Though Mandalay, Yangon, Bagan and Inle Lake are well established on the traveller circuit, the rest of Myanmar is largely left unexplored. One of the best ways to discover Myanmar’s small villages and unique cultural sites is by car. Due to restrictions, particular permits and guides are needed to traverse the country on four wheels but with a specialised Diethelm itinerary your journey will go smoothly. Here Mr. Min Thu, Senior Sales Staff at Diethelm Travel Myanmar, shares some of the hidden highlights during a recent off-the-beaten path excursion.
Leaving Myawaddy, we took a new road over the Dawna Mountains to the junction of the old road and Kawkareik town then on to Hpa An. Hpa An may be a fairly new destination in Myanmar but has some of the country’s best sites to visit combined with beautiful scenery along the Salween River.
What to do in Hpa An
- Stop at Kawh Goon Cave with an incredible entrance covered with hundreds of small terracotta tablets plastered up to the ceiling.
- Enjoy a late afternoon bicycle ride around Ein Du Kayin Village where the distinct Kayin dress is woven.
- Make the 2-hour hike up the massive stairway on Zwekapin Mountain. Go early to catch the daily monkey feeding event around 11:00 a.m.
The following morning we travelled to Kyaikhto to see the famous Golden Rock, one of the most revered pilgrimage sites for Myanmar Buddhists. The gold leaf-covered boulder is said to maintain its balance thanks to a single hair of the Buddha being enshrined inside the pagoda.
What to do in Kyaikhto
- Make the 13-kilometre trek, which takes around 7 hours, from the valley floor up to the Golden Rock.
- From the upper area just underneath the rock, walk the final stage (about 4 kilometres or 45 minutes) up steep paths or choose to be carried in sedan chairs by four porters.
- From the pagoda one can observe the devout in prayer or applying gold leaf to the boulder, and enjoy a spectacular view of the valley below. The whole site has a magical charisma.
Next up was Pyay, one of the country’s many ancient capitals where there are a number of interesting sites and attractions in the town and surrounding areas.
What to do in Pyay
- Visit the Shwemyatman Pagoda which is home to a most unusual Buddha image – one who wears gold-rimmed spectacles. Visible somewhat further away is the 5th century, 46-metre tall Bawbawgyi Pagoda, shaped like a bell jar, and the best example of this architectural style.
- From the outskirts of Pyay, cross the new bridge to Htone Bo village and continue by local private boat to Akaut Taung, overlooking the Ayeyarwaddy River. Here hundreds of niches in the cliff face are home to Buddha images of all shapes and sizes, many of which have been carved out of the rock face.
- Nearby, lies the ancient Pyu Kingdom of Sri Ksetra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that pre-dates the Bagan period and is said to have arisen in the first millennium. Take a bullock cart to the tiny museum which houses artefacts unearthed in Sri Ksetra, then continue on to the two huge conical stupas, Payagyi and Payama, which you can view from a distance.
From Pyay, we head to Monywa, a city on the eastern bank of the Chindwin River in Myanmar’s Sagaing Region.
What to do in Monywa
- Pay your respects to the Thanboddhay Pagoda about 20 kilometres from Monywa. The richly decorated central stupa has 845 smaller stupas around it while inside the pagoda compound are thousands of Buddha images (reportedly over 500,000) decorating every niche, wall and archway.
- Stop by Pakkoku, an unspoilt small town famous for its tobacco trade and weaving workshops, to see how the iconic Myanmar checked cotton blankets are made.
- Visit the local market and various workshops where townspeople make and sell cheroot, thanaka (the traditional makeup and sunscreen used by Myanmar people), traditional slippers and incredible woodcarvings.
Leaving Monywa, we made our way toward Kalaymyo, district headquarters of the Kalay district. Kalay has gained importance with trans-border movement between Burma and India and even has a small airport located in the city centre.
What to do in Kalaymyo
- Make sure to visit the Caves of Po Win Daung, a sandstone cave system in the Po Win Hills named after a famous zawgyi (alchemist) who once lived here. Here more than 100 caves are filled with Buddhist statues and murals mainly in the 14th – 16th century Ava (Innwa) style. Don’t miss Shwe Ba Daung, which features unique pavilions cut from the surrounding sandstone and filled with Buddha images.
- Notice the hundreds of churches around. Kalaymyo and the surrounding township are made up of 55% Buddhists and 40% Christians with the remaining 5% of the population following other religious practices. The district has around 100 Buddhist monasteries but more than 508 churches – in fact, some of smaller villages have more churches than shops!
- Marvel at the early morning market. Starting at 4:00 a.m. local wholesalers prepare their goods to be sold to local merchants who will then go out into the villages where shops or markets do not exist. The buyers pile their motorbikes high with items to drive from house to house selling their wares. At the street market, vendors use candles or LED lamps to light their stalls since they’re located right on the street. Around 5:30 a.m. everyone closes down as the rest of the town wakes up and normal shops start to open.
- Try the one dish available at Chin Yoe Yar – a tasty corn soup with egg and dried meat that’s surprisingly
While Myanmar’s famous sights such as the ancient temples of Bagan are an important part of any Myanmar itinerary – particularly if it’s your first visit to the Land of Golden Pagodas – there’s so much more to discover. Learn more about Diethelm Travel’s intriguing Myanmar overland tours for your own journey.
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