Did I tell you the exciting news? My mom was awarded a travel grant for this summer. She's using hers to go to Paris (more on that later) but her friend, who also received the award, is going to MYANMAR. I've gotta say, I'm a little more impressed with her choice, but my mom is a francophile through and through.
So, inspired by her journey, I thought I'd put together a few of my dream destinations for this off-the-beaten path country.
This place I've never heard of is said to rival Angor Wat - one of my top 10 dream destinations - for most amazing Asian temple ruins. The complex, composed of over 4400 individual temples, was built as the capitol of the Pagan Empire - the first dynasty to unify most of modern day Myanmar. If it's anything like my visit to Hampi, I'd suggest a visit at sunrise or sunset.
2. Inle Lake
Everything I've read about this place says it's like heaven on earth - a gorgeous, deep freshwater lake surrounded by mountains. There's a floating market and nearby villages boast historic temples worth a visit. I'm especially curious about Kakku, another large complex of pagodas attributed to King Ashoka. From my time in India, I've developed kind of a history crush on him - I visited the site of his conversion to Buddhism in Orissa (see the photo, here), and it would be neat to see historical signs of his influence in spreading the religion throughout Southeast Asia.
Also I would highly recommend looking into Inle Lakeview resort:
looks dreamy, right?
This may win the strangest pagoda award. Balanced on top of a granite cliff, this gold encrusted pagoda is said to rest on a single hair from the Buddha retrieved from the bottom of the ocean by a hermit. Strange myths aside, this mysterious pagoda has stood unchanged for centuries and is said to bear witness to many miracles.
One of the most modern cities in Myanmanr, Mandalay boasts a variety of historic sites (temples, palaces, and forts) as well as view into the more cosmopolitan side of the country. And, apparently, great markets! Lawd knows I love me an Asian market. For a day trip from Mandalay, I'd go to Pyin U Lwin - a colonial style town reminiscent of the country's colonial past. Accordingly, there's an interesting mix of European, Indian and local cultures - sweet! Bet the food is good too.
This former capitol is the largest city in Myanmar and boasts its most famous religious site, the Shwedagon Paya. It is also home to the compound where Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy, was kept under house arrest for years.
6. The Beach
Myanmar has some incredibly beautiful beaches - Ngapali and Ngwwesaung are recommended - so a little time to decompress might be nice after many days on your feet!
One final note: due to the oppressive nature of Myanmar's ruling junta, many humanitarian groups have imposed boycotts on tourism to the country in previous years. However, with the recent release of Suu Kyi and additional, grudging improvements, experts are advising that responsible tourism that focuses on supporting private, local businesses rather than government-run travel agencies, can provide assistance in democratizing Myanmar.
Like you needed another reason to want to leave.right.now.