High­lights of the Golden Land

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Which tourism of­fi­cials dub the “Golden Land” – is best-known for golden-spired tem­ples sym­bol­is­ing the coun­try. In Yan­gon’s city cen­tre, ringed by colo­nial struc­tures, there’s sa­cred Sule Pagoda. At the edge of the busi­ness dis­trict sits Yan­gon’s supreme at­trac­tion: Sh­wedagon Pagoda, a revered place of Bud­dhist pil­grim­age. Tourists of­ten cruise up or down the Aye­yarwady (still com­monly called the Irrawaddy) be­cause itin­er­ar­ies in­clude time in Yan­gon, Ba­gan and Man­dalay, with stops at vil­lages. The name it­self sounds ex­otic, brack­eted with places such as Mali’s Tim­buktu, Morocco’s Mar­rakesh or the is­land of Mada­gas­car. Though Mar­rakesh is pop­u­lar among Euro­peans, it’s much-vis­ited Man­dalay (be­cause of close­ness) that Aus­tralians are more likely to visit. I gaze from Su­taung­pyei Pagoda atop Man­dalay Hill to a traf­fic-choked town. As Myan­mar opens up Man­dalay em­braces change, be­com­ing a bustling city. But key at­trac­tions re­main. Among th­ese: an od­dity called “the world’s big­gest book” with 729 whitepainted stu­pas, each 2m tall, cov­er­ing 5ha and en­cir­cling Kutho­daw Pagoda. Ev­ery stupa car­ries an in­scrip­tion. To­gether, th­ese con­sti­tute a Bud­dhist holy book. The book, stun­ning vis­i­tors for 155 years, is World Her­itage-listed. Drift­ing in a bal­loon above Ba­gan’s 2200 stu­pas and pago­das it’s ob­vi­ous why this place of ex­tra­or­di­nary beauty is Myan­mar’s top at­trac­tion. Ba­gan’s gems en­com­pass stu­pas along with enor­mous art-filled pago­das such as Ananda Tem­ple, hand-hewn in 1105. Tourists of­ten rent mo­tor-scoot­ers to travel within a 42sq km ex­panse. Inle Lake, of­ten la­belled the Venice of Asia, has canals in­stead of streets. Boats are the usual trans­port. Mem­o­rable sights in­clude “one-legged fish­er­men”. Aboard tiny craft, they stand on one leg, wrap­ping the other around oars to pad­dle.

Aus­tralians as­so­ciate Myan­mar more with unique cul­tural at­trac­tions than beach hol­i­days. But there are mag­nif­i­cent beaches — far less crowded than those in, say, Phuket. Nga­pali, 7km from Thanwe, is pic­ture-post­card ter­ri­tory. Among stylish re­sorts, there’s even a Hil­ton. Ac­com­mo­da­tion ranges from ul­tra-op­u­lent to bare-bones ba­sic. I spread my towel near palms on a long white-sand beach be­fore snorkelling in calm aqua­ma­rine sea.

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