Visiting Myanmar: Exploring the Country’s History and Top Attractions
Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is a largely Buddhist nation in Southeast Asia that boasts magnificent temples, pagodas, ancient ruins, prehistoric forests, and traditional villages.
Although traveling to Myanmar is not recommended due to political turmoil following a coup d’état in 2021, Myanmar has enormous potential as a future tourist destination. Myanmar’s tourism industry remains largely undeveloped, but since 1992, the country’s government has been going all out to encourage tourism.
In this blog, we’ll review some of the most notable events in Myanmar’s history, as well as a selection of the country’s most well-known attractions.
A Brief History of Myanmar
The Burmans founded the town of Bagan in 849. Situated 310 miles north of Yangon, Bagan sat on the banks of the Irrawaddy and was the first Burmese kingdom mentioned in historical records.
Although there were other kingdoms in the Irrawaddy Valley before Bagan, there is precious little information about them. Historians believe that these kingdoms were created by the Pyu, a Tibeto-Burman people, and the people of Mon, who were related to Cambodians. The Bagan Burmans eventually conquered these ancient tribes.
In 1044, King Anawratha ascended the throne of Bagan and subsequently converted to Buddhism. Anawratha waged a war against the Mon people in the town of Bago to gain possession of holy Buddhist scripts. Following the siege of Bago, which lasted for several months, the Mon King Manuha surrendered, and King Anawratha’s troops destroyed the town of Bago.
After 33 years of rule, King Anawratha was killed in 1077 by a wild buffalo. He was succeeded by King Sawlu, who was in turn succeeded by King Kyanzittha. In 1287, the Bagan realm ended abruptly due to the arrival of hordes of Mongolian troops under the rule of Kublai Khan.
After two centuries of fighting between the Burmans, the Mon, and the Shan, King Minkyino ascended the throne in 1486. The Toungoo Dynasty is credited with reunifying the country in the late 16th century, for a brief period founding the largest empire in Southeast Asia. Next came the Konbaung Dynasty in the 18th century, continuing Toungoo reforms that made the country more peaceful and prosperous. These reforms increased the country’s rule in peripheral regions and enabled the country to become one of Asia’s most literate states.
Following the Anglo-Burmese Wars from 1824 to 1885, the British colonized Burma, introducing several enduring administrative, economic, cultural, and social changes that transformed Burmese society.
Since gaining independence from the British in 1948, Myanmar (as it was known after 1989) has endured one of the longest-running civil wars in global history, involving successive central governments and several insurgent groups that represent political and ethnic minority groups. Myanmar was under military rule from 1962 to 2010 and again from 2021 to the present day.
Although Myanmar remains largely off-limits to international tourists, with many governments advising against all but essential travel, the country boasts numerous stunning attractions.
Chaukhtatgyi — Bahan
Chaukhtatgyi, one of Bahan’s most well-known temples, houses a 66-meter reclining Buddha draped in gleaming golden robes, one of the largest Buddha statues in the whole of Myanmar. Commissioned by Sir Po Tha, a wealthy Burmese Buddhist in 1899, the original Buddha image was destroyed in the 1950s, but was subsequently replaced under the supervision of master craftsman U Thaung. The current version features huge glass eyes, each measuring 1.77 meters by .58 meters, which were custom-created at Naga Glass Factory.
Once the capital of the Mon kingdom, Bago is brimming with culture and history, featuring the ruins of an ancient palace, as well as many pagodas. With the construction of a new international airport in the city scheduled for completion in 2027, Bago currently boasts just a handful of select hotels licensed to welcome foreigners. The town’s appeal lies in its authentic, non-commercial feel, with restaurants serving up typical Burmese dishes and a traditional market offering visitors a taste of everyday local life. Among the city’s finest attractions are the Shwemawdaw Pagoda and Buddha.
Shwenandaw Monastery — Mandalay
Mandalay’s Shwenandaw Monastery is an ancient Buddhist monastery. Also known as the Golden Palace Monastery, the complex was commissioned by King Thibaw Min in 1878. It is said that the king meditated here, and the couch he sat on remains at the monastery today. Famous for its teak carvings depicting various Buddhist myths, Shwenandaw Monastery is built in the traditional Burmese architectural style.
Inle Lake — Shan State
Situated in the Tuanggyi District of Shan State, this freshwater lake has an estimated surface area of 116 kilometers, making it Myanmar’s second-largest lake. At an elevation of 2,900 feet, Inle Lake features a hot water spring on its northwestern shore. It is home to numerous rare and interesting wildlife species, including nine fish species and 20 snail species that are found nowhere else in the world.