The British colonists may be long gone, but Yangon, or Rangoon (meaning 'end of strife'), still holds evidence of their presence; in fact, it holds the highest number of colonial buildings in Southeast Asia. Other international influences can also be found around the city, with evidence of Chinese and Indian influences in other architecture. Despite the outside influences, Yangon firmly remains a Burmese city of the past, with its longyi wearing, betel nut chewing pedestrians, burgundy-clad Buddhist monks, and traffic signs written mostly in the local alphabet. The Shwedagon Paya is unmissable; the pagoda's golden spire shooting up into a magenta sky will leave you mesmerised. Eclectic, engrossing, enlightening: cosmopolitan Yangon is not only the first port of call with its international airport, but a fulfilling part of your Myanmar adventure.
'A gilded city alive with tinkling bells and the swishing sound of monks robes' - only Marco Polo could so precisely capture the essence of this historical region. Once the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, the first kingdom to unite regions that now form modern Myanmar, Bagan's cities can provide for every traveler. If you love to visit ancient temples, then the Bagan Archeological Zone will certainly spoil you; it has the densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagoda's, ruins and stupa's in the world. Over 10,000 Buddhist temples were built in the 11th and 13th centuries - 2200 have survived, and continue to age with dignity. Stand back and savour the silhouetted spires and spiky palmrya trees against a soft pink sunrise. Trek up the extinct volcano Mount Popa and feel the power of the nats (spirits). If you fancy something different after a long day of temple-hopping, try Myanmar's answer to Marmite, pon yan gyi. There will be no debate about whether you love or hate this dish!
Myanmar's cultural and economic hub, Mandalay buzzes with young life and anticipation for the future. However, it also has a significant past; not only was it was the last Burmese royal capital, but it held many important ancient pagoda's. Follow in the great Buddha's footsteps and climb up the 230m Mandalay Hill. Look down at the beautiful view below, and you will see why Buddha, upon reaching the hill's summit, prophesised the building of a great city at its foot. Sadly, Mandalay Palace was lost in a Second World War fire, but as the walls and gates still stand, you can appreciate its splendid scale. The great Rudyard Kipling was inspired to write a poem after visiting Mandalay. Let its infused history, modernity and culture also inspire you.
In the middle of the Nyaung Shwe valley, against a misty blue mountain backdrop, lie the glistening indigo waters of Lake Inle. As well as admiring the lake's serene beauty, here you can marvel at the local Intha's fisherman skills in 'leg rowing': a distinctive rowing style that involves standing on one leg at the boat stern and wrapping the other leg around the oar. You can spot the Intha wives at the lakeside, with thanaka (an acacia-bark paste) all over their faces to protect from the sun. The lake's magic continues with temples floating on the surface, the most unusual being the Nga Hpe Chaung monastery, or the Jumping Cat monastery, so called after the monks once trained resident cats to jump through hoops. If you are lucky enough to visit during September and October, you are in for a treat - the Hpaung Daw U Festival lasts for three weeks. Be sure to catch the traditional boat racing, with dozens of competing leg-rowers in Shan dress, as well as the procession of revered Buddhist statues on a decorated royal barge. As well trying one of the nine world-exclusive fish species in the lake, a visit to this region is not complete without tasting the Inle dish htamin jin - a rice, tomato and potato or fish salad with fried onion, Chinese chive roots, whole dried chilli, and much more. A visit here is more than just a lake trip, it is also an insight into the local lake-peoples fascinating lives and customs.
Imagine yourself at a hilltop, looking down at a view of coffee plantations, vibrant villages, pristine rivers, jaw-dropping mountains and even elephants working in the pine forests - welcome to Kalaw. At 1320m on the Shan Plateau hills, Kalaw is the perfect place to plan a trek that won't burn your pockets. Breathe in the cool fresh air, walk a little slower than usual, and feel the peace and calm of this hill station. The only flurry you will experience is at the colourful Kalaw market, the perfect spot to sample the local food and liqueurs. For the more adventurous, take a cultural trek between here and Lake Inle, with the unmissable opportunity to stay at a Buddhist temple. Both nature and history lovers will find a haven to call their own on the Kalaw hilltops.