“This is Burma, it is quite unlike any place you know about”, wrote Rudyard Kipling over a century ago, and this is still true today. Burma is a culturally-rich land with a fascinating history and a diverse ethnic mix. Burma tours explore the strong spirituality and Buddhist roots of the country, where crimson-robed monks wander through shimmering temple complexes and devotees worship amongst shrines and statues.
Touring the country is like stepping back in time, with traditional life exceptionally well preserved. Locals stroll the streets dressed in the traditional longyi; women wear thanaka on their skin to lighten their skin; and chewing betel nut is still one of the country’s favourite pastime, along with drinking much-savoured tea. Burmese puppetry dates back hundreds of years and was once an important way for news to travel from town to town. Today colourful marionettes recreate traditional tales and legends through songs and stories.
Burma has a long and turbulent history. The Chinese who arrived in 2BC established trade routes between China and India which introduced Buddhism to the country. Later, the Bagan kingdom became a dominant power in south-east Asia before British colonial rule in the 19th century which led to a series of three Anglo-Burmese Wars. Burma is a melting-pot of cultures with ethnic races including the Bamar, Shan and Mon, and although most Burmese people are Buddhist, many also believe in ancient natural spirits called nats, whose worship actually predates Buddhism in Burma.
The main attraction of Burma is its sheer volume of temples, pagodas, monasteries and stupas, from the smallest village shrines to glorious golden temples perched on mountain tops. Burma’s scenery needs to be seen to be believed, with its snow-capped Himalayan mountains, emerald teak plantations and dense jungle. Tours along the rivers Irrawaddy and Chindwin offer a glimpse of a timeless Burma with visits to remote villages far from the usual tourist track. Elite coastal resorts on the Bay of Bengal offer quintessentially white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, whilst the idyllic Mergui Archipelago in the Andaman Sea is perfect for snorkelling amongst the colourful coral reefs.
Featured Burma Tours
A unique country that has long been shrouded in mystery, Burma is emerging as one of the Far East’s must-see destinations. This small group tour provides the perfect introduction to Burma and focuses on showcasing the nation’s fascinating historic, natural and cultural treasures.Included with this holiday
Join a group of like-minded solo travellers on this journey to Burma (Myanmar). Fully escorted by an expert local guide, your group will explore the highlights of this fascinating country, discovering Buddhist monuments in Pagan (Bagan), tranquil Inle lake, ancient former capital cities near Mandalay and British colonial history in Rangoon (Yangon).Included with this holiday
Gold-tipped temples, skylines pierced with ancient stupas, floating markets and hushed monasteries - discover the charms of Burma (Myanmar), an up-and-comer on the tourism scene. Our comprehensive tour covers off the royal city of Mandalay, Bagan (home to 3,000-odd temples), Inle Lake and the colonial city of Yangon.
Set sail for a unique cruise along the waterways that have been an essential part of Burmese life for millennia. Travelling on a beautiful teak and hardwood ship (a replica of the steamers that sailed these waters during the colonial era), you’ll circle impenetrable mountain ranges lined with ancient temples and monasteries.
Highlights of Burma
Yangon is an impressive colonial city and Burma’s spiritual heart, thanks to the glistening Shwedagon Pagoda, the breathtaking Buddhist monument around which everything else revolves. A visit to this magnificent pagoda with its huge diamond-encrusted gold stupa is a must, to see the devotees and monks worshipping and meditating amongst the shrines and statues. In downtown Yangon the streets are lined with crumbling yet impressive colonial architecture, colourful open-air markets and lively street vendors.
The sleepy lakeside town of Pindaya is reached by small windy roads that snake through dense farmland. Every 5 days there is a large market where the surrounding hill tribes sell their goods, including traditional Shan paper parasols. Close by are the Pindaya caves, an important Buddhist pilgrimage site where thousands of Buddha images and statues nestle amongst the stalagmites and stalactites.
The Mergui archipelago comprises of over 800 islands in the Andaman Sea, home to the nomadic sea-dwelling Moken tribespeople. Many of the islands are covered with thick rainforest and the deserted beaches are protected by pristine coral reefs, perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving. Facing the Bay of Bengal, Ngapali Beach is a beach resort with a long palm-fringed white sand beach, and the 15km-stretch of palm tree-lined sand at Ngwesaung Beach is a peaceful and relaxed resort.
In Mandalay there are colourful markets, ancient monasteries, Indian temples and gold workshops to explore as well as iconic teahouses where visitors can mingle with the friendly locals. A short drive from the city is Inwa, the old capital of Burma which offers a glimpse into the country’s majestic past. Also nearby is the U Bein Bridge, the world’s longest teak bridge, which crosses the Taungthaman Lake, and the Kuthodaw Pagoda where 729 marble slabs inscribed with Buddhist teachings make up the world’s largest book.
One of Burma’s top attractions, the temple town of Bagan was once the capital of an ancient kingdom. Climbing to the top of a temple at sunrise is rewarded with a magical experience as the sun appears over the horizon and illuminates the temples and pagodas; a hot-air balloon ride is also an unforgettable way to view the landscape. The well-preserved Ananda temple with its gilded sikhara was one of the first great temples to be built in Bagan and the impressive gold-plated Shwezigon Pagoda glimmers in the sun.
Time stands still at the serene Inle Lake, famous for its wooden homes perched above the water on stilts, the unique leg-rowers of the Intha tribe and the 500m-long teak bridge that crosses the lake. Nearby is the revered Phaungdaw Oo Pagoda where five ancient Buddha images are hidden beneath layers of gold leaf applied by devotees, and the Shwe Indein complex with hundreds of pagodas and stupas, some dating back as far as the 14th century.
Learn about British Burma in Salay with its crumbling colonial houses from the days of the Burma Oil Company and Salay House, a beautifully restored trading company warehouse which is now a museum. It is an active religious centre, with a huge 13th-century gold-laquered Buddha and ancient monasteries decorated with beautiful wood carvings including the ornately-carved Yoke Sone Kyaung Monastery.
The small pottery-making village of Yandabo gives visitors a rare glimpse into a traditional way of life, producing terracotta pots with the same methods that Burmese villagers have been using for centuries. Using clay from the riverbank, the pottery wheel is spun by foot then a flat wooden paddle is used to make the wide-bottomed shape of the pot before it is fired in a giant kiln made of straw. It was here that the peace treaty of the First Anglo-Burmese war signed in 1826, formally ending the First Anglo-Burmese War.
Mingun is famous for its Buddhist shrines, monasteries and historic monuments including the huge unfinished Mingun Pagoda which was meant to be the largest pagoda in the country when construction began in the 18th century. There are magnificent views of the Irrawaddy river from the top of the pagoda. Nearby is the 90-ton Mingun Bell, the largest ringing bell in the world, and the beautiful all-white Hsinbyume Pagoda, topped with a gold spire that enshrines a Buddha image.