Formerly the capital of Myanmar, Yangon is an elegant city which exults in the opulence of grand colonial structures, many of which are desperately need for a renovation. However, walking around Yangon’s streets is a great way to mix with locals and enjoy the bustling life of the 5-million strong city. Among the most spectacular religious structures are the Shwedagon Pagoda, the Sule Pagoda, and the Swe Taw Myat Pagoda, home to the relic of the Buddha’s Tooth. Among the most impressive colonial buildings are the Supreme Court with its clock tower, St Mary’s Cathedral, and the Strand Hotel and the Old Customs House on the waterfront. The shopping experience is getting better and better as many Burmese-style design shops are opened, while a number of art galleries are located at Yangon’s main market and near the Parkroyal Hotel. Recreation areas include the beautiful scenery of the Kandawgyi Lake.
Bagan has some 2,000 stupas and pagodas stretching as far as the eye can see. Each pagoda is a cultural gem for its architecture, frescoes and Buddha statues. Among the most spectacular temples are the Gawdawpalin Pagoda, the Ananda Temple, Mingalazedi Pagoda and the Dhammayangyi Temple, Bagan’s largest religious structure. Most of the sites are accessible by traditional buffalo carts and bikes. A spectacular experience during the winter months is a hot air balloon flight over the temples at sun rise. Eastern Safaris pioneered these balloon rides over Bagan in 1999 and they really are an almost fairy tale-like experience as you drift silently over a myriad of temple spires and stupas.
They are two Mandalays: around the rail station is a large modern city, the centre of the commercial life but offering for travellers little interest beside a few shops, restaurants and malls. The second Mandalay, the one enjoyed by tourists, is to be seen around Mandalay Hill. This is where old palaces, pagodas give to travellers a glimpse of a glorious past for a city which used to be royal capital of Burma.
The most impressive structure is the Kuthodaw Pagoda which contains the world’s largest book, an alignment of 729 marble slabs of Buddhist scriptures with teaching principles. The perfect architecture is only matched by the peaceful serenity of the place. Next is the Golden Palace Monastery, a century-old beautiful teak wood structure composed of various buildings that was originally part of the royal palace in Amarapura. The Mandalay Royal palace is in fact a faithful reconstruction of the old palace burnt during World War II. Finally, climbing in the early morning on the top of Mandalay Hill to see the sun rising over the sprawling city and the surrounding rice fields is another unforgettable Mandalay experience.