The majestic Shwedagon Paya in Yangon.
The majestic Shwedagon Paya in Yangon. John Mccutcheon

A golden opportunity to visit the vibrant land of Myanmar

SHROUDED in secrecy for the past 50 years, ancient Burma - now known as Myanmar - has lifted the lid on its vast treasure trove and invited tourists back to share a taste of the riches that have been hidden within.

The choice of inspiring sights alone is enough to ensure an Asian holiday with a difference but add the inimitable grace and charm of the locals and you can only marvel both at their resilience of heart but also at how such a rich tapestry of culture could have been off limits to most of the world for so long.

Myanmar is called the Golden Land on account of the shimmering white and gold pagodas that adorn the hills, valleys and plains all over the country - a legacy of a sacred religious culture steeped in Buddhist tradition.

Monks are a common sight in their distinctive robes.
Monks are a common sight in their distinctive robes.

About 89% of the population practise Buddhism which is evidenced by thousands of monks throughout the land in their distinctive crimson and saffron robes.

Yangon, the capital, is a sprawling city which has largely escaped modern development and has retained an old world charm long since lost from other Asian capitals.

The streets are a vibrant and colourful cauldron of frenetic activity and the many jam-packed markets offer unusual antiques and curios.

But the undeniable highlight of the country is the enormous Schwedagon Paya.

It's a massive Buddhist stupa with a towering 100 metre spire that is revered by all Buddhists and looked upon in awe by tourists.

Downtown Yangon.
Downtown Yangon.

To the west of Mandalay, the country's second largest city, lie the plains of Bagan, once a mighty kingdom that was home to some 13,000 temples.

Today, some of the power of that bygone world can be felt by visiting Bagan and sitting atop one of the remaining 2500 temples.

From up there, hundreds of similar temples are seen poking through the vast green forested canopy that stretches towards the horizon.

The soft, raking light at sunrise and sunset add to the mystery and intrigue of the experience.

Nestled in the undulating hills of the Shan state to the south of Mandalay is the vast, placid and crystal clear Inle Lake, where local fishermen adopt a distinctive paddling style by standing on one leg with the other one wrapped around the oar.

Festival on Inle Lake.
Festival on Inle Lake.

It is home to many small villages on teak stilts, tribal markets, a weaving industry and the abundant floating gardens.

Today, tourism has been added to their livelihood and spending a day on the lake in a slender wooden canoe equipped with a long-tailed inboard motor will make for a slick way to visit the sights with the breeze in your hair.

With many more attractions than these, Myanmar's popularity is set to soar.

Hopefully, it will find a sustainable way to preserve its national treasures.

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