By Amanda Little
Many know Myanmar as Burma, a country covered in glittering gold temples. Take the time to discover the breathtaking natural beauty, like Popa Mountain Park or the vibrant wilderness of Namdapha National Park, that makes up the rest of the country.
See one of the most beautiful and bountiful places in Myanmar: Inle Lake. Watch as fishermen glide along the water in dugout canoes as they stand on one leg and row with a single oar with the other leg. The marvelous floating gardens provide most of Myanmar’s tomatoes, and manages to maintain its beauty and prosperity even with the influx of tourists. Explore the unique water bungalows, meet the welcoming people, and take a moment to sit back and enjoy the simple beauty of lake life.
Explore stunning white sand beaches and beautiful blue ocean that make up the sleepy little beach town of Ngapali. Indulge in the blend of cultures in Myanmar’s premier resort town. Visitors can stay in luxury hotels and still enjoy the natural beauty along the Bay of Bengal. Unwind on the sand and enjoy the surf as ox-carts haul the day’s catch to markets and restaurants throughout the town. To see this charming town full of life, visit from November to March. To enjoy the fishing village life, visit in the summer.
Trek up the 760-foot hill that disrupts Mandalay’s otherwise flat terrain to see the beauty over the city, as well as temples on your way up. Be prepared to go barefoot in places as you make your way up the stairs and through pagodas and shrines. This hike only takes about 30 minutes, unless you stop to admire the view which is encouraged! With quiet little temples on the route and spectacular sunsets, the climb is well worth the effort. Start at either of the two southern stairways, one easier and guarded by two half-lion, half-dragon guardian deities, and the other offering a harder trek but more views as you ascend.
National Kandawgyi Gardens
Stroll through the stunning 435-acre garden, featuring over 480 different flower, shrub, and tree species. Make your way through paths shaded by branches adorned with flowers and along pools of water. Climb to the top of Nan Myint Tower to see out over all of the garden. Feel free to explore all from the orchid garden and the butterfly museum, to the swimming pool and the aviary. The garden closes at 6pm without any warnings, so be sure to keep an eye on the time while wandering through the magic surrounding you!
Welcome the tranquility of this heart-shaped lake that comes with incredible spiritual significance to the Mizo people, who straddle the Myanmar-India border nearby. Surrounded by rolling hills blanketed with forests and rice paddies sharing the deep blue water of the lake, myth says the lake is a gateway to the Mizo version of heaven, and all must pass through it eventually to reach their eternal home. To seek the spirituality of the lake, go during the week. To find the life in what may be the afterlife, go on the weekends when locals visit the lake to swim, drink, and party.
Popa Mountain Park
Hike through various trails found in the beautiful Popa Mountain Park. Skirt the rim of an extinct volcano, seek out higher and better viewpoints over the lush green land laid out below and the waterfalls crashing into it, and climb even higher where passing clouds leave dewdrops behind on flowers and trees. Named Popa after the Sanskrit word for flower, all that grows in the rich volcanic soil in Popa Mountain Park is vibrant and beautiful, so be sure to bring your camera along to capture it all. Local guides are available to lead the way as it can be easy to get lost, and be sure to ask about the petrified forest as you make your way along the road west of Popa village.
Nat Ma Taung National Park
Home to Nat Ma Taung, Myanmar’s third highest mountain, Nat Ma Taung National Park is a treasure in the Mindut District. Explore misty mountain ranges and thick forests of dense trees and mesmerizing bamboo, look for rare and unique bird species, and learn about the tribes who call these mountains home. Look for local guides as they will be able to show you the true beauty of the mountain and its inhabitants. The park lends itself to both day-trips and multi-day exploration, and its rugged beauty is perfect for amazing photos.
Namdapha National Park
Ecologists and nature enthusiasts will find bliss at Namdapha National Park, home to an astounding biodiversity of flora and fauna. The park’s variation is so expansive that a full study of every kind of species living in the park hasn’t been completed. (Experts estimate it will take about 50 years to have detailed and thorough assessment of the entire park).
Namdapha National Park is easily one of the top attractions to any devoted to the study of the natural world. It is the only park in the world home to four different species of big cat: tigers, leopards, snow leopards, and clouded leopards. You will also find elephants, Indian bison, black bears, monkeys, and an incredible array of bird species. The center of this park is so inaccessible that it has kept this amazing plethora of species safe from poachers, development, and industrial pollution.
Sai Yok National Park
Those looking for an independant adventure will find it in Sai Yok National Park. With well-marked and carefully maintained trails leading from the visitor center throughout the park, Sai Yok is easily one of the more accessible parks and excellent for starting an adventure! With bungalows available for rent as well as a campsite open for 30 Baht a day, campers can find all they could ask for in beauty and convenience. Explore the rivers and waterfalls that wind through the park as well as the caves that delve beneath the surface.
Dat Taw Gyaint
Those visiting Pyin Oo Lwin and seeking adventure should not skip over the giant waterfall often missed by tourists. With scenic waterfalls, strawberry farms, caves, and botanic gardens catching the eyes of those wandering through, Dat Taw Gyaint waterfall goes unnoticed. While it does take an arduous 2 or 3 hours to make it to the waterfall, outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers will find excitement in this little slice of paradise. From the moment you arrive, you can see the first of the three layers of the waterfall, but locals will show you the way along the trail along the 250-foot waterfall. Be sure to pack your camera and sturdy hiking shoes!
While visiting Hpa An, seek out Saddar Cave. Easily reached by motorcycle taxi, enter the cave framed by two elephants. Follow the staircase through golden frescoes, paths lined with Buddha statues, stupas, and a pagoda which leads to the underground part of the cave. Be weary entering, this portion of the adventure isn’t called “Hell on Earth” for its charm. The way is slippery and steep, as well as dark. Make your way past towering stalagmites and low stalactites and through the final cave where thousands of bats flutter through the air. Once through, you’ll exit the cave to find a beautiful lake surrounded by limestone and secluded forest. Enjoy a wooden boat ride along the tranquil waters as locals paddle about in what must be paradise after going through the caves.
Take a trip within a trip to discover the beauty lying in the Myeik Archipelago. Take your pick of 800 uninhabited islands, made up of flourishing green jungles, miles of golden beaches, and teeming with wildlife, all untouched by development. With only catamarans bringing in people on daytrips, its easy to enjoy the raw beauty of the islands. Legends of tigers roaming the greenery and sea gypsies living cut off from the rest of the world pervade the archipelago. You may meet a few of these people bouncing from island to island, but you’re more likely to see wildlife like fish, birds, and occasionally squid. Since there are no restaurants or hotels, all trips to the highly protected archipelago must be day-trips.