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19 Incredible Landmarks in Burma You Don't Want to Miss

Author: David Pettitt

A country that has captivated travellers for centuries, Burma is a mysterious land of ancient pagodas, spectacular ruins and diverse scenery. Many of Burma’s most awe-inspiring monuments are linked to Buddhism, the most famous being Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda and the temples of Bagan, however, there are a number of more recent sites equally as astonishing. Trying to narrow down a list is hard, but here are 19 of what we feel are the most incredible landmarks in Burma.

1. Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

Located in the heart of Yangon, enchanting Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist site in the country. This shimmering 2,500 year old temple site is covered in over 60 tonnes of gold leaf and was described as ‘a golden mystery’ by writer Rudyard Kipling. The complex houses many shrines, statues and stupas and is at its most picturesque at sunset.

Golden Burmese pagoda at night
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

2. Mount Popa

Said to be the remaining core of an extinct volcano, Mount Popa is a major pilgrimage destination. At the base of the rock is the Mahagiri shrine whilst, at the summit, is a collection of precariously sited monastic complexes, stupas and shrines. The main hilltop temple is reached by a stiff thirty minute climb and there are fabulous panoramic views.

Mountain top temple in Burma
Mount Popa, Burma

3. Golden Rock Stupa, Kyaiktiyo

Unlike any other landmark in Burma, Kyaiktiyo’s balancing boulder-shaped Golden Rock rests perilously on a mountain-top ledge. Believed to be held in place by a delicately placed hair of the Buddha, this revered stupa is an important pilgrimage site and a place of prayer, meditation and contemplation. Kyaiktiyo is a half-day drive from Yangon.

Golden spherical temple in Burma
Golden Rock Stupa in Kyaiktiyo / Image credit: momo

4. Inle Lake

Home to the local Intha people, Inle Lake is famous for its wooden stilt villages, floating crops and fisherman that row in a unique ‘one-legged’ style. Many of the inhabitants continue to make a living from traditional industries such as silk weaving and cheroot making, whilst the small village of Indein is home to a number of 17th century pagodas.

Fisherman on a small wooden boat in Burma
Fisherman on Inle Lake

5. Amarapura and U Bein Bridge

Amarapura was the 18th century capital of Burma before being replaced by near-neighbour Mandalay in 1857. Today this sleepy locale is best known for the alms collection at Mahagandayon Monastery, the country’s foremost college for young monks, and U Bein Bridge – a 1.2km long footbridge completed in 1851 and made of 984 teak posts.

Two monks walking on a wooden bridge at sunset
U Bein Bridge, Amarapura
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6. Kawgun Cave, Hpa-an

Located to the south of Hpa-an beside the Salween River, carvings and tiny clay Buddhas (which number into their thousands) line the shallow Kawgun Cave. Said to date back as far as the 7th century AD, it is thought the site was originally constructed by King Manuaha and, over the centuries, has been used as a religious sanctuary.

Interior of a cave with numerous Buddha images
Kawgun Cave

7. Gokteik Viaduct

Spanning the Gokteik Gorge, the Goitek Viaduct is one of the highest railway bridges in the world. Forming part of the line between Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw, the Goitek Viaduct is a steel lattice construction that was erected over a century ago. Passenger trains regularly use the viaduct and the far-reaching views are spectacular throughout.

Train crossing an old metal viaduct in Burma
Train crossing the Gokteik Viaduct

8. The temples of Bagan

Once an ancient city of unparalleled importance and grandeur, today Bagan is one of the Asia’s foremost archaeological sites with thousands of temples dotting the vast flood plain of the Irrawaddy River. Built by a succession of kings, the stupas and temples are incredibly varied, large and small, intricate and plain. It is thought that around 3,000 of the original 10,000 temples remain.

Silhouettes of temples at dusk

9. Pindaya cave complex

Located in southern Shan State, the small town of Pindaya is best known for its extraordinary Buddhist cave complex. Inside the caves there are nearly 8,000 Buddha images in a range of materials from teak and marble to lacquer and alabaster. All different sizes, the statues are to be found in every nook and cranny throughout the many chambers.

Temples clinging to a hillside in Burma
Pindaya cave complex

10. Chaukhtatgyi reclining Buddha, Yangon

The colossal reclining Buddha at Chaukhtatgyi in Yangon is one of the most revered in the country. Over 200ft in length, at the Buddha’s feet is a small shrine and beside the complex is a popular meditation centre and number of different monasteries. Chaukhtatgyi is also a popular haunt for local astrologers and fortune tellers.

Reclining Buddha in Yangon
Chaukhtatgyi Paya, Yangon
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11. The payas of Bago

Thought to have been founded by two princes in 573 AD, Bago was once the capital of the Mon Kingdom and today remains a bustling town that is the location of some splendid sites. Highlights include golden Shwemawdaw Paya, the lifelike Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha, Hintha Gon Paya and 600 year old Kyaik Pun Paya with its four seated Buddhas.

Large multi-coloured seated Buddha in Burma
Kyaik Pun Paya, Bago / Image credit: Eddy Milfort

12. Mudon’s reclining Buddha

Deep in the hills between Mawlamyaing and Mudon is the Win Sein Taw Ya reclining Buddha. Thought to be the largest freestanding reclining Buddha in the world, it is located opposite the shrine of Kyauktalon Taung. The Buddha can be entered and is a place of worship, set amidst a wider complex of statues, stupas, shrines and monastic centres.

Ancient reclining Buddha in Burma
Reclining Buddha, Mudon / Image credit: Alex Schwab

13. Mahamuni Paya, Mandalay

Mahamuni Paya is home to the highly venerated Mahamuni Buddha image which is thought to date to the 1st century AD. Cast in bronze, over the centuries devout worshippers have applied a thick layer of gold leaf to the image. It is particularly atmospheric to visit early in the morning when monks from the complex prepare the statue for the day ahead.

Golden Buddha image in Mandalay
Mahamuni Paya, Mandalay

14. Inwa

Set beside the Irrawaddy River to the south of Mandalay and Amarapura, Inwa was an ancient city and once both capital of northern Burma and, latterly, of the wider Burmese Kingdom. Some of the older stone structures have historic earthquake damage but many places of interest still remain including the Nanmyin, Bagaya Kyaung Monastery and Maha Aungmye Bonzan.

Stone stupa surrounded by trees in Burma
Inwa, Mandalay

15. Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery

A morning’s drive from the port city of Mawlamyaing, the Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery lies at the western terminus of the notorious Burma-Siam railway. The graves of those who died during the construction were moved to three cemeteries after World War II with Thanbyuzayat the final resting place of 3,149 Commonwealth and 621 Dutch citizens.

Tree standing in the middle of a war cemetery in Burma
Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery / Image credit: Adam Jones
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16. Yangon’s circular train

Opened in 1961, Yangon’s circular train transports tens of thousands of people daily through the city. Starting and ending at the Central Station in the centre of Yangon, riding the train is a fantastic way to meet people, try local food and catch a glimpse of hidden areas of the city. Although basic, there really is no better way to experience local Yangon life.

Woman serving traditional food on a local train in Burma
Aboard Yangon’s circular train / Image credit: Marcela Tokatjian

17. Sagaing

Sagaing, a former capital of the Shan Kingdom, is located downriver of Mandalay and set over a number of hills. There are many interesting stupas, pagodas and monasteries here and Sagaing is regarded by some to be one of the main religious centres in the country. The Tilawkaguru cave temple and Soon U Ponya Shin Paya are particular highlights.

Golden pagodas overlooking a river in Burma
Payas of Sagaing

18. Mingun

Mingun is the site of Mingun Paya and the world’s largest intact bronze bell. The uncompleted, damaged, but enormous ruin of Mingun Paya was intended to be the largest stupa in existence but the death of King Bodawpaya in 1819 halted construction. Nearby is another monumental structure, the Mingun bell which was cast in 1808, weighs over 90 tonnes and is 4m in height.

Three monks climbing steps towards the entrance of a pagoda in Burma
Mingun Paya

19. Thanboddhay Pagoda, Monywa

The vibrantly coloured Thanboddhay Pagoda is a large Buddhist complex close to Monywa. A monastery has been on this site since the 14th century however the current structure is more recent. The pagoda contains a number of smaller shrines and is intricately decorated with what is estimated to be around 500,000 Buddha images.

Multi-coloured temple in Burma
Thanboddhay Pagoda, Monywa

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