Myanmar, March 17, 2012
First Published: 17:28 IST(17/3/2012)
Last Updated: 17:28 IST(17/3/2012)
After over a decade as a pariah state, Myanmar has suddenly reappeared on the global tourism scene, becoming the must-see stop for backpackers heading to explore popular south east Asia.
Myanmar was named by both Lonely Planet and Wanderlust as a must-see destination for this year,
not least because -- for now -- it's almost totally unspoilt by modern tourism.
That means it offers a totally different experience from neighboring Thailand, not least in its treatment of visitors -- unaccustomed to tourists, the locals are almost universally regarded as among the world's smiliest, friendliest and sweetest people.
In terms of attractions, Myanmar offers ancient ruins to rival Cambodia, temples to rival Thailand, countless pagodas and those all important beaches, although with the majority of visitors still independent, seeing the towns is rather more in vogue.
Most visitors spend time taking in the colonial, ageless charm of Yangon, where museums sit comfortably alongside pagodas, ruled over by the Shwedagon Pagoda, the country's holiest site.
Head north to Mandalay though, and the Bagan plains offer a less intense, arguably more impressive holy experience, which is becoming one of the major sites on the tourism trail. Over 10,000 places of worship were constructed around this city between the 11th and 13th centuries, and 2,200 survive today, offering a historical journey unparalleled in size and scale.
On the banks of the Irrawaddy are several other ancient towns, including Amarapura, the former capital of Myanmar, and Sagaing, a popular destination for day-trippers and home to the world's largest ringing bell, a 90-ton behemoth.
Inle Lake, surrounded by mountains and home to the Intha people, is also a must-see stop for many, as is a ride around it by bike or a tour with a local fisherman.