13. Monks have taught cats to jump

A monastery in Inle Lake welcomes visitors having found a dubious sort of fame by teaching cats - notorious for not doing anything they don't want to do - to jump through hoops.

 The monks have taught their cats to perform

14. The beer is cheap

The local beer, named Myanmar, is cheap - around 70 cents - and is very drinkable. It is drunk in "beer stations", informal shacks found everywhere that are easy to spot as they have the beer branding outside.

15. It's got the world's oldest teak bridge

One of Burma's most-photographed sights is the teak bridge at Amarapura, built with over 1,000 posts. It can be visited with a guide from Mandalay.

Local monks are often keen to practise their English as they cross.

16. And boaters that row with their feet

Vast, placid Inle Lake is ringed by stilt villages where traditional fisherman row using their legs. Small tours by longboat take tourists to meet villagers who demonstrate the making of various handicrafts, including silversmiths and men who beat gold into slivers of gold leaf.

Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Myanmar.

This article was written by Natalie Paris from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Natalie Paris

Natalie Paris is the news editor on the travel desk. She also commissions for South-East Asia, family travel, gap years, festivals and solo travel.