From ballooning over the thousands of stupas, pagodas and temples that dot the plains of Bagan to leisurely days sailing down the historic Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar offers some of the most magical travel experiences on the planet.
(c) Mark Edward Harris
For those fascinated with countries and people in the center of current geopolitical events or those with an interest in history, architecture or Eastern religions, Myanmar (still officially called Burma by the U.S. State Department) is a wonderful destination.
Myanmar’s tourism infrastructure has recovered quickly from the devastating typhoon of 2008. Overcoming adversity — both natural and man-made — is nothing new to this land and its people. In the 19th century, the country battled three wars with the British Empire. World War II brought invasion and occupation by the imperial forces of Japan. And the democracy it achieved in 1948 on its independence was usurped by a military coup in 1962.
Despite these upheavals, the country exudes a unique sprit and grace, perhaps in part because of its Buddhist traditions. With more than 80 percent of the population actively practicing Buddhism and, judging from the money spent on religion per capita, Myanmar is considered the most religious Buddhist country in the world. Not surprisingly, monks are considered highly venerated members of Burmese society.
My first trip to Myanmar, arranged by Chicago-based tour operator R. Crusoe & Son, focused on the country’s classic destinations: Yangon and its environs, including a half-day at the Shwedagon Pagoda complex; Mandalay, including the world’s longest teak bridge; Bagan, the birthplace of the country; Inle Lake to explore its fascinating maze of communities built on stilts; and three days and nights sailing along the Ayeyarwady River aboard Orient-Express’ luxury ship, The Road to Mandalay. Land accommodations throughout — The Governor’s Residence in Yangon; the Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort in Bagan; and the Pristine Lotus Spa Resort on Inle Lake — were world class in terms of both facilities and staff.
Whether referred to as Burma or Myanmar, the destination proved timeless and one that your seasoned travelers should explore in the near future.