The nation’s former capital until 2005, Yangon is still the economic centre of Myanmar – although its stunning Buddhist pagodas, traditionally dressed locals and friendly atmosphere make this a city with a wonderfully intimate feel. Yangon is also home to the ancient Shwedagon Pagoda, a gilded, diamond-studded stupa that is over 2000 years old and is lauded as the country’s most important religious site. Stop by during the day to see informal gatherings of chatting women, playing children and flirtatious teens, or visit at sunset to get that postcard-worthy photograph.
Mandalay used to be the royal capital of Myanmar, and there are still legacies of royalty throughout the city. The Royal Palace features a beautiful carved teak wood monastery; the Kuthodaw Pagoda houses 729 marble pillars inscribed with Buddhist scriptures; and every morning at dawn, devotees of the venerated golden Mahamuni Buddha brush the statue’s teeth and wash its face at the Mahamuni Pagoda. To find a fantastic viewpoint of the city, head up Mandalay Hill and enjoy some impromptu language exchange with locals who congregate there with hopes of chatting with tourists!
Known as the temple city for good reason, Bagan is filled with archaeological sites – the most famous of which are the thousands of bell-shaped temples dotted along the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy river. An unforgettable way to experience the splendours of Bagan is from up high, and hot-air balloon rides are a common sight in the skies above white stupas and terracotta temple roofs.