Yangon is the commercial capital of Myanmar. While Naypyitaw is the official capital, Yangon has the attractions and nightlife to keep you entertained. It is also the most progressive city in the country. While other cities are lagging behind in trendy pop-up shops, technology startups (the first virtual reality company just emerged recently) and co-working spaces, Yangon is the hip, relatively undiscovered southeast Asian city you’ve been looking for. Plus, it has Shwedagon Pagoda and amazing restaurants. What more could you ask for?
Pagodas, pagodas, pagodas. There is nowhere else quite like it in the world. Every year, Bagan draws thousands of tourists because of its hot air balloons, romantic skyline, and breathtaking sunsets. Here, you will also find handmade lacquerware workshops, ox-cart rides, an archaeological museum, and a day trip to Mount Popa. People come to Myanmar just to see this mystical city.
Perhaps Mandalay could be considered the historical capital of Myanmar, because it has managed to preserve traditions such as food, puppet shows, and weaving without getting “watered down” as it has in Yangon. Though some tourists claim there isn’t much to see here, its monasteries, palaces and pagodas are rich with history. With the right tour guide, you’ll end up learning a great deal about how this country evolved.
Come here for serene boat tours, leg-rowing fishermen, cooking classes, and a charming little winery. The culture here is based around the lake and entire villages are situated on stilt houses that rest on top of it. Instead of living around it on land, the people settled here and loved being a part of the lake community. There are many silversmiths, weaving centers, cheroot factories, and teak wood boat makers.
Hpa An (Kyaiktiyo)
Hpa An is an underrated town in Myanmar. It is close to Mawlawmyine and Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock Pagoda), but within this town there is Saddan Cave, Mount Zwegabin, and many other outdoor adventure spots to be found. Although other cities boast lots of attractions, this chill spot is great for those who want a nature-filled weekend getaway from Yangon.
Even more remote than Bagan, this former Arakan kingdom is also filled with pagodas. Mrauk U is located in Rakhine State on the west side of Myanmar. You’ll find villages with little foreigners, and a visit to the Chin villages nearby will afford you a glimpse of women whose faces are covered in tattoos.
This is where the government holds all of their meetings. While the city itself is not very exciting and actually eerily empty, the 20-lane highways with virtually no cars are worth seeing. The government decided to change the capital from Yangon to Naypyitaw because it was more centrally located, but in reality, a majority of business and investments are still being done in Yangon or Mandalay. In Naypyitaw, you will find a couple of museums, a zoo, and many fancy hotels with swimming pools (and very little guests).